What’s in a Name?

by Stephanie Hanson

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet, according to Juliet. But would Rose Congou? I thought we would take a look at the origins of some of the names for our favorite beverage.

Earl Gray

The Chinese have two words for tea: t’e (pronounced tay), from Fukien Province, and cha, used in Cantonese and Mandarin. In the West, nearly every language uses a variation of t’e, because Fukien Province is where Westerners learned of tea from Amoy merchants. Arab traders learned the word cha, variations of which mean tea in Eastern countries as well as in Portugal. What about that chai latte from Starbucks? Even though chai simply means tea, in the West, the word has come to mean tea prepared the Indian way: black tea with added spices, milk, and sugar.

Now that we have the basics sorted out, let’s turn to some more specific varieties. Assam, Darjeeling, and Ceylon are named after the regions from which they come. The Chinese green tea called gunpowder was named that by Europeans who thought the rolled up balls looked like something explosive.

The origin of Earl Grey is a little more murky. Stories tell us that the tea is named after Earl Grey, the Prime Minister of Britain from 1830-1834. Either the Earl or one of his diplomats saved the life of a Mandarin, who presented the bergamot-scented tea as a reward. More likely, Earl Grey is just a clever marketing ploy, as the Chinese never scented their tea with bergamot, and the tea, traditionally blended with Indian teas, could not have been made at the time because tea was not being produced in India.

As for Rose Congou, congou simply refers to unbroken Chinese leaves, and the rose describes the delicate rose flavor and rose petals found in that particular variety.

So whether it’s t’e or cha, tea by any name tastes sweet if you add sugar to it.

Check out Stephanie’s blog, The Tea Scoop, for more great articles!

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