The Poetry of Tea Names

If you haven’t noticed yet, let me direct your attention to the fact that many tea names are comparatively bland and utilitarian. Let’s leave aside for now any names that have to do with a specific tea merchant such as Twinings, PG Tips, and the like, and focus on some of the rest.

Perhaps one of the most common types of tea name is one that is somehow related to a place. They can be reflective of an entire country such as Kenyan or Ceylon, the former name of the nation now called Sri Lanka. Or they can be related to a specific area, like Darjeeling, Assam or Nilgiri – all of them in India – or Yunnan, a province in China. Or they can be even more specific, such as the Mokalbari or Kenilworth estates, in India and Sri Lanka.

None of which are particularly inspiring, if you ask me, but there are those tea names that are a little more off the beaten path and which may even lean toward the poetic. Names such as the Japanese tea terms Sencha, Matcha, Kuckicha and Genmaicha are perhaps not quite there, but to Western ears not familiar with the language they do have a hint of the exotic.

It’s probably the Chinese, not surprisingly, who have given us some of the most poetic tea names of all, not just in the Chinese names themselves but also in the translations of the original terms. Tieguanyin, for example, which is grown outside of China as well and which is one of the more popular of the oolong teas, translates more or less to Iron Goddess of Mercy.”

Bu there are a few exceptions, as well. One of the most popular Chinese green teas, Dragonwell, is a bit on the mundane side for my money and the Chinese name, Long Jing, has always sounded a little better to my ear. Golden Monkey doesn’t do much for me either – as a name, not as a tea – nor does the original Chinese name, Jin Hou Cha. Nor does Keemun, a popular Chinese black tea.

But there are those other Chinese teas that are decidedly more poetic in tone. Green Snail Spring (Bi Luo Chun) is a particularly good one and is descriptive of the shape of the leaves of this green variety. Junshan Yinzhen, or Jun Mountain Silver Needle, is sometimes referred to as a green tea, but is actually an example of the more rare yellow tea.

Yellow Mountain Fur Peak or Fur Peak, the common translation for the green tea Huang Shan Mao Feng, might sound a bit curious at first, until you consider that it is also descriptive of the tea itself. As is the case with Lu An Gua Pian, or Little Melon Seed. Not so for one of my favorite poetic tea names – Big Red Robe, which is occasionally referred to as Big Red Robe on the Cliff and is the translation of Da Hong Pao.

Which is hardly a definitive listing of poetic tea names and I encourage you to go and seek out more of your own.

(Note: Names and translations for Chinese varieties of tea tend to vary widely. I’m not aware of any standards in this area so I attempted to go with the most common version/translation that I’m aware of).

See other articles about tea names on this blog.

See more of William I. Lengeman’s articles here.

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2 thoughts on “The Poetry of Tea Names

  1. Pingback: 3 Reasons to Standardize the Spellings of Tea Names | Tea Blog

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