Tea terms are popping up all over. Every so often the term grand cru (pronounced “grahn croo”) pops up in relation to a particularly fine tea. But what is grand crutea?
The term actually comes from the wine industry. Words are like that. They slide around from one area of knowledge to another, being applied in either the same way or in a slightly different way that fits their new “home.” In this case, the term grand cru means basically the same thing, whether applied to wine or tea, and is composed of actually two terms: grand and cru.
Cru comes from croitre (KWA-truh), which means “to grow” (related to plants) and so it means generally “growth.” In addition, it tends to encompass the idea of the soil in which wine grapes (or tea leaves) are grown (the terroir) imparting a particular flavor and character to the crop. This, then, leads to the term referring to specific vineyards or tea gardens where the terroir has been shown to impart those qualities to the grapes or tea leaves.
Grand indicates a high or great level of cru, so the term grand cru has a meaning generally of “great growth.” There is also premier cru which refers to “first growth” and is usually not considered as good. Confused yet? There’s more.
With regard to wine, the term grand cru has very specific rules for application, especially in the Burgundy region of France, but the same does not seem to hold for tea. Whenever I see the term, the vendor seems to be trying to indicate a generally exceptionally fine tea, especially with regard to oolongs. For you, the buyer, this term can mean very little, at least until standards are established for its usage. Just consider it a claim that their tea is better than other versions of the same tea. As always, exercise caution when accepting such claims, and happy hunting!
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