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Traditional tea serving with unique tea vocabulary

Mastering Tea Terminology: A Glossary of Essential Tea Vocabulary

Dec 10, 2023

Shanika Dasanayaka

Not sure how to explain that strange sensation you get from your bowl of Matcha tea? What is full-body or what is lighter-body? Calm down. You will hear these more often as you walk along the tea journey, and we will also learn a bit from this area. Similar to the glossary of wine, tea also has its distinct tea vocabulary that has evolved over the years. Tea connoisseurs, tea blenders, and experts worldwide often use these tea terms to express their feelings and evaluations of the teas.

In today's article on tea learning, we will cover popular tea terms as much as possible, and this area is so fun to learn. Most of these tea terms have evolved around true teas, and these terms will help you sound like a pro at your next tea party or tea-tasting session! 

What Is Meant By Tea Vocabulary?

As previously mentioned, tea has its own language, primarily understood by tea connoisseurs and tea experts. These tea words have their own interpretations and could sometimes be a little complicated for average consumers. However, as tea learners, when you develop or sharpen your palate to recognize distinct tea flavors, you will need this tea vocabulary to express or share your ideas about the tea. 

Tea Vocabulary on Tea Types and Cultivars

Tea, a centuries-old beverage and agricultural crop, has evolved both scientifically and culturally. Along this journey, numerous tea terms have emerged to identify tea types and cultivars frequently discussed among tea enthusiasts. Some words have scientific foundations, while others derive from different regular uses. 

Ancient Tea

When you hear the term "ancient tea," don't envision centuries-old tea leaves. Instead, it refers to older or ancient tea trees that thrive in historical tea sites or regions. For example, most ancient tea trees are found today in the Yunnan province of China, renowned for producing Pu Erh tea. These tea trees grow naturally without agricultural grooming and thus grow like any other regular tree. 

Artisan Tea

Artisan tea represents teas of exceptional quality, characterized by complex flavors and aromas that highlight their rarity. While artisan teas aren't necessarily handmade, they are often processed by hand to preserve their delicate flavors and aromas. These are typically single-origin, pure, and loose-leaf teas with or without natural flavors. 

Bancha 

Bancha is a tea from a late-season harvest, typically following the harvesting season for sencha tea. This second-flush tea is usually harvested between summer and autumn, resulting in a lower market value and a lower flavor profile than sencha. Despite this, bancha is widely consumed in the domestic Japanese market and comes in diverse flavors such as smokey, roasted, earthy, etc. 

Breakfast tea

When you hear the term breakfast  tea," it  is closely associated with British tea culture. It typically consists of robust black tea, such as Kenyan, Assam, or Ceylon, as the tea base. In addition to tea, milk and sugar are used proportionately to create this iconic tea. The British traditionally consumed this tea as a part of their breakfast, a tradition that continues in some cultures even today, including Great Britain. 

Black tea

Black tea might be the most familiar term for you out of all these tea terminologies. Experts consider this the most abundant and widely consumed type of tea. Black tea undergoes complete oxidation during processing, resulting in its reddish color, rich flavor, and black tea leaf appearance. 

Camellia Sinensis

Camellia sinensis is the plant commonly referred to as the tea plant. The tender leaves of this plant result in all real teas, including black tea, green tea, oolong tea, white tea, and Pu erh tea. Besides these core types, various other teas worldwide originate from this single plant, Camellia sinensis. 

Dark Tea

Dark teas generally include teas that have undergone full fermentation. Teas such as black tea or Pu-erh tea fall into this category. 

Decaf tea

Decaf tea is a term that refers to decaffeinated tea. This refers to the teas that contain either zero or less than 2-3mg of caffeine per cup. 

Formosa Oolong

The term Formosa translates to "beautiful" in Portuguese, and it was once used to refer to Taiwan as a country. "Formosa oolong" specifically denotes oolong teas produced in Taiwan. 

Green tea

Green tea is another core tea type derived from the Camellia sinensis plant. The tea leaves undergo minimal oxidation following a steaming or pan-firing process. Made green tea leaves have a distinct green color, resulting in a light green or yellow. 

High Mountain tea 

High mountain or go shan tea is popular Taiwanese tea grown 1000 meters or higher. These teas often boast superior flavor profiles and meet increased demand from worldwide tea lovers. 

Kombucha

This popular term might have confused you when thinking about its meaning. Kombucha is a fermented drink made from black tea, sugar, and bacteria. Kombucha is known for its numerous health benefits, too.

Oolong Tea

Oolong tea is a semi-oxidized tea produced from the tender leaves of the Camellia Sinensis plant. It exhibits attributes that lie between those of black tea and green tea.

Red Tea

In Chinese tea terminology, Red tea refers to what is commonly known as "black tea" in the West. However, the term "red tea" can also refer to Rooibos tea in herbal tea terminology. Both usages of the word are correct, depending on the context.

Real Tea

Real tea refers to teas originating from the Camellia Sinensis plant. In tea vocabulary, this term is precise, and it should not be used to refer to other herbal or tisane teas. 

Pu'erh

Like black and green tea, Pu-erh is also a core tea type according to the tea classifications. This tea is exclusively grown and produced in the Yunnan province, China, and undergoes a unique processing style called post-fermentation.

Tea Vocabulary on Leaf Grades and Flushes

Tea grading involves categorizing teas based on leaf size and shape, ultimately determining their grades. Tea grading is a complex process that varies across different tea processing styles. Here are some basic grading and harvesting terms you should be familiar with as a tea enthusiast.

First Flush

The term "flush" pertains to the time of year when tea leaves are harvested. The "first flush refers to the initial tea harvest of a given season, often occurring in spring. First-flush teas tend to have superior flavor profiles compared to later harvests.

Broken Leaf

A broken leaf is a common tea grade comprising fractured tea leaves. Tea leaves can break into smaller particles during processing, making some tea leaves break into smaller particles. Later, these particles get grouped under a different tea grading category as "broken leaf," which typically represents lower quality than whole-leaf teas.

Broken Orange Pekoe

Like broken leaves, broken orange pekoe is a type of broken tea grade. Teas in this grade are relatively small and have a slightly granular appearance. 

Crush Tear Curl (Tea vocabulary term: CTC)

Crush tear curl is a popular tea term, particularly in black tea processing. There are two major processing styles in black tea: orthodox and CTC. CTC processing involves crushing, tearing, and curling the tea leaves, resulting in smaller-grade teas that are rich, robust, and granular in shape. 

Dust

Dust refers to the fine tea grades that resemble fine powder. These tea grades are often produced during later stages of tea processing and consist of remaining particles after separating more significant and premium tea grades. 

Fannings

Fannings are even smaller than dust-grade teas and contain very fine tea particles and fiber remnants left after processing main-grade black teas. 

Orange Pekoe

Orange pekoe is a large-leaf black tea grade found in Ceylon and Indian-style orthodox tea production. These tea grades are relatively large and available as loose-leaf teas of a premium nature. 

Orthodox Tea

Orthodox-style tea processing refers to traditional tea processing styles in countries like Ceylon or India. This method employs old-school rolling machines to produce tea, resulting in subtle teas known for their delicate flavorfulness. 

Pre-Qing Ming Tea

"Pre-Qing Ming tea is the very first harvest of the Chinese green tea season, occurring immediately after a long winter. These teas are renowned for their superior flavor profiles and overall premium qualities. 

Second Flush

As explained earlier, the second flush occurs after the first harvest of the year. Second-flush teas also possess notable flavor characteristics compared to the off-season harvests. 

Shincha

The term Shincha translates as new tea in Japanese and refers to the first or spring harvest of Japanese sencha green tea. 

Origins of Tea

Tea, while now a global beverage, has strong ties to several Asian countries. Many of these nations remain significant players in global tea production and exports. Understanding the origins of tea is crucial for tea enthusiasts, as most of the teas consumed in Europe and the USA originate from these regions. The stories of tea around the world are always fascinating, and let's continue exploring these tales.

China 

China is the leading producer of tea among all the tea producers and holds an important position in the tea world, being the birthplace of tea. The country produces nearly 40% of global tea production, and the major tea-producing regions include areas like Yunnan & Guangdong. China is the home of many exclusive teas, including Keemun, Jasmine Pearls, and Lapsang Souchong. 

India 

India stands next to China in the list of leading global tea producers. The country's tea culture was influenced by British colonization, and since then, tea has become an integral part of its culture, economy, and agriculture. India produces various black tea types, including Chai, Darjeeling, Assam, and Nilgiri. Among the hundreds of different tea types made in India, the multiple forms of chai tea hold particular interest due to their strong ties to traditional Indian tea culture. 

Indonesia 

Indonesia is also a significant tea producer, with a history of tea cultivation dating back to its colonial period. Notable Indonesian tea types include black tea, green tea, jasmine tea, and the specialty tea called red tea. 

Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka, known as "Ceylon." in the tea world, was a prominent tea producer during its colonial period. To relate to this era, Sri Lanka continues to use the term "Ceylon tea" to introduce its teas to the world. Sri Lanka specializes in high-quality, single-origin orthodox-style teas, with popular black tea types produced in regions like Nuwara Eliya, Dimbula, and Ruhuna.

Argentina and Kenya

Kenya has become a major tea producer, earning a spot among the world's largest tea producers. Kenya's tea legacy traces back to British colonization, and the country's tea trade thrives today. Kenya is renowned for its CTC-style black teas, which are in high demand by large-scale tea blenders worldwide. 

On the other hand, Argentina may not match Kenya's volume; the country produces significant quantities of black and green tea as a part of its tea cultivation. 

Final Thoughts 

For a beginner in tea, tea vocabulary can be confusing, but this knowledge is essential as you embark on your tea journey. Like the wine industry's unique terminology, tea has developed a specific set of terms over its long and historical journey. So, this comprehensive tea vocabulary guide is designed to expand your understanding of various tea terms while enhancing your appreciation of tea from multiple perspectives.

In addition to this guide, we at Tea J Tea offer an ever-improving tea vocabulary resource to refer to whenever you have questions. Make it a hobby to learn new tea terms, all while savoring a cup of Tea J Tea to accompany your journey.

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