Tea Culture - Teaisms






Tea-isms are tid-bits of information about tea. We have comprised this collection as a quick reference or to help further your knowledge of tea.


Tea Vocabulary

From A-Z it's all about tea!


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


Antioxidant: Antioxidants are substances or nutrients in our foods which can prevent or slow the oxidative damage to our body. When our body cells use oxygen, they naturally produce free radicals (by-products) which can cause damage. Antioxidants act as "free radical scavengers" and hence prevent and repair damage done by these free radicals. -Gloria Tsang, RD


Autumnal: Tea produced late in the growing season, sometimes used in reference to Darjeeling 4th flush teas. 


Bergamot: A small pear-shaped citrus fruit mainly grown in Italy. It is produced from a cross of the pear lemon and the Seville orange. The oil from the Bergamot is used to flavor many popular blends such as Earl Grey tea.


Black Tea: Tea that is made from leaves that have been fully oxidized.  The leaf is wilted naturally then rolled either by hand or machine until the oxidation is complete and finally fired, producing a hearty deep rich flavor.


Blended Tea: A mixture of teas from several different origins to achieve a certain flavor profile.


Brick Tea: A product of steaming and compressing tea into bricks that can be various shapes. Pu’erh is a common brick tea.


Caffeine: An alkaloid that acts as a diuretic and stimulates the Central Nervous System  


Catechins: A class of polyphenols found in tea that function as antioxidants.


Ceylon Tea: Tea that originates from Sri Lanka


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


Chai:  The word for tea in India. In the west it generally refers to a spiced black tea (Masala Chai) made with sweetened milk.


Chun Mee: A Chinese green tea with a curled form and dusty appearance.  It is generally more acidic and less sweet than other green teas. 


Congou: A grade of Chinese black tea


Darjeeling Tea: A tea grown in the Darjeeling hills of India. Darjeeling teas are known for their muscatel flavor.


Display Tea: A tea that has a special appearance once steeped; a flowering tea


Earl Grey: A black tea blend flavored with Bergamot oil


Firing: A process in tea production that stabilizes the leaves chemically by halting the oxidation process and drying the tea leaves.


Flush: A term referring to the four plucking seasons throughout the year, each known for it’s distinctive flavor:

1st Flush (late February to mid April), 

2nd Flush (May to June),  

Monsoon Flush (July to September) 

Autumnal Flush (October to November)


Formosa Tea: Tea produced in Taiwan, typically Oolong teas


Genmaicha: A Japanese Green tea blended with roasted rice


Gong Fu: Skill and patience. The style of brewing tea with a high proportion of leaf to water and repeated in short infusions


Green Tea: Tea that has been plucked, withered and dried, predominately produced in China and Japan. In China green tea is pan-fired, in Japan it is steamed. Green Tea is characterized by a light green color and delicate taste


Gunpowder: A green tea rolled into tight pellets


Guywan: A traditional Chinese drinking vessel with an accompanying lid and saucer


Hyson: A general term for Chinese Green Teas


Jasmine: A strong and sweetly scented flower often used to scent Green and Oolong teas


Keemun: Chinese black tea grown in the Anhui Province; often found in English Breakfast blends.


Lapsang Souchong:  Chinese black tea with a strong smoky characteristic


Oolong Tea: Derived from the Chinese term “wu long” which means Black Dragon. A type of tea that is partially or semi-oxidized. Oolong tea combines the taste and qualities of both black and green tea and is known for it’s complex taste and aroma.


Orthodox: Traditional method for picking and processing teas by hand


Oxidation: A process in tea production when enzymes in the tea leaves react with air to alter the flavor of the tea and develop color.  The degree of oxidation determines the type of tea that is produced (black, oolong, green, or white).


Pan fired: A process in tea production that is a distinguishing characteristic of Chinese teas. 


Plucking:  The process in which a person (or machine) carefully removes the tea leaves from the plant. Tea leaves are plucked, not picked.


Polyphenols: Antioxidants that provide tea’s brisk flavor and many health benefits


Pu’erh Tea:  A type of tea that originates from the Yunnan Province of China. The leaves are fermented with controlled moisture and temperature. Pu’erhs can be loose but are best known for being pressed into dense cakes which come in a variety of forms and shapes.  The aroma of Pu’erh tea can be described as earthy and musty.  They tend to carry a rich, thick & smooth taste.


Rolling: A process in tea production by which the withered tea leaves are rolled (either by hand or machine) to begin oxidation


Rooibos: An herb that is grown in South Africa. Rooibos is rich in vitamins and minerals. It contains no caffeine, and is very low in Tannins. 


Tea:  The processed leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant, and a beverage derived from those leaves.


Terroir: A French word, when used in tea refers not only to the climate and soil of the region but also the weather of the 7-10 days of the leaf’s life on the bush before it is plucked.


Ti Kwan Yin:  translation- “Iron Goddess of Mercy”. A popular type of  Oolong tea with a fragrant aroma. 


Tippy: A term that describes tea leaves that contain golden tips


Tisane:  An infused beverage made with any combination of herbs and/or dried fruits other than Camellia sinesis; it does not contain tea, therefore is caffeine free. Tisanes are prepared in the same manner as tea and tend to provide soothing, uplifting qualities.


Tou-cha: A common shape of Chinese pressed Pu’erh tea.  They may be small enough for a single cup or as large as several pounds.


White Tea: Tea that has fully withered and dried, is unprocessed, and non-oxidized. The most delicate of all teas.


Withering: A process in tea production by which the moisture is removed from the leaf, preparing it for further processing.  


Yixing: “yee-shing” is a well-known region in China made famous for its purple clay where popular unglazed, intricate teapots are produced.


Yunnan: A province in southwestern China, known as the birthplace of tea.



Tea Evaluation

Here are general thoughts to ponder when evaluating tea.


Dry Leaf – Examine the dry leaf for shape, consistency, color, size and fragrance.  Touch a small amount to determine the “feel.”  


Infused Leaf – Smell the aroma of the wet leaf after the liquor is poured off.  Note the expanded shape of the leaf.  


Tea Liquor – Examine the color of the liquor in a white cup.  This is the best indication of the degree of leaf oxidation. Note the aroma of the liquor. Taste the flavor and experience the mouth feel.  Slurping is encouraged!  The aeration will help unfold subtle flavors that may otherwise go unnoticed.



Tea Tasting Terms

A handy list of terms used when describing the taste of tea.


Aroma: The scent that the steeped leaf and liquor releases, also known as the nose.


Astringency: A drying sensation in the mouth.


Bite: A tea liquor character that is described as very brisk and "alive". A desirable trait.


Body: Denotes the strength and viscosity of the steeped tea liquor.


Brassy:  A metallic taste left in the mouth.


Bright: Refers to the look of the liquor: a sparkling quality


Brisk: The lively character of a tea


Complex: Refers to the multiple dimensions of the tea flavor


Flat: A tea that lacks a lively character


Harsh: A bitter taste that remains on the palate


Malty: A malt taste and feel that remains on the palate.


Muscatel: a sweet wine flavor


Nose: The aroma of the tea and its liquor


Pungent: A positive astringency without bitterness


Self-drinking: A tea that can be enjoyed without the addition of milk or sugar; also refers to an unblended tea from a single garden worthy of drinking on it’s own merit


Smooth: A tea that carries a well-rounded taste and feel


Thin: A tea with little body, strength or character






Leaf Grades

What do all of those letters mean? Crack the code!  Keep in mind that there are no defined standards for grading leaves, only accepted guidelines.  Also remember that leaf grade may not be indicative of quality.


OP: Orange Pekoe

Orange Pekoe does not refer to flavor, but to the grade of the tealeaves, consisting of large pieces, or even whole leaves.  OP leaves are generally about an inch long


FOP: Flowery   Orange   Pekoe

Made from the bud and top leaves of the tea plant


GFOP: Golden   Flowery   Orange   Pekoe

An FOP that has golden tips on the buds


TGFOP: Tippy   Golden   Flowery   Orange   Pekoe

A higher proportion of golden tips than GFOP


FTGFOP: Finest   Tippy   Golden   Flowery   Orange   Pekoe

An extremely high quality tea leaf


SFTGFOP: Special   Finest   Tippy   Golden   Flowery   Orange   Pekoe

Simply- the best.


Souchong: Large leaves that are rolled lengthwise


Flowery Pekoe: Leaves rolled into balls


Pekoe:  Pronounced “peck-o”. Shorter leaves than (OP) Orange Pekoe


Fannings: Small particles of tea one grade larger than Dust. 


Dust: The smallest grade of tea, typically associated with lower quality. Dust is prized for rapid steeping times and is commonly used in tea bags.


CTC: Acronym for Cut, 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.


Broken Pekoe Souchong: Larger tea leaves than Broken Pekoe


Broken Pekoe: A broken leaf that yields more color in the cup than Broken Pekoe Souchong


Broken Orange Pekoe: A smaller leaf size that yields good color and strength



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