Uncomplicating Tea Terminology

Posted by Dani Noto on

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Years ago, when I first started drinking loose leaf tea, I was horribly confused with some of the tea terminologies. All these terms that people would throw around, and I had no idea what they were talking about. It was like a foreign language. So I started on a mission to learn the terms so I wouldn’t embarrass myself.

This is just a mini-tutorial. There are many more terms, but this will get you started.

Aroma: It’s what you smell when you open your package of tea. It’s also called the “nose.”

BLT: British Legacy Teas refers to teas produced in the former British colonies of India and Sri Lanka (Ceylon).

Body: Refers to whether or not a tea feels thick in your mouth.

BOP: Broken Orange Pekoe - This is the formal way small tea leaf particles are classified.

Briskness: Also known as astringency, refers to a tea’s ability to make your mouth pucker.

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Camellia Sinensis: This is the name of the tea plant from which all our tea is made.

Cut-Tear-Curl: Also known as CTC. This method of tea processing results in broken leaves. It is seen most often in Assam teas.

Dust: These are the smallest tea particles that are created during the Rolling process. Some lower-quality teabags contain “dust” instead of leaves.

Estate or Garden: The name of the farm or plantation where tea is grown.

Fannings: Tiny particles of tea used in most teabags. The name comes from the large fans used to separate them from other sizes of tea leaves.

Firing: The drying of teas to 3% moisture. Originally this was done over charcoal which can still be found occasionally. Now it is mostly in ovens.

First Flush: The very first plucking of a tea plant’s leaves from the new harvest season. Often this is the best-flavored tea.

Fixed Green: Tea that has been heated enough that some enzymes are destroyed and can not turn a leaf brown or black.

Flowery: A tea that has a floral taste or aroma.

FTGFOP: This letter alphabet stands for Fancy Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe, a classification of full-leaf tea that looks pleasing and has some of the tea buds that give sweetness. Usually, this is a sign of a great tea.

Full-Leaf: Larger tea leaves.

Grassy: Usually, this refers to a type of green tea that tastes like grass or is very vegetal. An example is Matcha or Japanese Sencha.

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Herbals: Also known as infusions, tisanes, or “teas.” These blends are caffeine-free and made from bark, flowers, leaves, seeds, and dried fruits.

Orange Pekoe (OP): This refers to large tea leaves. It can often be used to classify better teas. Orange refers to the royal House of Orange in the Netherlands that was important at the beginning of tea drinking in Europe. Pekoe is a mispronunciation of a Chinese word referring to hairy tea buds, which is a sign of quality.

Oxidation: When tea leaves are damaged, and start a series of chemical reactions (the plant uses this to defend itself against insects). The tea leaves begin to turn brown or black. The speed of this oxidation determines the briskness of your tea. Faster oxidation makes a tea brisker, while slower oxidation makes tea more mellow. An example of oxidation would be when you cut an apple and leave it on the counter, and it starts turning brown.

Pluck: This term refers to harvesting or picking tea leaves.

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Rolling: After withering, the limp tea leaves are rolled. Originally it was done in the hand of a skilled tea master. Today, this work is mainly done by a machine giving your tea its shape: straight, curled, or a ball. The extreme pressure of rolling breaks up the tea leaves, creating the different sizes: Orange Pekoe (OP), Broken Pekoe, Fannings, and Dust.

Tisane: This is one of the formal names for herbal teas. Another name would be herbal.

Withering: After the tea is plucked, many reactions start. One is the evaporation of moisture, which is where the name withering comes from.

I hope this mini-tutorial helps de-mystify some of the tea terms.

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