How Do You Spell Tea?

Pai Mu Tan, Bai Mu Dan, or White Peony? All 3 names refer to the same tea.
Pai Mu Tan, Bai Mu Dan, or White Peony? All 3 names refer to the same tea.

According to Wikipedia, a style guide “is a set of standards for the writing and design of documents, either for general use or for a specific publication, organization or field.” While there are many such guides in circulation nowadays, some of the best known are probably The Chicago Manual of Style and The Associated Press Stylebook.

While these and other such manuals are certainly useful for general purposes, for those of us who write about tea and others in the industry as well it would be useful to have a style guide for tea. While there are a variety of issues that could be solved by such a document, two of the main ones would be standardization of some of the most basic tea terms and determining the correct spellings for the many varieties of tea.

As far as tea terms go it’s hard to find a definitive answer for even some of the most basic questions. Take “tea bag,” for example. Most of us would probably agree (as do Wikipedia, Merriam-Webster and, to name a few) that it should be spelled as I just did, as two words. But it’s not at all uncommon to see it spelled “teabag,” and you’ll even see this usage at Wiktionary and a Facebook page for The Tetley Teabag Story, among many others. Google doesn’t seems to be completely decided on the issue, with a search for “teabag” bringing back results spelled both ways.

But even though the consensus is (arguably) that tea bag should be two words, things are not so cut and dried when it comes to other such compound tea terms, like tea house, tea room, or even the humble tea cup. While it seems that all of the foregoing are most often spelled as single words, a simple Internet search reveals this is hardly a hard and fast rule, and indeed it may not even be a rule so much as the status quo.

As if that didn’t muddy the waters enough, there’s the truly confusing (or maybe it’s just me) matter of the many and varied spellings for actual types of tea. Granted, much of the confusion in this area has to do with Chinese tea varieties and the translation of terms from Chinese languages to English, a topic I don’t even pretend to understand. But what it all boils down to is that there are typically several different names in common usage for any Chinese variety of tea, a situation that can be downright confusing even for people who have been around tea for a while, much less for newcomers.

For more background on the tricky issue of tea names, check out the article Tea Name Circus, which previously appeared in these very pages. Also worth a look is this chart listing The 10 Most Famous Chinese Teas, with their English and most commonly used Chinese names. While it goes into more detail than most casual tea drinkers require, here’s an informative article that tackles the somewhat daunting topic of the Romanization of Chinese Tea Names.

See also:
A Tea by Any Other Name
Some of the Strangest Tea Names
Some of the Coolest Tea Names 
Women’s Names and Tea
Tea Name Circus
Men’s Names and Tea

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

One thought on “How Do You Spell Tea?

  1. Pingback: Tea Terms: Fermentation vs. Oxidation « Tea Blog

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