Tea Dictionary


hands holding tea leaves

Afternoon Tea: A British tradition of a meal eaten in mid afternoon, consisting of sandwiches, scones, and sweets accompanied by tea.

Agony of the leaves: The unfurling of tea leaves during steeping.

Anhui: A major tea producing province in China.

Antioxidant: A compound which retards oxidation.

Aroma: Also known as the nose, the odour of the brewed leaf and the resulting liquor.

Assam: A major tea growing region in India.

Assam Tea: A very hearty Indian tea, often deep red to orange-red and somewhat malt flavored. This tea is the backbone of most of the world’s blends. The processed leaves may look very black to dark brown and may sometimes contain a lot of tips.

Astringency: The drying sensation, (or bite) in the mouth caused by certain teas.

Autumnal: Tea produced late in the growing season – most often used in reference to Darjeeling 4th flush teas.

Bancha: the lowest quality of Japanese green teas, made from the last of the three or four harvests of tea in a season. Bancha tends to be bright green and coarse. Still a delicious cup of tea that’s a bargain for the price.

Bakey: tea taster expression for overfired teas

Bergamot: A citrus oil derived from the bergamot orange used to flavour black tea to make Earl Grey tea.

Black Teas: Green tea leaves are left to wither or oxidize, which causes the enzymes to break down some of the cellular structure of the leaf. The oxidized leaves are then twisted or rolled and cut then dried by one of many processes. Drying styles include: basket or pan firing, smoking, air drying, or compressing and sun-drying which further define and add complexity and color to the tea. Black teas are often scented with flowers or more commonly with oils or spices.   Black teas are the most popular tea in the world and are also known as Red tea in China referring to the color of the infusion in the cup.  In China black teas are usually meant to reference Pu- erh tea.  Black teas have a longer shelf life than green teas due to the oxidation processing.

Body: Tea taster’s term to denote strength and viscosity of a brewed tea.

Brick Tea: Tea leaves that have been steamed and compressed into bricks. Pu-erh is a common brick tea.

Bubble Tea: Bubble tea is a novel beverage gaining popularity in some parts of the western world. It is made by pouring hot tea over cooked and cooled tapioca pearls. Any hot tea can be used. Bubble tea is served in a tall glass, usually with milk.

Caffeine: An alkaloid which acts as a central nervous system stimulant and diuretic.

Chanoyu: Japanese tea ceremony or ritual.

Camellia Sinensis: The common tea plant, an evergreen bush. All proper tea comes from this plant. It has two main varietals that are used but it does in fact have many more. Generally, the Camellia Sinensis Sinensis (a smaller leaf) is the China varietal and the Camellia Sinensis Assamica (a larger leaf) is the Indian varietal.  The Assamica varietal is not generally used for green tea production, although some new green teas are now starting to be produced out of India but not traditionally.  Over 40 countries now put tea on their production list, not all export but it is a very prolific crop around the world.

Catechins: The class of polyphenol found in tea which function as antioxidants.

Ceylon: This region, now called Sri Lanka, produces incredible amounts of fine tea. Although Sri Lanka produces large amounts of green as well as black teas, Ceylon generally describes a rich black tea with amber color and an almost floral aroma. A delicious cup, and perfect for iced tea.

Ceylon Tea: Tea from Sri Lanka.

Cha: Romanized spelling of Chinese and Japanese character which defines the word tea.

Chai: The word for tea on the Indian subcontinent. In the west it generally means a spiced black tea made with milk (masala chai).  There are many varieties of Chai out on the market today, traditionally every family had their special version of spices etc that makes Chai such a varied type of tea to buy in the west.

Chesty: A term denoting an odour in tea absorbed from the wood of a traditional storage chest.

Chunmee: After steaming and withering, each leaf or leaf-bud set is hand-rolled into a tiny needle-like shape with a slight curve or curl in it. The finished leaf should be as small and narrow as the eyebrows drawn on the face of a porcelain doll.

CTC: Acronym for Cut (or crush), Tear, and Curl, a machine process which cuts the withered leaves into uniform particles to facilitate a complete oxidation. Typical of most black tea grown in India and other lowland producing countries, and used in teabags to create a stronger more colorful tea.

Darjeeling Teas: Grown at the Darjeeling Hills of India,  foothills of the Himalayas, this tea is widely known as the champagne of teas. Its rich red-gold colored color and distinctive, slightly nutty aroma makes this tea incomparable to any other.  These teas are renowned for their muscatel flavor.

Decaf Tea: :is any tea that has undergone a process which eliminates most of the caffeine content. Two processes are currently used to commercially decaffeinate tea, an ethyl acetate and a CO2 method. While the ethyl acetate method is cheaper and easier, the CO2 method has been proven much safer. Decaf tea is the perfect alternative for tea lovers who are trying to lower their caffeine intake.

Display Tea: A tea that has a special appearance once steeped. These are also known as hand tied artisan teas, or flowering teas in the market.  These are best made in glass vessels in order to capitalize on their beauty.

Dust: The smallest grade of tea, typically associated with lower quality. Dust is prized for its quick extraction and is commonly used in teabags.

Earl Grey: This black tea is scented with oil of bergamot, a type of citrus named Citrus bergamia. It is said that British Prime Minister Earl Grey was given the recipe for this mixture in 1830 from a Chinese mandarin, however the Chinese are not known to drink this tea.

“English Breakfast” Tea: This is one of the best known China Black tea names. Typically a keemun based tea, some vendors do put an amount of Assam, Ceylon or other black tea in it to make it unique to them.  A richly red colored tea with a distinctively floral and strong cup. Perfect for the morning, not quite as strong, traditionally as the Irish Breakfast blends. This tea is best when taken with milk and sugar or honey.

Fannings: Small particles of tea one grade larger than Dust produced as a by product of the tea making process, commonly used in teabags.

Fermentation: Historically this term was used in the process of manufacture and to this day still is used, although technically it is now said to be called – Oxidation. However, it describes the process of enzymic oxidation, where elements in the leaf react with air to create a darker brown-red color and characteristic aroma to the resulting tea.

Firing: The process whereby the tea leaves are dried to arrest further enzymic changes. This makes the tea fit for packing and storing.  Also sometimes said as the “killing of the green”.

Fibrous: teas which contain a large percentage of fannings

Flat: teas lacking astringency or briskness

Flowery: used in grading the size of tea, it typically indicates a leaf style with more of the lighter colored tips.

Flush: Flush refers to the separate plucking seasons throughout the year, each known for it’s distinctive flavor. India tends to specify their teas in this way ie Autumnal Darjeeling but typically China only does 2 per year. The 1st or spring flush being the most prized in terms of tea quality after the bushes have been dormant for the winter and the first buds are forming on the bushes. Typically these plucking seasons are: 1st Flush: February to early April 2nd Flush: May to June Autumnal: October to November are much less common, though they occur when climate permits.

Formosa Teas: Tea produced in Taiwan, typically oolong teas.

Gaiwan: [GUY-wan]A traditional Chinese lidded tea drinking vessel with accompanying saucer.

Genmaicha: [GEN-my-cha]Green tea blended with roasted rice.

Golden: Refers to the orangey, yellow colored tips present in high quality black tea

Gong Fu: Meaning skill and patience (it’s the same “kung fu” as the martial art). The style of brewing tea with a high proportion of leaf to water and repeated short infusions. This style of brewing is a very precise traditional exercise and requires the proper utensils and patience.

Grade: term used to describe a tea leaf or particle size of leaf

Green Tea: Fresh tea leaves which have been sterilized in steam, hot air or hot pans, to prevent fermentation (un-oxidized) and preserve the green color. Available in many forms, from many countries, mostly found in China and Japan.  This is the largest growing category of tea currently.

Gunpowder or “pearl tea”: Tiny pellets of hand-rolled, fresh Chinese tea. Generally made from small to medium-sized leaves. Leaves unfold in your cup as you brew them. Sometimes scented with dried rose or jasmine flowers.

Gyokuro: [G'YOH-koo'roh] or Jade Dew, a Japanese Green Tea made from shaded plants.  This is a very prized tea in Japan, for the last 20 days of the growing season before the leaves are plucked, large mats or covers are put over the plants. The tea acquires a distinct aroma from the covering process. The shade reduces photosynthesis which changes the chemical composition in the leaves, altering sugars, amino acids (theanine), polyphenols, and tannins. More chlorophyll is produced so the leaves become greener. This also makes the resultant tea high in chlorophyll, which makes it darker than normal, but lower in tannins, which makes it sweeter and mild tasting.

Herbal Teas, “tisanes”: Herbal teas are technically not teas at all. They do not contain any camellia Sinensis, they contain varying blends and combinations of herbs, dried fruits, fresh or dried flowers, spices, barks, seeds or roots.  The varieties are endless, they usually require full boiled water especially if they have tough roots in them, they will need to be steeped a little longer.

Harsh: bitter teas

Heavy: a thick, colory infusion with little briskness or astringency

Iced Tea: Tea brewed and served chilled

Infusion: The process of extracting elements from tea, herbs, fruits or berries by submersing in (boiling) water. This process is often used for obtaining medicinal properties from herbs.

“Irish Breakfast”: Typically an Assam based tea, some vendors do put an amount of, Ceylon or other black tea in it to make it unique to them.  A richly red colored tea with a distinctively malty and strong cup. Perfect for the morning, stronger, traditionally, than typical keemun based English Breakfast blends. This tea is best when taken with milk and sugar or honey.

Jasmine: Green or Oolong Tea scented with jasmine flowers.

Keemun: Chinese Black Tea from Anhui Province and often used in English Breakfast blends.

Kukicha, “twig tea”: This tasty Japanese tea is made from the toasted stems and twigs of the tea plant. It has a beautiful golden brown color and has a lot of savory taste with less caffeine than ordinary tea. This tea is an excellent choice for those who seek a substitute for coffee, or are sensitive to caffeine.

Lapsang Souchong: Black Chinese tea that’s been smoked over pine branches. Usually a dark red-brown tea with a smoky, musky flavor.

Lung Ching, “Dragon Well” : Delightful steamed green tea, which offers a tasty, light green cup with lots of flavour. The best is somewhat rare and often a little pricey.

Masala Chai: A blend of black tea and spices such as cinnamon, cardamon, ginger, clove, black pepper and star anise. The spice mixture varies from maker to maker, and generally focuses on the cardamon, ginger, and cinnamon with the black tea. The other spices in the mix add to the complexity of the flavor and the uniqueness of the brewer. Chai is preferable with milk and honey to sweeten its spicy bite.

Moroccan Mint: Green tea with fresh mint leaves. Traditionally taken with lots of sugar, to accompany large meals and settle the stomach. This is the most popular flavoured tea.

Matcha: Powdered green tea from Japan used in the Japanese tea ceremony.  This is quite pricey due to its processing.  It can take up to one hour to grind 30 grams of matcha.  It uses tencha, shaded tea, that has been shaded for the last 20 days before plucking so it is using the highest grade of tea.

Metallic: A term describing the dry, coppery taste of some teas.

Muddy: A term describing a dull, brownish infusion

Muscatel: A muscat grape like taste associated with many Darjeeling Teas.

Nose: The aroma of brewed tea.

Oolong Teas: Partially oxidized (30 – 70%) teas with characteristics of both green and black teas. The most diversely produced tea.  It requires a true tea master to know when to stop the oxidization process for each particular type of oolong tea.  There are two main types of oolong teas; rolled (striped) Wuyi (rock) type or ball shaped, ti kuan yin type teas.  Wuyi type teas tend to be more oxidized i.e. 70% vs the ti kuan yin type that range from 20 – 30% oxidization.  They tend to have floral scents, however, this is a very diverse category of teas, ranging from very light green or gold to medium black. These are true connoisseur’s teas, prone to nuances of flavour and scents much like fine wines.

Orange Pekoe ("pek-o"): Describes a basic, medium-grade black tea consisting of many whole tea leaves of a specific size and not the bud.

Orthodox: Traditional method for picking and processing teas in India without using CTC technology.

Pan fired: Method of heating leaf and arresting enzymic oxidation of tea.

Pekoe: ("pek-o"): A term used to describe the largest leaves used to produce whole leaf teas. Also refers to an un-distinctive blend of tea.

Plucking: the process of harvesting the tea by cutting the flush from the growing tea shrub.

Polyphenols: Antioxidant compounds present in tea.

Pouchong Teas: A slightly fermented tea, closer to green tea than to black. It is often used as the base for scented teas such as the traditional jasmine tea.

Pu-erh: A pickled black tea from Yunnan China, which is believed to be of high medicinal value, especially for reducing cholesterol. Aged in underground caves for a minimum of three years, this tea has a delicious flavor and unique scent, and is sometimes found as compressed wafers rather than loose leaves.   These teas are known for aging quite well. Some prized Pu-erhs are 40 years old.

Pungent: denotes a very astringent tea

Rolling: The process by which withered leaves are rolled to initiate enzymic oxidation   and impart a twist, as in the most common Wuyi rock oolongs.

Rooibos, “African Red Bush Tea”: Not actually a member of the tea family, this comes from South Africa. Rooibos is packed with antioxidants, and vitamins (especially C), much more than regular green tea. With a beautiful red cup and a fruity taste, rooibos blends well with dried fruits if not enjoyed alone. It has no caffeine and is often added to other herbal blends.

Scented tea: Teas that have been flavoured by adding flower petals, fruits spices and/or natural oils.  The most common examples are Earl Grey (black tea scented with bergamot) or Jasmine (green tea scented with Jasmine blossoms).

Sencha: Premium Japanese green tea, made from the first and second pickings. This tea produces a pale green cup with a delicate fresh scent and a refreshing flavour.  Often associated with the sea and a vegetal flavour.  This tea is best suited to savory food pairings in order to highlight the sweetness of the tea.

Single Estate Tea: A tea from one particular estate, plantation, or garden.

Tannin: erroneous term referring to the astringent polyphenols of tea, unrelated to tannic acid polyphenols of other plants i.e. red wine.

Tarry: tea taster’s term for teas that have been fired over smoky flames, imparting a smoky flavor

Tea: The processed leaves, or the infused beverage brewed from the processed leaves, of the Camellia sinensis plant.

Ti Kuan Yin: [TAY-gwan-yen] “Iron Goddess of Mercy”- a type of Oolong Tea with a fragrant aroma.

Theanine: unique amino acid in tea.

Theine: synonym for caffeine

Tip: the bud leaves on a tea bush

Tippy: Term denoting tea that contains golden tips, indicative of high quality teas

Tisane: An infused beverage made with plants other than Camellia sinensis.

Tuocha: [too'oh-cha]Chinese for bowl tea. A common shape for pu-erh teas.

Two and a bud: The ideal plucked tea for production, consisting of the new tea shoot and the first two leaves

Vintage: Used to describe teas from the same harvest at market, as in wine.

White Tea: This is green tea that is produced using the very tips only, which appear white when dry, and is generally regarded as the rarest of all teas. It has a very, very delicate flavour.It is usually combined with flowers such as chrysanthemum, and most recently fruits.  There are two basic types of white tea, pai mu tan and silver needles.

Winey: Mellow quality, characteristic of some Keemun teas which have been given six months to a year to age.

Withering: Is the first and fore most step involved in tea manufacture.operation which removes moisture from the recently plucked leaves making them less brittle and preparing them for further processing. The evaporation of moisture in the green leaf is brought about by blowing or moving air over the leaf in the withering trough.

Yerba Mate: This drink comes from South America, usually Argentina or Paraguay, and is a member of the holly/coffee family.  It is highly nutritious and tonifying to the body. Mate does contain caffeine, mateine, B-vitamins and other natural constituents and can be found green or roasted, and flavoured with spices or natural fruit oils. Generally mate is drunk sweetened in a pear shaped gourd called a mate, and sipped through a metal filtering straw called a bombilla.

Yixing: [YEE-shing] this is a region of China noted for its purple clay, used to produce distinctive unglazed teapots often used in gung fu tea ceremony.  They are usually quite small and should be dedicated to a particular tea as the porous nature of the clay means it will soak up and attain the taste of that tea over time.  This is why often a family will have many yixing teapots for specific teas.

Yunnan: A province in southwestern China. All the tea-producing areas of the province are located at elevations from 1,200 to 2,000 meters. The monsoon season is concentrated in May through October, during which the rainfall constitutes about 85% of that of the whole year. Under normal conditions, the tea-leaf plucking period may last for 8 to 9 months. Overall, Yunnan's tea species are known as the "Yunnan large-leaf tea", which, just like the Assamica varietal of India and the Kenya tea, belongs to a superb tea species of the world, and is the ideal raw material for producing black and Pu-erh tea.