Tea Glossary

Agony of the leaves: Expression describing the unfurling of rolled or twisted leaves during steeping..

Assam: Tea grown in the state of Assam, in India.  These (generally black) teas are known for their strong, deep, red infusions.

Astringency: The drying sensation in the mouth caused by teas high in unoxidized polyphenols.

Autumnal: Tea produced late in the growing season.

Bakey: Tea taster expression for over fired teas with too much moisture removed.

Bergamot: Essential oil of the bergamot orange used to flavor a black tea base to make Earl Grey tea.

Billy:  Australian term referring to tin pot with wire handle to suspend over an open fire in which tea is boiled.
Biscuity: Tea taster's expression, often used with Assam teas that have been fired well but not overly so. 

Bite: A term referring to the astringent quality of black tea. 

Black: Tea that has been oxidized.

Bloom: Tea taster's term to describe sheen or luster present to finished leaf. 

Body: Tea taster's term to denote a full strength brew.

Bold: Large leaf cut tea.

Brassy: Unpleasant acidic bite from improperly withered tea.

Break: Auction term referring to a lot for sale, usually 18 chests or more. 

Brick tea: Tea leaves that have been steamed and compressed into bricks.  Tea is typically shaved and boiled with butter and salt to make a soup.

Bright: Denotes a bright red brew or light leaf, as opposed to a dull brown or black color.

Brisk:  A tea high in astringency.  Also a trademarked characteristic of Lipton tea. 

Broken: Smaller leaf style usually created during manufacture by passing hte leaf through a cutter.

Caddy: Tea storage container.  The word caddy derives from the Malay "kati", a measure of weight of about 3/5 of a kilo.  The 17th century tea containers were bottle shaped tea jars in china, glass, silver, enamel and straw-work covered metal.

Caffeine: Stimulating compound found in tea.

Cambric tea: A very weak tea infusion in an excess of milk and sugar. 

Camellia sinensis: The name for the tea bush, which can grow up to 30 feet if left untrimmed. 

Camellia sinensis var. assamica: A large leaf variety found wild in the Assam region of India. 

Catechins: Class of polyphenols present in high concentrations in green tea, but found in varying levels in other teas derived from the tea plant. 

Ceylon: Teas made in Sri Lanka.

Cha: "Tea" in Chinese.

Chai: Tea.  Often refers to masala Chai, or spiced tea,  strong black tea infused with milk, sugar and spices. 
Chamomile: A white, calming herb with an appley aroma, which is usually consumed in the evening. 

Chest: Classical tea package, usually made of wood and aluminum-lines, used to ship tea from plantation. 

Chesty: Tea taster's term signifying off odor in tea from the wood in the tea chest. 

Chunmee:  A grade of Chinese tea with a curled shape. 

Clippers: The sailing ships that raced tea cargoes between China and London.  Last one took place in 1871. 

Congou: A general name for Chinese black tea, derived from gongfu. 

Coppery: Bright infusion of good quality black tea. 

Creaming up: A term used to describe the bubbly residu that occasionally comes to the surface of black teas, especially Assam.  This is not a bad characteristic. 

Crumpets: Pale, round, hot and made from pouring a thin batter into rings on a hot griddle. The honeycombed surface is ideal for absorbing butter.

Ctc: Stands for Crush, Tear, and Curl, a machine-based process that macerates the leaves by pressing through counter-rotating rollers to create a stronger, more colorful tea.

Darjeeling: Tea grown in the Darjeeling region, a mountainous area around the Himalayas, of India. These (generally black) teas are well known for their crisp astringency.

Dhool: Refers to the tealeaf during fermentation, noted for its coppery color.

Desiccation: The final stage in tea manufacturing, consisting in stopping oxidation by drying the black tea leaves.

Dust: The smallest grade of tea, this is typically associated with lower quality, but is prized for its quick extraction and is commonly used in teabags.

Earl Grey: Black tea that is scented with the essential oil of bergamot, a citrus.

English muffins: Made with a stiffer batter than crumpets and are baked without rings.

Fannings: Small, grainy particles of leaf sifted out of better grade teas.

Fermentation: Used in the process of preparing black and oolong tea, this step involves allowing the natural browning enzymes present in tealeaf to oxidize fresh green tea leaves and to impart the darker brown-red color and characteristic aroma.

Fibrous: Teas which contain a large percentage of fannings.

Firing: The process of rapidly heating the leaf, either with hot air or in a wok, to quickly halt fermentation and dry the leaf to its final product.

Flat: Teas lacking astringency or briskness.

Flowery: Used in grading the size of tea, it typically indicates a leaf style with more of the lighter colored tips.

Flush: The freshly picked tea leaves, typically comprising the bud and first two leaves of the growing tea shoot.

Formosa: Tea produced in Taiwan, typically oolong teas.

Full: Strong tea without bitterness and possessing good color.

Genmaicha: Green tea with toasted and popped rice.

Golden: Denoting the orange colored tip present in high quality black tea.

Gone off: When a tea goes bad by improper storage or packing.

Gongfu: Meaning performed with care, this typically refers to a style of brewing with many repeated short infusions of leaf in a miniature pot.

Grainy: Term used to describe high quality CTC teas.

Green: Unfermented, dried tea, more commonly found in China and Japan.

Gunpowder: A green tea, which is rolled into pellets, which unfurl in hot water.

Gyrokuro: Japanese green tea produced from shaded plants. "Pearl Dew".

Hard: Pungent tea, desired in some Assam teas.

Harsh: Bitter teas.

Heavy: A thick, colorful infusion with little briskness or astringency.

High tea: A hearty tea served at the end of day not to be confused with afternoon tea, which is a delicate and dainty affair.

Hyson: Chinese green teas. Brand of tea in common usage during 18th century. "Flourishing spring".

Infusers: Any tea equipage that will hold tea leaves for steeping purposes.

Jasmine: Black tea scented with jasmine flowers, typically made with green Pouchong tea as the base.

Keemun: Black tea from central China, typically hand rolled and fired.

Lapsang Souchong: A Chinese black tea, which is fired (dried) over a smoky (pine wood) fire to impart its characteristic smoky flavor.

Licorice root: Has been used to aid digestion.

Light: Liquor lacking body or thickness.

Malty: Slightly over-fired tea, sometimes desirable.

Metallic: Tea taster's term to denote coppery taste of some teas.

Muddy: Tea taster's term to denote a dull, blackish color of the infusion.

Nose: The aroma of the tea.

Oolong: A form of tea characterized by lighter brews and larger leaf styles. This tea is typically understood as a lightly fermented tea, between green and black tea on a continuum.

Orange pekoe: Referring to size of leaf, not quality or flavor, this term indicates a larger-size grade of whole leaf teas.

Orthodox: Prepared using a technique, which leads to larger leaf styles mirroring hand-produced teas.

Osthmanthus: A princely, elegant flower that blooms in the autumn and used at fall festivals. The creamy white flowers resemble jasmine. Used in medicine and tea.

Pan fired: Tea that is steamed and then agitated in an iron wok over a fire.

Pekoe: A word of Cantonese origins, Pak-ho, referring to the “white-down or hair” that coats the bud.

Plain: Tea taster's term to denote dull liquor with sour taste.

Plucking: The process of harvesting the tea by cutting the flush from the growing tea shrub.

Polyphenols: Astringent compounds present in tea.

Pu erh: A type of tea most notably from the Yunnan province of China. Damp green tea that has been fermented microbiologically to a black leaf. Can be loose-leaf or compressed.

Pungent: Tea taster's term to denote a very astringent tea.

Rawness: Bitter taste.

Rolling: The process of crushing the leaves to initiate fermentation and impart twist.

Rose hips: An acidic, astringent, tonic herb, rich in vitamins. Has been used internally for colds, influenza, minor infectious diseases, scurvy, diarrhea, and gastritis.

Self drinking: Rounded, well bodied tea that can be served unblended.

Schizandra berry: Tart berry used in Chinese medicine. Noted for helping the liver.

Smoky: Tea taster's term for teas that have been fired over smoky flames, imparting a smoky flavor.

Soft: Tea taster's term for under fermented teas.

Souchong: Term for large leaf teas derived from the third and fourth leaf of the tea shoot.

Stalk: Describes teas with presence of red stalk pieces from a hard plucking.

Tannin: Erroneous term referring to the astringent polyphenols of tea, unrelated to tannic acid polyphenols of other plants.

Tarry: Tea taster's term for teas that have been fired over smoky flames, imparting a smoky flavor.

Tat: Shelf made of wire mesh or burlap used to spread the leaves out for withering and fermentation.

Tea: See Camellia sinensis

Tea cozy: Insulated cover to keep tea hot in the pot.

Theaflavins: Orange red polyphenols unique to fermented teas such as black tea, and formed from the condensation of two catechins.

Theanine: Unique amino acid in tea.

Theine: Synonym for caffeine.

Ti kuan yin: "Iron Goddess of Mercy"- a distinctive type of oolong tea typically longer-fermented and possessing a darker-colored but fragrant brew.

Tippy: Teas with white or golden tips, indicating high quality.

Tip: Fine bud ends indicating a high quality tea.

Tisane:  Teas produced from the leaves of plants other than the tea plant, herbal tea.

Tuocha:  Bowl tea. A form of brick tea comprised of pu-erh tea pressed into a bowl shaped cake. Looks like a bird’s nest.

Twist:  Before fermentation, the leaves need to be crushed to initiate oxidation. This imparts the curled appearance of the finished leaf.

Two and a bud:  The ideal plucked tea for production, consisting of the new tea shoot and the first two leaves.

White tea: A special type of green tea. Distinguished by the presence of the white hairs of the tea flush (baihao) and a lighter green, almost clear, infusion.

Winey: Mellow quality, characteristic of some Keemun teas which have been given time to age.

Withering: The first step in production of most teas. Involves letting the fresh leaves wither for some period of time after plucking to reduce moisture content.

Woody: Tea taster's term indicating an undesirable grass or hay flavor in black tea.

Yixing: Pronounced ee-ching, this region in China is noted for its purple clay, used to produce distinctive unglazed teapots.

Yunnan: Tea grown in the Yunnan province, in the southwest of China. These black teas are known for their spicy character. This region also produces Pu-Erh tea.