To say that deciphering the terminology of tea is a tricky matter is an understatement of vast proportions. It’s impossible to say how many varieties of tea are currently in existence, but they surely number in the hundreds and possibly even into the thousands. Then consider that many varieties of tea, particularly those that are grown in China, may have more than one alternate name in both Chinese and English.
Take Puerh, for example, which is a term for a category of tea and is a word that has several alternate spellings. Even after many years of writing about tea, I still don’t know which of these spellings is correct. Ditto for the likes of varieties like Green Snail Spring, which may also be known as Pi Lo Chun or Bi Lo Chun and possibly some other variations I’m not aware of. Or take the myriad of arcane grading terms (some of which are apparently still in use) such as Orange Pekoe, Flowery Orange Pekoe, Special Finest Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe and so on.
If you really want to throw a monkeywrench into the works, consider that there are also many tea terms that have either fallen into disuse nowadays or are used very rarely. I’m frequently reminded of these terms when I’m reviewing the old tea books I often write about at this site. I was especially reminded of them when reading Joseph M. Walsh’s Tea-Blending as a Fine Art, which was first published in 1896.
Walsh’s book contains more of these outdated tea terms that I can really expound upon in a brief article. Although some of the teas he refers to are ones with names that we would recognize today, such as Oolong, Gunpowder, Souchong or Pekoe, to name a few.
Some of the other terms you may recognize if you’ve been around tea long enough, though they’re not used as often nowadays. They include Congou, Bohea, and Hyson and there are also more obscure variations on the latter term, such as Young Hyson and Hyson-skin.
Then there are the tea terms that you’ve probably never heard, unless you’re a tea historian. These include a number of varieties of Oolong tea, including Ankoi, Amoy, Foochow, and Saryune. About these, the author claims that Ankoi might not even be “real” tea at all, while he confuses the issue in the case Foochow, calling it one of China’s best black teas. Saryune Oolong, along with Pekoe Oolong, are cited as very rare varieties of this type of tea. Other obscure varieties that come in for a mention are the Congous known as Kaisow, Moning and others, as well as “Scented” teas like Caper, and green teas such as Moyune, Hychow, Fychow, Tienke, and Pingsuey.
One of my personal favorites of these archaic terms is Twankay. I’m not sure why. I guess it just has kind of a nice ring to it. Walsh calls this “a large, loose and flat-leaf tea, varying in color, liquor and flavor, according to the grades from which it is separated.” Nowadays the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is a little more pointed with its definition, calling it “a green tea of inferior quality and of open leaves.”
You’re likely to read about these terms and others in any old tea book, but Walsh’s would be a good place to start. Or you might try Liu Yong’s The Dutch East India Company’s Tea Trade with China, 1757-1781. Some of these old tea varieties were also among those tossed into Boston Harbor during that renowned tea party a few centuries back. More about that here.
What’s All This “Orange Pekoe” Stuff Mean?
Tea Terms: Fermentation vs. Oxidation
The Mysterious World of Aged Pu-erh Tea
A Tea by Any Other Name
The A-Z of Tea Terms
Some of the Strangest Tea Names
Some of the Coolest Tea Names
Women’s Names and Tea
Men’s Names and Tea
Tea Name Circus
Tea Taste Terms Circus
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