Glossary of Terms

Tea Association of the United States - Industry Definitions

A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z
Assam: A black tea grown in the Northeast section of India. A strong full-bodied tea with a rich robust flavor. Considered by many tea lovers to be a wake-up tea to be consumed in the morning. Often used in blends because of its strong flavor and body.
Aroma: An important consideration in cupping teas is the smell which is given off. A favorable aroma is most often associated with a flavorful taste.
Astringent: A tea tasting term which describes a liquor which is pungent, creating a "dry" feeling in the mouth.
Autumnal: Describes the liquor from teas grown in Autumn, in cool weather. The term is most often applied to teas from Northern India.
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Black Tea: The most commonly consumed tea in the world accounting for approximately 68% of all consumption. In the United States well over 80% of the tea consumed is black. There are five major types of teas: Black, Green, Oolong, White and Dark. (Some consider Yellow tea as a 6th category.) Black teas are fully fermented (oxidized).
Baggy: Describes an undesirable taint sometimes found in teas withered on inferior hessian or stored in sacks.
Bakey: An unpleasant characteristic noticeable in the liquors of teas which have been subjected to higher than desirable temperatures during processing.
Bancha: A Japanese tea made from coarse leaves, usually from the last plucking. This tea is generally consumed domestically.
Biscuity: A desirable trait usually referring to a well fired Assam.
Bite: A very brisk and "alive" tea liquor. A desirable trait.
Blend: A mixture of teas from several different regions or origins to achieve a certain flavor profile. Many branded teas in the United States use 20 or more origins to achieve desired taste profile.
Body: Describes a tea liquor possessing fullness and strength.
Bright: A lively tea, usually with a red / yellow liquor.
Brisk: Describes a live taste as opposed to flat or soft.
Broken Orange Pekoe: A size of tea leaf comprising the smaller leaves and tips.
Burnt: A degree worse than bakey resulting from too high dryer temperatures or too long a dwell time.
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Caffeine: One of the three methylxanthines in tea (caffeine, theophylline and theobromine), caffeine stimulates the nervous system. A cup of tea averages 40 milligrams of caffeine versus approximately 110 in a cup of coffee.
Ceylon Tea: The common name for teas grown in Sri Lanka.
Ceylon Breakfast: A blend of teas grown on the hillsides of Sri Lanka producing a rich golden liquor with superb flavor.
Chai: Usually a black tea blended with various spices and warmed/steamed milk. A common drink in parts of India.
Chest: Traditional way of packaging bulk teas which is rarely used today. Typically, chests are of wood sides with wooden battens and paper lined with aluminum on the inside protecting the tea.
Chesty: Tea which has been contaminated by improperly seasoned or inferior chest panels.
China Oolong: Semi-fermented (oxidized) tea. Most well known Oolongs are manufactured in China.
Common: Describes the liquor of inferior tea having little character.
Chop: From the Hindi; means to stamp. A chop of tea means a certain number of chests all containing the same tea, usually produced at or around the same time.
Coppery: Refers to color of the tea liquor, like a new penny. A good trait resulting from good manufacturing processes.
Creaming Down: The process of teas turning cloudy caused by the precipitation of tea solids that have formed chelates and fall out of solution.
Croppy: Describes a bright, strong creamy liquor with distinctive character. Usually found in some second flush Assams and Dooars of Orthodox manufacture.
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Darjeeling: A very high quality black tea grown in the foothills of the Himalaya Mountains in Northern India. Second flush Darjeelings often have a strong "Muscatel" flavor. Today, some call Darjeeling the champagne of teas.
Dooar: Tea grown in the Dooars district located in Central India.
Dull: Tea liquor which is not clear or bright.
Dust: A term used to describe the smallest particles of tea leaf.
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Earthy: An unfavorable characteristic generally caused by storing tea under damp conditions.
English Breakfast: Originally a blend of China Keemuns and later referring to a blend of Indian and Ceylon teas, today this refers to any tea blend that is strong, thick and takes milk and sugar well.
Estate: A term used to describe a garden where tea is grown.
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Fannings: A small size of tea leaf, larger than dust but smaller thatn BOP.
Fermentation: A term used to describe the natural chemical process that takes place in the tea leaf after withering and rolling when making Oolong and Black teas. The actual chemical transformation which takes place is oxidation. Even though the term is chemically incorrect, it remains in common usage.
Fibrous: A term used to describe teas that contain pieces of leaf fiber in finished tea.
Fine: Teas of exceptional quality and flavor.
Flavour: Very characteristic taste and aroma of fine teas, usually associated with high grown teas.
Flowery Orange Pekoe: A leaf size larger and usually more open than an Orange Pekoe grade.
Flush: The new growth on a tea plant consisting of a full complement of leaves. It takes about 15 - 20 days for bush to flush after plucking.
Formosa: Tea grown on the island of Taiwan (Republic of China).
Full: A strong tea with good color and no bitterness.
Fully-fired: Referring to the taste of the liquor when the tea has been slightly over fired.
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Garden: Refers to an estate where tea is grown.
Golden Tip: A desirable feature in whole leaf teas resulting when the buds of the tea leaf turn golden during processing.
Gone off: Tea which is not good because it is old, mouldy, or otherwise tainted.
Grainy: Refers to well-made fannings and dust, usually associated with CTC manufacture.
Green: Describes an unpleasant astringency which may be due to inadequate withering or fermentation.
Green tea: Tea which has been heated after plucking to prevent oxidation. Heating can be done by either steaming or pan-firing the tea which denatures enzymes that would cause oxidation to take place.
Gunpowder: A type of Green tea which has been rolled into pellets.
Gyokuro: A prized Japanese Green Tea which is rich in taste and pleasing to the eye. The tea undergoes special handling at every stage of its growth (shaded) and processing (hand-fired).
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Hard: A desirable quality suggesting pungency, particularly applied to Assam teas.
Harsh: Refers to a tea which is bitter.
Heavy: A tea which is thick and colory, containing little briskness or astringency.
High-fired: A tea that has remained in a dryer too long a period of time, but not quite considered to be burnt.
Hungry: Describes the liquor of a tea which is lacking in cup quality.
Hyson, Young Hyson: A Chinese Green Tea named for the East India merchant who first sold it in England. Young Hyson is generally preferred to Hyson.
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I-Chiban Cha: A Japanese term referring to the first flush or first plucking of tea. It is generally a very delicate tasting tea.
Imperial Tea: Traditionally from China, this is a Green Tea made from older leaves left after the Gunpowder tea is sorted.
Instant Tea: Developed in the 1930's and commercialized in the 50's, instant tea is produced by extracting the tea solids from the leaf and then drying them resulting in a powder form.
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Jasmine: The Chinese use Green Tea as the base to which Jasmine flowers are used to scent the tea. The finest Chinese Jasmine is called Yin Hao and Chun Hao. Formosa Jasmines use Pouchong tea as a base. Pouchong is allowed to wither for a longer period of time (than Green) before it is fired which places it between Green and Oolong.
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Keemun: A fine grade of Black Tea from China. It has a dark amber color and unique "winey" liquor.
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Lapsang Souchong: A fine grade of China Black tea with a distinctive smoky/tarry flavor resulting results from a unique drying process that uses a specific pine to dry and smoke the tea.
Light: Describes a liquor which is rather thin and lacking depth of color but which may be flavoury or pungent or both.
Lot: Describes all of the teas offered under a single mark or serial number at any tea auction.
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Metallic: An undesirable trait which imparts a metallic taste.
Mouldy: An undesirable trait characterized by a mouldy taste and odor resulting from improper storage.
Muddy: A term which describes a dull or lifeless liquor.
Muscatel: Describes a characteristic reminiscent of grapes. Also describes an exceptional characteristic found in the liquors of the finest second flush Darjeelings.
Mushy: A tea which may have been packed too moist.
Musty; Fusty: A tea liquor in which there is suspicion of mold.
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New: Describes a tea which has not had adequate time to mellow.
Nose: A term that refers to the aroma of tea and the infused leaf.
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Old: Describes liquor from tea which has lost through age those attributes which it possessed originally.
Oolong: Partially "fermented" tea. Plucked leaves are withered and are then allowed to ferment (oxidize) before drying. Oolongs lie between green and black teas on a sliding scale.
Orange Pekoe: Is used to identify a large leaf size. The tea is characterized by long, thin, wiry leaves which sometimes contain the white or yellow tip of the leaf bud.
Organoleptic: The process used by most tea tasters to evaluate the quality of a tea using all the senses.
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Pan-fired: The process by which fresh tea leaves are heated to denature enzymes that cause oxidation. Traditionally, the leaves would be heated on a hot metal surface, such as a wok. This is typically associated with China's green tea process.
Pekoe: A size of tea leaf characterized by leaves which are shorter and not as wiry as Orange Pekoe. The liquors generally have more color.
Pekoe Souchong Congous: A Chinese black tea which is curly and relatively tippy. Well made samples are bright with a thick, rich and powerful liquor.
Pingsuey: Named after the the market town, this is an old style green tea from China, similar to Hoochows, but with better style.
Plain: Describes teas which are clean and innocuous but lacking character.
Point; pointy: A most desirable brisk pungent characteristic.
Pouchong: Some of the finest quality and high priced teas. A very fragrant tea which is also used as a base for making Jasmine Tea.
Pu'Erh/ Puerh: Technically classified as a dark tea, the best of these are often aged for decades before use. The base may be "cooked" or "uncooked", and after processing, the teas are stored and microbes are allowed to ferment on the tea. Tastes and aromas can range from earthy to elegant. In China it has been customarily drunk with or after meals as a digestif.
Pungent: Describes a tea liquor having marked briskness and an astringent effect on the palate without bitterness.
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Quality: Describes a preponderance of desirable attributes which are the essential characteristics of a good tea.
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Rains; rainy: Describes liquor of a dull plain tea manufactured during the rainy season.
Red Tea: Background:
The term “Red Tea” has always been confusing to both the tea trade as well as consumers. The situation has worsened today as a result of the introduction of a South African Herbal plant called Rooibos or Red Bush from which an herbal tea is made. The purpose of this Position Paper is to provide a guideline for both the trade and consumers to help distinguish between traditional tea, from Camellia sinensis and Rooibos Herbal tea.

Early Definition:
Beginning in the 16th Century and extending to the beginning of the 20th Century, the term “Red Tea” was used by Chinese tea merchants as their name for what the rest of the world would call Black Tea. Today, the term is still used in China, but much less commonly.

In its original form, it described a fully fermented / oxidized tea and it was (is) subsequently used to describe both fully fermented and semi-fermented teas by some members of the Trade.

Current Usage:
Today, several packers of Rooibos have begun labeling their tea as Red Tea. Used alone without any qualification, this can be misleading to consumers who think they are consuming traditional tea so that they may benefit from the much publicized health benefits associated with that product. While Rooibos Tea may also contain health benefits, the body of research supporting claims for Rooibos is tiny in comparison to the volumes of scientific evidence published about the health benefits of Camellia sinensis.

To avoid this potential for confusion, The Tea Association of the USA has approved the following guideline for dissemination to the traditional and herbal tea industries:

Red Tea Guideline:
When using the term “Red Tea” to describe a product derived from the Rooibos or Red Bush plant, the term should be qualified by stating that it contains Rooibus Herbal Tea. When using the term “Red Tea” to describe a traditional Black Tea or Oolong Tea, the term should be so qualified through the use of these descriptors.

While an element of confusion continues to exist, the appropriate use of these modifiers should minimize it.
Rich: A mellow liquor which is abounding in quality and thickness.
Roughness: A term used to connote harshness.
Russian Caravan: A blend of China Black Teas. Although there is little consistency between available blends in the marketplace.
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Sappy: Describes a tea liquor which has a full juicy flavor.
Scented tea: These are teas which, after processing are put in close proximity with various flowers or spices under controlled temperature and humidity conditions for periods of about 4 hours in order for the fragrances to be fully infused in the tea leaves.
Self-drinking: Describes an original tea which is palatable in itself and does not necessarily require blending before being consumed by the public.
Sencha: The most common green tea in Japan, the leaves are steamed and then flattened using special "foot" rollers, and comprise about 75% of total tea production.
Silver Tip Pekoe: A very costly tea from China and Sri Lanka, made from full-grown buds of special cultivars. This is sometimes referred to as White Tea.
Silvery Oolong: Another costly tea which utilizes the delicate whitish leaf from the first flush.
Smokey: This term describes an odor or taste of smoke, often caused by a leak or defect in the drier.
Soft: A tea which is under fermented (under oxidized).
Sour: This describes an undesirable acid odor and taste.
Spicy: A liquor having character, suggestive of cinnamon or cloves. This is sometimes, but not always, the effect of contamination or poor storage.
Stalky: Used to describe a tea with visible stalk. Stalk refers to the woody portions of the tea bush, resulting from plucking too far down the bush.
Standing up: A tea which holds its original color and flavor is described in this manner.
Stand-out: No surprises here. A tea liquor which is much above average.
Stewed; stewy: Describes certain thick liquoring teas, having undesirable characteristics as a result of incorrect firing.
Strength; strong: Describes a liquor with powerful tea characteristics, but not necessarily thick. A very desirable characteristic, but not essential in certain flavory teas.
Sumatra: Tea grown on the island of Sumatra. Grades and characteristics are similar to Java teas.
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Taint: An undesirable characteristic with a taste and odor foreign to the tea.
Tannin: A class of chemicals contained in tea that are thought to be responsible for tea's health benefits. The contribute heavily to the taste and pungent characteristics of tea.
Tarry: A tea which has a smokey aroma. Not desired unless the tea is a Lapsang Souchong.
Tea: The leaf and extracted liquor of the shrub Camellia sinensis. No other beverages merit the unqualified term "tea".
Tea Taster: An expert judge of the beverage. A person who uses organoleptic means to discern various characteristics and qualities of tea.
Tip: The leaf bud of the Camellia sinensis plant.
Thick: Describes tea liquor having substance, but not necessarily strength.
Thin; weak: Tea liquor which lacks thickness or strength.
Tisane: A term which describes an herbal infusion.
Toasty: A tea which has been slightly overfired during processing. It may be a desirable characteristic in some Darjeeling teas.
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Weathery: Describes a soft, unpleasant characteristic, which is occasionally evident in the liquors of teas processed during very wet weather.
Weak: Teas which have a thin liquor.
White Tea: Background

White Tea’s origins are found in the Fujian province of China around A.D. 1000. Even then it was considered to be amongst the rarest of teas and to possess the most delicate flavor. Until recently, only teas coming from this province were considered White Tea and then, only if its production followed very strict harvesting and processing requirements.

Those requirements include harvesting the unfurled leaf bud of the Camellia sinensis plant at the beginning of the first seasonal flush. The raw tea leaf is then steamed and dried with no rolling or fermentation (oxidation) taking place. The finished product takes on the look of silver needles, a name that has been used to describe this type of tea. Within the category of White Tea, Silver Needle was the first type to be created followed by Bai Mu Tan (White Peony), Gong Mei and Shou Mei. In all cases the resultant brew ranges in color from clear liquoring to “hay” tints, with virtually no green color in the cup.

Even today, Chinese traditionalists consider White Tea to be a national treasure and while acknowledging its production in other countries, the feeling is that quality does not match White Tea produced in Fujian Province.


Proposed New Definition
The Tea Association of the USA has proposed a new definition.
In order for White Tea to be so termed it should be:
  • White Tea should be produced in accordance with the strict harvesting and processing guidelines as originally established and followed in the Fujian Province of China. Only the hand-picked, unopened leaf bud, or the hand-picked, unopened leaf bud and first two leaves from the first seasonal flush of the Camellia sinensis plant should be harvested. The raw tea leaf should not be rolled or otherwise have its leaf/cellular structure ruptured.

    Tea leaves may be dried and/or be steamed (or similar enzyme de-activation) and then dried. The finished tea should be packaged in such a way as to protect the physical and organoleptic quality of the tea that contribute to the uniqueness of this form.

White Tea can be made by any tea producing country providing manufacture conforms to the above harvesting and processing steps.

Pure Buds - This corresponds to :Snow Buds” or “Silver Needles” from China and Silver Tip from Sri Lanka, e.g., whole long fine unopened buds delivering very light subtle liquor.

Whole Leaf - Chinese Pai Mu Tan is commonly called White Tea. It contains both fine whole buds and coarse unfermented and non-graded green leaves. Value depends on proportion of buds, leaf appearance as well as liquor quality and color (the paler, the better). Fannings Grade - For tea bag usage, green fannings that exhibit a high content of tip may be included as White Tea. The presence of tip must be clear and confirmed by a tea expert.
Well twisted: A tea leaf which is tightly rolled or twisted, indicative of good withering.
Wiry: Another term which means well twisted.
Woody: A characteristic reminiscent of freshly-cut timber. This trait is usually associated with teas processed very late in the season
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