What’s All This “Tea Liquor” Talk?

A nice cuppa “tea liquor.” (ETS image)
A nice cuppa “tea liquor.” (ETS image)

Awhile back the whole issue of tea drunkenness got a once over (see “Is There Really Such a Thing as Being “Tea Drunk”?”), but now we’re going to back up a bit and look at what could be causing this condition: “tea liquor.” Everywhere I look tea drinkers and tea vendors are talking about the taste of the “tea liquor” from this pu-erh or that oolong, etc. What in the world are they talking about? Time to find out.

First, we’re not talking about things like tea infused beer (see “Tea, Meet Beer”), or tea/vodka combination beverages (see “Tea Meets Vodka”), or wine-like beverages that include tea in their list of ingredients (see “Making Wine from Tea?”). We’re also not talking about the stuff that was served in teacups during Prohibition Era “tea parties.” Nor are we talking about the “tea liquor” referred to on numerous sites that is a combination of tea and one of various alcoholic beverages such as vodka, rum, and brandy mixed up as a cocktail. We seem to be faced with another term that was bandied about, misunderstood, and then misapplied.

When describing the flavor of the liquid steeped from the tea leaves, you will see things like this:

  • “The brewed tea is thick and sweet, the liquor color is a deep yellow.” (for a nice pu-erh)
  • “This tea has been aged over 10 years and produces an aromatic, almost sweet, liquor with a deep red color.” (for a black tea)
  • Tea Liquor Color — Clear, pure and bright yellow-greenish color, very lively. Tea Liquor Taste — Pure, fresh and flavorful taste enriches the mouth smoothly, with a light sweet undertone; no bitterness or astringent taste occurs.” (a Pouchong)

This is what Twinings, a 300+ years old tea company based in the UK, says of the term:

In the world of tea, we call the infusion ‘liquor’. When we’re inspecting the liquor, we look for: Colour – does it leap out at you? We are looking for a bright, jewel-like colour. Physical Appearance – we are looking for shiny, slightly oily and bright? It’s fine to have a little fragments floating around the bottom of the cup. [source]

Not really a definition.

Another vendor also gives no definition of the term but does list a lot of terms used to describe it’s taste, such as:

  • Bright – denotes a lively fresh tea with good keeping quality.
  • Empty – a liquor lacking fullness. No substance.
  • Full – a good combination of strength and colour.
  • Metallic – a sharp coppery taste.
  • Thick – liquor with good colour and strength.

And so it goes on tea vendor site after tea vendor site. The term “tea liquor” or just “liquor” is used but no definition given. There might be a site that does define it, but I got tired of scrolling through dozens of search results, especially when most of them just talked about how to combine tea (the teetotaler’s beverage of choice) with some alcoholic beverage. The assumption is that the “liquor” is what the liquid resulting from steeping tea leaves in water is called. But it has no alcoholic content.

So, tea lovers, drink up that “tea liquor” and don’t worry, you’re not very likely to have a hangover the next day. Enjoy!

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

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3 thoughts on “What’s All This “Tea Liquor” Talk?

  1. Corso

    “In the world of tea, we call the infusion ‘liquor’.”

    If that’s not a definition I don’t know what is, the tea liquor is simply the brewed tea

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