3 Reasons to Standardize the Spellings of Tea Names

In a recent article, Bill Lengeman, that intrepid tea guy and reporter of all things tea, wrote about the “poetry” of tea names. Awhile ago, I wrote about the “circus” of tea names out there in this article. Let’s face it, consistency is not a byword in the world of tea!  Romanizing tea names can be very tricky, based partly on tradition and partly on mistranslation or miscommunication between Europeans and Asians. Some names are a straight conversion of the name in a way that approximates its pronunciation. Some names are the English terms for what the original name means.

Pai Mu Tan, Bai Mu Dan, or White Peony? Tea name confusion. (ETS image)
Pai Mu Tan, Bai Mu Dan, or White Peony? Tea name confusion. (ETS image)

The inconsistency of tea names leads to some conundrums and befuddlement, especially for those new to tea. So I am proposing that some standardization be implemented and giving three good, solid reasons to do so. Of course, I realize that the chances of this being implemented are about the same as Frosty the Snowman surviving a wave of warm, Spring-like weather, but here goes anyway.

1 Shopping for Tea

This is actually a “two-fer.” It applies both to the tea vendor and the tea shopper. One issue vendors and shoppers face is categorization, such as for teas like Spring Pouchong that can go either in the green or the oolong category. Add in the whole “name game” and it can drive both sellers and buyers a bit batty. Do they list a tea as “Longjing,” Long Jing,” Lungching,” “Lung Ching,” or even “Dragonwell”? If a vendor chooses one over the other, will their customers be confused? Will they be able to search for one of these name versions and find the tea no matter what name the vendor has used? Ack!

2 Writing About Tea

Also tricky to write about some teas. There are several spelling for Ti Kuan Yin such as Tie Guan Yin, Ti Kwan Yin, and so on, with some folks just calling it “Iron Goddess Oolong.” Which one should you use? I tend to pick the one that seems most common and stick with it. The same goes for Pai Mu Tan (aka “Baimudan” and “White Peony”). I remember getting samples from various vendors, each using one or the other of these names. It took awhile to “connect the dots” and realize they were the same type of tea. And then there are the name changes. Formosa is now Taiwan. Ceylon is now Sri Lanka. Yet the teas from both places still use the original country names.

3 Searching for Tea Online

How do you search? Some search engines can include variants. However, others cannot, nor can some programs such as Word. Case in point: “puer,” “pu-er,” “pu-erh,” “puerh,” and “pu’er.” Searches for “puer” returned results that included matches for “pure” since most search engine designers assume that people can’t spell or that they make letter order reversals on a routine basis. Some results included alternate spellings but not all of them show here. That means you need to do multiple searches if you want fairly complete information.

Bottom Line

The issue is a tricky one and has been going on for a long time, so, as I said earlier, the chances of any standards being set are extremely slim and would take decades to agree upon and put into wide practice. But, hey, I can dream, can’t I?

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

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2 thoughts on “3 Reasons to Standardize the Spellings of Tea Names

  1. It’s best to use pinyin when transcribing the names of Chinese teas, since this is the offical transcription system in China nowadays. I also prefer to write them as one word, for example Tieguanyin and Baimudan. It’s also good to be consistent and avoid mixing various transcription systems and languages too much.

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