Beginner’s Guide to Tea: All the Terms You Need to Know
What exactly is that ancient tea? Was it made in the ancient times? And what full bodied means? Do you sometimes feel lost when learning or reading about tea? Or lack words to describe your tea drinking experience? We made a list of the most common tea terminology you might encounter during your first few years of exploring tea.
From types of teas, tea cultivars and tippy oolongs, getting to know the basic vocabulary means you will never again feel like a stranger in the world of tea.
Tea types and cultivars
Ancient tea – tea harvested from old tea trees, usually pu’er. It can be both freshly harvested and aged.
Artisan tea – hand-made loose leaf tea. In broader sense it includes all higher quality loose leaf tea that was made even partially with hand, and sometimes even other higher quality loose leaf teas.
Bancha – Japanese green tea made from mature tea leaves.
Breakfast tea – strong blends with recognizable malty flavor suitable for drinking with milk and strong enough to be taken with meal.
Black tea – fully oxidized tea made from Camellia Sinensis plant
Camellia Sinensis – a tea plant used for making all real teas – white, yellow, green, oolong, black and dark
Camellia Sinensis var assamica – tea variety mostly used in India, especially for Assam black tea
Camellia Sinensis var sinensis – tea variety mostly used in China and Japan, especially for white, green and oolong tea
Dark Tea – Chinese tea type also called fermented tea. Flavor is achieved through natural or artificial fermentation. The most popular type is Pu Erh.
Decaf tea – tea with zero or less than 2-3 mg of caffeine per cup
Formosa oolong – any oolong tea grown in Taiwan, but the term usually describes more oxidized dark oolongs
Green tea – unoxidized type of tea made by steaming or pan-frying to stop the oxidation and preserve nutrients, color and flavor.
High Mountain tea – high mountain or gao shan tea refers to Taiwanese teas grown on high altitudes of 1000 meters or above. There are several high mountain or gao shan teas, with most popular being Ali Shan, Li Shan and Da Yu Ling. Other countries grow teas on high altitudes too, but they are usually described with different words – such as high-grown Sri Lankan tea.
Kombucha – a sugary fermented drink made with real tea and bacteria
Oolong tea – oolong or wulong, a semi-oxidized tea type made from Camellia sinesis
Red Tea – name for Chinese black tea, a literal translation from the Chinese word hong cha
Real Tea – any tea made from the leaves of Camellia sinesis
Tea cultivar – a sub-group of tea plants within one variety. There are hundreds of different tea cultivars in the world, each with specific flavor, color, leaf size and shape and other characteristics
Terroir – unique environment where some tea is grown, includes climate, soil, weather conditions
Pu’erh – type of Chinese dark or fermented tea grown exclusively in Yunnan
Raw Pu’erh – Pu’er intended for natural aging or fermentation with distinctive flavor – first brisker and lightly astringent, later sweeter and mellow, with brigher yellow color
Ripe Pu’erh – Artificially fermented pu’erh with dark red color and usually smaller leaves
Scented tea – tea leaves scented with flowers that can be removed once the process is finished, leaving only the scented pure leaves
Single Origin Tea – tea leaves grown and harvested from one tea farm
Tea Blend – any mixture of teas, from different tea farms or countries that are not single origin. This includes single origin teas blended with fruits, spices and herbs.
Tisane – herbal tea not made from Camellia sinensis
White tea – the least processed tea type, made by withering and drying tea leaves
Wild tea – tea from a wild tea bush, grown naturally rather than cultivated on tea plantations
Yellow tea – tea type made using special process that stops the oxidation and result in a light fermentation
Leaf Grades and flushes
First Flush – first spring tea of the year, term usually related to Indian and Sri Lankan teas
Broken Leaf – a lower grade of tea that can still be of premium quality, that contains broken leaves and results in a stronger and sometimes bitter brew
Broken Orange Pekoe – Same as orange pekoe, but with broken leaves
CTC – crush-tear-curl style of tea with small broken leaves, usually used for black Assam teas
Dust – dust left after producing tea, usually used for tea bags
Fannings – small tea leaf particles left after producing tea, usually used for tea bags
Orange Pekoe – main tea grade, mostly with Indian and Ceylon black tea, usually contains first few leaves and no buds
Orthodox Tea – tea made using traditional methods, usually Indian or Sri Lankan tea
Pre-Qing Ming tea – the very first harvest of Chinese green tea
Second Flush – teas harvested after the first spring flush, usually in late spring or early summer
Shincha – first spring harvest of Japanese sencha. It’s never used for later harvests or with teas from other countries.
Silver Needle – silver needle teas are all white teas made from pure tea buds. They can come from China, India, Sri Lanka and other countries.
Whole Leaf – usually the highest grade of tea that contains full unbroken leaves and gives a lighter and less astringent brew
Chasen – Japanese bamboo tea whish used for preparing matcha
Chawan – Japanese tea bowl for drinking matcha tea
Chinese tea tray – a tray usually made of bamboo used in gong fu tea brewing, with a compartment for waste water
Gaiwan – Chinese tea vessel similar shaped as a cup with a lid
Infusion – a drink made by infusing teas or tisanes in water
Kettle – used for boiling water, rather than brewing tea
Kyusu – Japanese teapot, often with a side handle
Mug brewing – brewing tea by adding tea leaves in a mug, pouring in water and drinking without removing the leaves
Multiple steeping technique – a way of brewing tea using short steeping time and re-using the same leaves for at least 3 times
Teapot – used for brewing tea, not for boiling the water
Washing the leaves – a very short first infusion that removes the impurities and is discarded
Yunomi – a type of Japanese tea cups for drinking sencha
Aftertaste – sweet taste that appears after drinking some quality teas
Aroma – fragrance of dry leaf, wet leaf and infusion
Astringency – a feeling of dryness in the mouth caused by some teas, usually appreciated
Bitterness – a bitter feeling of over-brewed or low quality tea, usually not appreciated
EGCG – the most important and abundant catechin in green tea
Flavor – taste of the tea liquor
Full bodied – term often used with strong black teas that have a thicker texture and usually goes well with milk, for example Irish Breakfast
L-theanine – an amino-acid responsible for the sweet savory flavor
Liquors of tea – brewed tea.
Malty – flavor related to mostly Indian Assam teas
Umami – umami, or the sixth flavor is a savory flavor recognizable in Japanese teas, especially gyokuro. It’s best extracted with cooler water.
Vegetal – word often used for steamed Japanese tea, that have a very fresh green and herbaceous flavor