The Languages of Tea – Chinese

By Adam Yusko

In the primer on Japanese tea words, you probably noticed the syllable “cha” came up often. That’s because Cha is the word for tea in most, if not all, of Southeast Asia.

Chinese Black Tea

I find putting together a list of Chinese tea words which you should know about a bit difficult, as when diving into a particular area of Chinese tea, you tend to acquire a special vocabulary associated with those teas.

However, I’ve managed to come up with a few common terms that should give you a starting point to the confusing world of Chinese tea terms.

  • Hong Cha (Red tea) – Known in China as red tea, it’s made using the processing method that we in the West know as that of black tea. The Chinese have the term “black tea,” but that is used in reference to fully fermented Puerh tea.
  • Gaiwan – A bowl, lid, and sometimes saucer combination used to brew tea.
  • Yixing – Teapots named after a city in China, which are typically unglazed; known for being porous and taking on qualities of the teas they are used to brew. There are many different categories of clay used, including Zisha and Zhuni.
  • Wuyi – A mountain in Fujian province, China, known for its oolongs and being very rocky, and for producing Yancha or rock tea. Sadly, this name is everywhere due to Wuyi tea diets, which give the tea a bad name.
  • Gong Fu– A method of tea preparation using a gaiwan or yixing, which focuses on very high leaf to water ratio and many short steeps.
    I should give a note on gong fu style brewing: to Westerners the teapots and gaiwans used when someone brews for themselves or very few others will seem very small, often amounting to a few table spoons of tea per person per steeping. But the fact that more leaves are used creates a more concentrated brew, even though the time between adding the water and pouring it off is less then a minute. There are very specific guidelines for what counts as a gong fu brewing. But most people view the guidelines as suggestions and create their own version of gong fu.

I wish I could give you more Chinese words to expand your Chinese tea vocabulary, but the list would be quite long and I’d still leave out a lot, as it would turn into me listing the Chinese names for just about every single type of tea. But this should give you a good starting place and the rest you will pick up yourself by simply delving into that area of Chinese Tea.

Check out Adam’s blog, The Sip Tip, for more on his passion for tea!

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