(Sort of) Arcane Tea Terms: Congou

Chinese Black Tea (ETS image)
Chinese Black Tea (ETS image)

Language is an ever-changing thing, as anyone who’s ever struggled to read Chaucer or Shakespeare can probably attest to. The British Library was so convinced that the English language is constantly in flux that they created a web site to try to document some of those changes.

Of course, the language of tea has changed along with the rest of the language, and some of the terms that might have been quite common in past centuries don’t turn up much anymore. I took a look at a few of these obsolete tea terms in an article here a while back. More recently, I took a closer look at such old-fashioned tea terms as Bohea, Hyson and Singlo, words that are used to categorize types of tea but which aren’t heard much anymore.

Then there’s Congou. As I began this article, I was under the impression that it was a term that we don’t hear much about anymore. But then I discovered that there are still a few scattered tea sellers who offer teas under this name. For whatever it might be worth, Merriam-Webster Online defines “congou” as “a black tea from China,” which is a decidedly less than specific rendering of the term. Other useful information from the same listing claims that the term was first used in 1725 and that it rhymes with bongo.

Congou tea hails from the Fujian region of China and is indeed a black tea, a category the Chinese sometimes refer to as red tea. According to a few merchants who still offer this variety, it is sometimes referred to as the claret of Chinese tea, which is a reference to a red wine that’s made in the Bordeaux region of France.

As nearly as I can tell, Congou, in the broader sense of the word, is still a relatively arcane term, at least by today’s standards. Although, as noted, you can still buy some if you really want to. However, there is a variety of Congou that’s arguably a little better known. That one is called Panyang Congou and it’s probably better known to those relatively few people who have tried it as Golden Monkey. More about that one here.

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

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