Tea Glossary

Tea Glossary – Tea Terms and Definitions

Excerpt from AFTERNOON TEA – TIPS, TERMS and TRADITIONS by Ellen Easton ©2006-2020 – All Rights Reserved
Aqua teacup with Rose sugars Ellen Easton sm
AQUA TEACUP with REVA PAUL ROSE SUGARS Photo by Ellen Easton ©2020 All Rights Reserved

Navigating the landscape in the world of tea can be a daunting task for those who are not familiar with the vernacular.  Whether one is a tea aficionado or a novice entering the tea arena, understanding the terms may help to enhance one’s overall tea time experience.

Check out more of Ellen Easton’s Tea Travels™ articles and recipes.

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Amoy – Fulien oolong teas marketed at Amoy.

Anhwei, Anhui – One of the provinces in China where tea is grown.

Assam – A region in northeastern India, known for its robust, high quality teas characterized by their smooth round, malty flavor.

Auction – Sale of tea in an auction room on a stipulated date at a specific time.  Tea auctions are held in India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Kenya and Malawi-these auctions only sell teas from their particular areas.  The London Tea Auction, which was held every Monday morning {barring public or bank holidays} in the City of London until it’s close in 1998, was the only true international tea auction, where teas from all over the world were sold.

Autumnal – Teas harvested in autumn and touched with cool weather.  The term is normally applied to teas from India and Formosa.

Ball Tea – China tea compressed in a ball to protect it against atmospheric changes.

Basket – fired – Japan tea that has been cured in baskets by firing or drying.

Billy Tea – Tea made by Australian Bushmen in Billy cans.

Bitter Tea – Tea brewing method used in Kashmir.  Tea is boiled in a tinned copper vessel, red potash, aniseed and salt are added before it is served from a brass or copper, tin lined teapot.

Black Tea – Tea that has been fired or dried after the fermentation or oxidization period of manufacture.

Blender – Tea taster who decides on the proportions of each different tea required to produce the flavor of a given blend.

Bohea – Tea from the Wu-i Hills in Fukien, China. Originally was applied to black China tea and to tea from Indonesia.  In the 18th century Bohea (Bo-hee) was the name given to the tea drink.

Break – An amount of tea, comprising a given number of chests or sacks of tea.

Brick Tea – Common grades of China and Japan tea mixed with stalk and dust and molded into bricks under high pressure.  Originally, these bricks were used by Asian travelers as a convenient way of carrying the tea they needed to drink and the bricks were also used to barter for other goods.

Broker – A tea taster who negotiates the selling of tea from producers, or the buying of tea for packers and dealers, for a brokerage fee from the party on whose behalf the broker is working.

Butter Tea – Boiled tea mixed with salt and soda, then strained into an urn containing butter and dried ground cereal {often barley} and churned. Butter tea is served in a basin and often a lump of butter is added when serving.  It was served in Tibet and then in India.

Cachar – The most common variety of India tea, produced in Cachar district of Assam.

Caddy – The name given to a tin or jar of tea, which takes its name from the Chinese or Malayan word ‘catty’- a term used to describe the weight of one pound of tea.  In the past tea caddies were equipped with a lock and key.

Camellia Sinensis– Today, the tea trade’s international botanical name for the tea plant.

Caravan Tea – Tea taken by camel from China to Russia in the past.

Ceylon – Blends of teas grown on the island of Sri Lanka, which take their name from the colonial name for the island.  The traditional name of Sri Lanka was readopted by the island when it became a Sovereign Republic in the Commonwealth in 1972.

Cha – The word for tea derived from the Chinese and Indian languages.

Chanoyu – The word for tea derived from the Chinese and Indian languages.

Chest – Original tea package, normally made of wood and lined with metal foil. Originally tea chests were lined with lead.

Ching Wo – Black China tea from Fujien province.

Dry Tea Leaf

Black – A black appearance is desirable preferably with ‘bloom’.

Blackish – A satisfactory appearance for CTC type teas. Denotes careful sorting.

Bloom – A sign of good manufacture and sorting {where reduction of leaf has taken place before firing} a ‘sheen’ that has not been lost through over-handling or over- sorting.

Bold – Particles of leaf that are too large for the particular grade.

Bright – A lively bright appearance, which usually indicates that the tea will produce a bright liquor.

Chunky – A very large broken-leaf tea.

Clean – Leaf that is free from fiber, dirt and all extraneous matter.

Crepy – Leaf with a crimped appearance common to larger grade broken-leaf teas such as BOP.

Curly – Leaf appearance of whole leaf grade teas such as OP, as distinct from ‘wiry’.

Even – Teas true to their grade, consisting of pieces of leaf of fairly even size.

Flaky – Flat open pieces of leaf often light in texture.

Grainy – Describes primary grades of well-made CTC teas such as Pekoe dust.

Leafy – A tea in which the tea tends to be on the large or longish size.

Light – Tea light in weight of poor density and sometimes flaky.

Make – A term used to describe tea manufacture, in tea-taster’s terms a make that means a well-made tea or not true to its grade.

Mushy – Tea that has been packed or stored with a high moisture content.

Neat – A grade of tea having good make and size.

Nose – Smell of the dry leaf.

Powdery – Fine light dust as the tea people say meaning a very fine light leaf particle.

Stalk and Fiber – Bits of tea bush other than the leaf that should be minimal in superior grades but are unavoidable in lower-grade teas.

Tarry – A smoky aroma, unless in a Lapsang Souchang tea, should not be present.

Tip – A sign of fine plucking apparent in top grades of tea.

Wiry – Leaf appearance of a well-twisted, thin, long leaf.

Tea Liquor

Bitter – An unpleasant taste associated with raw teas.

Body – A liquor having both fullness and strength as opposed to being thin.

Bright – Denotes a lively fresh tea with good keeping quality.

Brisk – The most ‘live’ characteristic. Results from good manufacture.

Character – An attractive taste, specific to growth origin describing teas grown at high altitude.

Colory – Indicates useful depth of color and strength.

Cream – A natural precipitate obtained as the liquor cools down.

Earthy – Normally caused by damp storage of tea but can also describe a taste that is sometimes ‘climatically inherent’ in teas from certain regions.

Flat – Not fresh, usually due to age. Unlike some wines that mature with age, tea tends to lose its characteristics and taste with age.

Flavor – A most desirable extension of character caused by slow growth at high altitudes. Relatively rare.

Fruity – Can be due to over fermenting during manufacture and/or bacterial infection before firing or drying, which gives the tea an over ripe taste. Unlike wines this is not a desirable taste in tea.

Full – A good combination of strength and color.

Green – When referring to black tea liquor denotes an immature ‘raw’ character. This is mostly due to under fermenting and sometimes to under withering during manufacture.

Hard – A very pungent liquor, a desirable quality in tea.

Heavy – A thick, strong and colored liquor with limited briskness

High Fired – Over fired or dried, but not bakey or burned.

Light – Lacking strength and depth of color.

Malty – Desirable character in some Assam teas. A full, bright tea with a malty taste.

Muscatel – Desirable character in Darjeeling teas. A grapey taste.

Point – A bright, acidic and penetrating characteristic.

Pungen – A stringent with a good combination of briskness, brightness and strength.

Quality – Refers to ‘cup quality’ and denotes a combination of the most desirable liquoring qualities.

Taint – Characteristic or taste that is foreign to tea such as oil, garlic, etc. Often due to the tea being stored next to other commodities with strong characteristics of their own.

Thick – Liquor with good color and strength.

Woody – A grass or hay taste associated with tea that have been under withered during manufacture and sometimes referred to as ‘woody’.

TEA TRAVELS™ – Wishing You Happy TEA TRAVELS!™  Tea is the luxury everyone can afford!™ and Good $ense for $uccess are the trademarked property of Ellen Easton/ RED WAGON PRESS

Ellen Easton, author of Afternoon Tea~Tips, Terms and Traditions (RED WAGON PRESS), a lifestyle and etiquette industry leader, keynote speaker and product spokesperson, is a hospitality, design, and retail consultant whose clients have included The Waldorf=Astoria, Plaza Hotels, and Bergdorf Goodman.  Easton’s family traces their tea roots to the early 1800s, when ancestors first introduced tea plants from India and China to the Colony of Ceylon, thus building one of the largest and best cultivated tea estates on the island.

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Tea Travels

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64 pages, 21 color photos. A complete holiday menu includes 25 easy to prepare recipes; theme teas, decorating & gift ideas; invitation template and secret sources.

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