K S said

What’s In A Name

In a recent thread on what you look for in web vendor, one mention was made of the use of English names for tea being a turn off. I noted that for me it is a turn off not to have English names because I don’t know the point of origin names for various teas. I can’t be alone on this. Has anyone compiled a cross reference list of names they could share? I did a Google search and there doesn’t appear to have been a lot of effort put into this idea previously. Can we compile a list here? This is an opportunity for the masters to educate and the students to gain knowledge so one day we might snatch the pebble.

I am thinking the list should include the English name and the origin name with allowances for alternate spellings – for instance Ti Kuan Yin and Tiguanyin (assuming I spelled them correctly. Where the tea comes from would be helpful. It should probably list type of tea – white, yellow (what is yellow tea?), black, red (not rooibus – is red different than black?), oolong (% of oxidation if known), or puerh. Maybe some taste characteristics to give the list real life meaning and usability.

I realize this may prove overwhelmingly impossible with all the variations and estate names to deal with but hopefully at least the common teas can be dealt with – like dragonwell and red robe for instance. Does Sencha even have an English equivalent name?

31 Replies
Angrboda said

I like both sorts of names, but I especially like it when sites have a name for the tea and also a section of alternative names where relevant. I don’t know chinese so I can’t immediately guess that Big Red Robe = Da Hong Pao.

That and Long Jing = Dragonwell are the only ones I can think of off the top of my head.

I’ve never heard of any alternative english names for the Japanese teas, funnily enough. Chinese and Taiwanese teas seem to be the only ones to have been renamed or had their names translated into english.

I think compiling a list is a good idea.

As for your question re: red and black tea, in China red = black tea.

K S said

That’s what I think. I found the 6 tea types I listed on a chinese tea site. Not sure what they meant so I listed it here for the experts to straighten out.

Angrboda said

Odd. Then I’m stumped. Could it be distinguishing between green and dark type oolongs maybe?

K S said

I look later today and see if I can find the page again

As mentioned Chinese red teas are our blacks and Chinese black teas are our pu erhs.

Angrboda said

I didn’t know Chinese black = puerh. I only knew the red/black. And oolong, iirc, they call blue although I can’t see how they got that colour.

That still doesn’t account for the six types mentioned on that site that KS saw. Do you think they might be distinguishing between cooked and raw puerh then? Like with oolong, those variations are different beasts entirely too.

(Or perhaps the owner of that site might just have a memory as bad as me. Perhaps the site owner can’t remember what they put before. It’s also possible the site-owner mis-remembered when writing their list.)

Not sure what the six types were but if I had to list the different types of tea I would also come up with a list of six

Black, Red, Oolong, Green, Yellow, White.

I’ve heard of calling oolongs blue tea before but I am still leery about it and not convinced its not just a white man thing. But I have a hard time doing it because it feels gimmicky to me, just a personal thing though.

Angrboda said

The original post by KS up there mentions the six… Ah, I see! KS, you forgot green tea in your list there. I suspect that must be what threw us off with the number!

I never call them blue. I feel silly every time I even mention it. It’s not as if ‘oolong’ is difficult to say anyway, and more people would know what I meant. (I’m saving the blue for when I want to make an oolong sound extra super-duper Special.)

Ah my bad apparently I skipped through the list to quickly to register it, my powers of observation are overwhelming.

Ha ha I like the way you think.

No, blue for oolongs is correct. That’s how folks at the tea markets sometimes referred to oolongs, if they were talking about tea in terms of color categories. “Blue” however seems to be an inaccurate description. This is what I gathered with my less than perfect Chinese. Oolong is translated often as “dark dragon” but this dark (the “oo” in oolong) is actually a very particular classical Chinese color for which we don’t have a direct English equivalent. It’s basically a dark blue green.

Therefore, oolongs = blue.

If anyone has a better grasp of classical Chinese, I’d love to hear more!

Black is hei cha. I think this can refer to pu’er, but most folks just called pu’er … well, pu’er. Hei cha was really only used when people were talking about “fu cha.” It’s a special kind of tea that actually has mold on it.
Pu’er is to Cheddar as Fu tea is to Blue Cheese.
Fu cha can be really delicious, by the way! Super sweet in a tangy way, that reminds me of that addictive Play-Doh smell.

K S said

angrboda – you are observant! I did miss green. I can’t figure out what I was reading now. I think I was in information overload mode.
spoonvonstup – (where do you all come up with these names?) Play-Dom smell, Mmmmmmmm Makes me crave paste to eat. Yeah, that coment explains a lot doesn’t it. Thanks for the insights into the Chinese language.

Hate to resurrect old threads like this but I have a question. I was talking to some of my Chinese tea friends the other day and the topics of oolongs came up, in the back of my mind I remembered this thread and was naturally excited to share the insights that spoonvonstup shared about the meaning of oolong. For which I received some good natured ridicule, apparently that is an incorrect translation. Serves me right for opening my big mouth without doing my research and checking up on things I hear.

Oolong is translated from two Chinese characters 乌 龙 the first one means “dark” the second one means “dragon” so oolong means “dark dragon”. To be more specific though the first character 乌, which is an “ancient” character, does mean dark but in reference to oolong or qing cha it would most correctly be translated black not blue or even blue-green. So oolong could also be translated “black dragon”. I did my research this time to verify my facts. :)

So my two part question, first mostly for spoonvonstup, do you have any sources to back up your information because I couldn’t verify it. Hope this doesn’t seem like a witch hunt, but I like to correctly understand things and have correct information, so I am hoping to gain a better understanding of this.

Second, for anyone who has information, if the above “black dragon” translation of oolong is correct, which I am relatively certain as is everything I’ve read, then how did oolongs earn the nickname color of “blue”.

Thanks and sorry to resurface this thread but I am a bit of an information junkie.

@ The Seattle Tea Snob- Actually both your Chinese friends and Spoonvonstup are right to an extent. I am only a hobbyist classical Chinese scholar, but my tea friends in China can back me up on this one.

The formal name for Oolong tea in Chinese is not wulong, but “qing cha.” This ‘qing’ is the classical Chinese character (that is quite easy to mix up with wu) that Spoonvonstup was referencing. Nowadays, “Qing” is used mostly to refer to things that are still young or inexperienced, sort of like our “green thumb.”

In the past however, this qing was amore charged and poetic word. Qing is constructed from the component that means life (sheng) and the radical that means red (dan). Oddly, this combination has always evoked both green and blue, but never red. It can be used to describe dark green forests, or ambiguously colored bodies of water. Great character to use in my opinion, because oolong can go towards green-blue in a good Tieguanyin, but it also has red tinge when the leaves unfold from the bruising process.

Now- Your Chinese friends are right as well in a different way- Wulong has a few different stories. The one that makes the most sense to me involves a man named Wu Liang (different wu, that is a surname, not a color). He was out picking tea leaves when he was wounded by a wild animal (some say a stag?). When he recovered, the tea had oxidized, and tasted pretty good, so the new process was named after him. It makes perfect sense that two more complicated characters with less identifiable meaning might change to what we know know as wulong in a rural and isolated region through word of mouth. Thus, the wulong that we are talking about probably doesn’t have any meaning at all. It was a transliteration of more complex and difficult to remember words into similar sounding simple ones.

Some have a similar story about a tea farmer who was scared off by a black snake, and returned to find his tea oxidized, and named it after the snake (or dragon). My guess is that this story came later. Tea people like to make names special (as do I), and often find themselves building bigger and bigger stories. I heard an "oolong’ story like the second one that went on for 45 minutes with dramatic twists and turns told by a friend who actually grows and supplies my Tieguanyin.

Hopefully this dispells confusion. I just love these sorts of language questions. They go right to the heart of a culture, and help us understand things on countless levels, thereby increasing our enjoyment of the tea we drink.

Well, off to brew some Qing Cha!

David, thanks for the response I appreciate the time. Also let me say that I like and respect the work you have done in the Teaverse, your a wealth of information and quite willing to share which is much appreciated. That said please don’t view the following as an attack or even something that needs a response, perhaps it is just a subdued tirade that I need to get out of my system. David I think you struck at the heart of my issue and perhaps its too big for this thread I know it extends beyond the universe of tea.

Truth. I like truth, truth is a constant, steady, unmovable, it can be relied upon and support many things and ideas. Truth doesn’t change. People change, people don’t like the truth so they change, adapt or create new “truths”. Then the question arises are these new “truths” indeed truths? What is truth? How can it be found, measured and proved. (Told you it was too big for this thread.) :)

In regards to the issue at hand I have had several chinese tea “experts”, whether they are self-proclaimed or not, tell me conflicting things. I’ve been told that qing can refer to green, blue or black, but in regards to qing cha it always means black, anything else is a translation error. Now your statement is diametrically opposed to that. I’ve asked for proof, and all I ever recieve is people saying the equivalent of "trust me, I’m an expert or my friends are experts (the humble approach) :).

Now here lies the problem how do we know what is true? Has the truth become so obscured that it is now relative? Is there truth to be found? What is Charlie Sheen going to do next?

So is there a “truth” in this or is it relative and everyone is right and can say what ever they want?

Again this is more of a diatribe than anything else, usually my writings are laced with more humor but I do get a bit worked up on this subject. Case in point at the NW tea festival I heard people teaching blatant lies as being true. In the teaverse a lot is subjective as there are no universally agreed guidelines in place, which I find unfortunate. It means that people can proclaim themselves experts, teach whatever they want as fact an usually don’t get stood up to. It really boils my blood when I see so called experts, especially organizations, spreading false information. The world of tea is complicated enough without idiots running a muck spouting any old gobbily goo as doctrine.

Thanks to everyone who has shared there opinions and research, I don’t mean to criticize or belittle anyone. And I think we all have insights to share, whether “purists” want to admit it or not, tea is an ever changing world, it isn’t nor is it going to ever be what it was hundreds of years ago. We can try all we want to enjoy tea in the “traditional way” but there is too much controversy about what that is or how much value it has. Tea is ever evolving, always striving after the best cup of tea, the so called traditional methods become that because it was the “best” way to enjoy tea at that time. That doesn’t mean it is still the “best” way, and it doesn’t mean its not.

The great thing about tea is it is something different to everyone, thereby meaning everyone has something unique and valuable to share with everyone else. Even the things that should be “truths” such as language issues, are hotly debated with no one offering much more than there spin based on the information they have collected. Does this constitute something as fact? How much fundamental truths can there be found in the teaverse and how much is subjective.

Now I want to apologize for the above, not sure how much of it is valid and how much is philosophical. I know the issue extends to a galaxy far far away, and quite beyond this issue in this thread. Perhaps my blog would have been a better place to put this, but its here, this is something that has always bothered me, perhaps I am alone, if not I would be curious to hear other peoples take.

Sorry to hear that you have had so many bad experiences with people in relation to learning about tea. A few points- First, word orgins are messy, especially in Chinese. Characters have undergone so many transformations over so many centuries that many people forget their origins. Uncovering those origins is an enormous task still underway. If you are interested in taking things into your own hands, look at Wenlin, an etymological dictionary for Chinese. I suppose that you could say that is my source if you wanted the more concrete ‘proof.’ The scholar who did the work on “Qing” is Wiger, though Karlgren does many as well.

You can also look up “Qing Cha” in a chinese dictionary, or online etymology site, and oolong comes up as the first listing as a definition. Here is one for fun. You can use google translate, but “Qing” comes through as green, making it confusing. http://hanyu.iciba.com/wiki/385693.shtml

I didn’t realize that you were looking for such concrete proof, or I would have given it outright. I am of the school that might annoy you that actual revels in uncovering multiple truths. My background is that I lived in China on a grant dong field research interviewing tea farmers and recording folk stories. The critical element of the research was uncovering multiple stories around each main story. With folk stories, you don’t ask for proof. They probably aren’t true anyways if we are being super honest. They are literature. The “semi-truths” become bigger more objective truths when you use them to understand the point of view of a people, and cut to the way that people think.

In that way I am not bothered at all by hearing many different stories. My intent in responding to this thread was to present a few of those possibilities.

As for the “traditional way,” that depends on each and every village in China. I might venture to say that there are no true tea purists or tea experts. The purist in the village I spent the longest time (Laoshan) would be ridiculed for their seemingly rustic tea ceremony, yet the scholars at the Hangzhou Tea Research Institute, who might say that they are experts, could never fully understand the culture of tea across every village in China. I disagree with the certification courses offered in America to become a tea expert. These three-week sessions entitle you to that name, while a linguist, for example, must put in several decades of published research before achieving such distinction. In that way, you are right that tea scholarship has lower standards.

Why? Tea writing is not an established field or a university department. Informal settings like a blog or a business website do not demand the rigor of footnotes. There are blatant falsehoods that are spread in the tea world. (Fermentation v oxidization). There are also stories for which there is no proof. It would be immoral for me to claim that my Tieguanyin were hand-picked in May if it were not, but is it immoral for me to include only my favorite version of the the origin of this tea on my website, instead of every version?

In conclusion- We agree on certain points regarding intentionally dishonest or arrogant proliferation of falsehoods. However, I want to draw a distinction between those, and a topic like the origins of the world Oolong, which is much more subjective, and more in the category of folktales,

That said, check my sources, or do some hands on digging of your own. I stand by my assertion of Qing Cha being oolong (This Qing by the way: 青). I hope that including some of my etymology sources helps you understand that I am not trying to make things up. I also acknowledge however, that other interpretations exist. (Qing can also mean black, like you have been told). I am ok with that, and actually revel in the dimensions of possibility.

Hopefully this is helpful to you. Hopefully we can find a balance between the cop-out of “everything is subjective, so oh well” and the one possibility approach. Would you distinguish between empirical knowledge and literary (or folk tale) knowledge and hold them to different standards of truth? I certainly do.
Best Wishes,

@David .. awesome reply. Thanks.

I do want to clear up one thing first, in regards to origins of teas such as oolong and others and the stories that accompany them. I recognize that they are just that, folk stories steeped (let’s see how many corny tea references I can make) in tradition, they are entertaining, have value and are enjoyable. But there is little to no actual fact to them, and if there is (after all all stories are based on something), then it is so buried in layers of mythology that it is either indiscernible or impossible to conclusively prove. I take no issue with that and I do enjoy them, I actually like mythology which is in direct opposition to my previous post.

My issue and search for truth is where people label things as fact but it can be proved otherwise. Two recent examples which might help explain why I got my tea ball in such a twist (ok I know that was a bit of a stretch). A couple months ago, there is a post about it here and I stuck something on my blog, I ran across an online tea quiz that was put out my a well known organization in the US who holds themselves up as the authority on tea and sponsors one of those certification programs that you were referring to. I was intrigued, took the quiz and discovered that probably half of the questions were just blatantly incorrect, not even arguable they were just false, take it for yourself if you don’t believe me else many steepsters will back me up on this point. It pissed me off more than it should have, but there is enough conflicting information floating without an organization who holds themselves up as an authority on tea adding false facts to the equation.

I love tea. I love talking about tea, reading about it and learning about it. I want it to be accessible to others as well, also tea has an amazingly rich heritage that all should be able to enjoy. People who muddle the facts and history and make it more complicated deserve an express trip to hell.

Second example, I was at the NW Tea Festival recently, one of the vendors had a pot of a ripe pu erh as a sample. (Background information, I was preparing to by a few different items from them including at least one of there sheng toucha’s that they had.) I went up to talk to the guy and he offered me a sample. The label next to the pot gave the tea name followed by the words “shou/ripe”, something that is universally recognized among tea drinkers. Then he proceeded to tell me how he thought the label was wrong and it should be called a raw pu erh since it wasn’t fermented naturally. I left the booth without purchasing anything. I love to hear other peoples opinions on tea and taste and preparation methods, etc. But when you contradict one of the few things that most everyone in the tea trade agrees on you are doing nothing but making tea complicated and confusing and should die of thirst with a pot of tea visible but just out of reach.

So I think we are probably in agreement, I’m a nut job and should be locked up. Honestly though I appreciate folk life and mythology those are things that should be enjoyed for what they are. But when people spread blatantly false information it is immoral and the complete opposite of what the spirit of tea should be. I want tea to be something that everyone can enjoy and for those that want to delve deeper into the “finer” aspects of tea they should have to wade through all the crap that people spread. We should take them all and lock them up forever in a starbucks.

Also thanks for your sources, yes that is exactly what I was trying to find, I am of the school that I want to do my own research and discover the truth for myself, not just take peoples word for it. So thank you very much.

I hope that you never felt attacked, that was not my intention, I am passionate about this and you got the brunt of what should have been directed elsewhere. So if you did I am sorry for that. Thanks for your handling of it and your thoughts opinions and now sources.

I also want to let you know that I’ve watched some of your videos, read your articles and I’ve learned alot about tea from you. I really appreciate what you have done for the tea world, but that doesn’t mean I am going to take your word as gospel without proving it for myself.

Btw one point of confusion, doubt its important and probably not worth asking. But the common use of a “green thumb” is someone who is exceptionally skilled at gardening or making things grow, I didn’t understand how this related to qing meaning young and inexperienced. Probably not that important but I am curious nonetheless.

Cheers and happy drinking!

K S said

“deserve an express trip to hell”… “lock them up forever in a starbucks”… Dude you’re repeating yourself ;^) J/K

Seriously, I have enjoyed and learned a lot from this exchange. With my very limited knowledge I have seen many examples of what you point out. For example, washing away caffeine with the first steeping. White tea having less caffeine than black. ETC. These things get repeated because we beginners believe the ‘experts’ have done their research. Unfortunately, it appears this too often is not the case.

Hey there, I’m now to this conversation, but I’ve been reading it and it’s very informative! While I consider myself a little more knowledgable than the average person about tea, I know that there’s tons I still don’t know. Reading all this has been absolutely educational. Thanks for all the info and thoughts!

I do have a question though.

“With my very limited knowledge I have seen many examples of what you point out. For example, washing away caffeine with the first steeping. White tea having less caffeine than black.”

Ok, so I knew that you can’t wash away the caffeine, but white tea doesn’t have less caffeine than black? I mean, I’m pretty sensitive to caffeine so I can kind of tell how much caffeine I’ve consumed, and there have been white teas that feel very caffeinated when I’m told that they shouldn’t be. I thought it was a fluke or something. Can you tell me more about this or point me to the information I need to learn more about caffeine in white tea?

Geoffrey said

@Mercuryhime – regarding your caffeine question, check out this link to a breakdown of caffeine levels recorded in various teas from a chemistry study recently done at Asbury college:


This was originally posted by Jason in another thread a couple weeks ago. Interesting info! Also relates to the “DIY decaffeination” question.

K S said

Excellent article. I guess I missed the thread Jason posted it in. We should really move this to a new thread. In fact I will – see Tea Mythology.

@ The Seattle Tea Snob- Thanks for such an in depth and thoughtful response. I absolutely agree with you about tea professionals spreading falsehoods (like about caffeine). It is astounding how much people get away with saying. It is nice to see so many people on steepster willing to contribute their knowledge towards dispelling these falsehoods.

I am also glad that you see the merit in the messier realm of folk stories. I think that they contribute perhaps even more to the tea drinking experience than empirical facts might.

Thanks for checking out the videos. I am hoping to redo them soon and make a whole video encyclopedia. I would be much happier if you watched the videos and then went digging for more info than just taking my word on things. Nobody is an expert on tea. Tea is enormous, and each village has its own way of doing things. Nobody in the world has tried every tea out there. My perspective is simply meant to enrich the whole, not encompass it.
Best Wishes,
PS: SOrry about the green thumb reference. I have studied too many languages and forget my English coloqialisms sometimes. I meant green as in new at something.

WOW! In looking for some information before I post a new discussion thread, I found this absolutely fascinating conversation! Thank you to all of you who put so much time and thought into it. If anything, it reminds me how often I find things in common with others when they start to really go deep into an issue (rather than what I commonly exchange in my own daily encounters with others. Of course, some of you may find it to be the opposite). OK, off to do a little more research …

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ssajami said

I think this would be a wonderful idea! I could sure use a such a list, if there was one. I purchase a lot of Chinese tea and the names always frustrated me, because I know some of the varieties are ones I’ve had before under a different name, and I just didn’t know it. By the way, Ti Guan Yin is also sometimes listed as “Iron Goddess” or “Goddess of Mercy”. I’m not sure I could offer much in the way of knowledge, but what I will help with what I can.

Regarding the red/black issue: what the Chinese call “red” tea is what we call “black” tea. What we call “red” tea is usually rooibos, which is something else altogether. If it’s Chinese teas being offered and it’s called “red” than it’s usually black tea.

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I like the list idea I’ve always tried to keep mental track of them but then inevitably I start to jumble them up if I’m not thinking clearly, I’ll try to compile a small list over my morning cup of tea. :)

Disclaimer: tea appears to be relative in every sense of the word. For example in talking to some Chinese tea masters I have heard them refer to Wu Yi teas as Yancha while others say that is crap. Truth appears to be relative in some instances with everyone having their own, unique, strong opinions. Some of the names I have been able to compile in my tea journey.

Yunnan Red……………………Dian Hong……………..Red Tea
Iron Goddess of Mercy……Tieguanyin……………..Oolong
Big Red Robe………………….Da Hong Pao…………..Oolong
Toasted Brown Rice………..Genmaicha………………Green
Green Snail Spring………….Bi Lo Chun………………Green
Precious Eyebrows………….Chun Mee……………….Green
Gunpowder Pearl……………Zhucha……………………Green
Twig………………………………Kukicha…………………..Green (with exceptions)
White Peony…………………..Bia Mu Dan………………White
Silver Needle…………………..Yin Zhen…………………White

All oolongs from the Wu Yi mountain – Wu Yi Yan Cha, Shu Hsien, Narcissus

An incomplete list to be sure but I have work to do and not that I wouldn’t rather be doing this but as of yet I haven’t figured out a way to get steepster to pay my bills.

If anyone sees any errors let me know, also I will update this list when I think of more.

Angrboda said

smacks forehead

I knew most of these. Really ougth to have remembered. Ashamed I didn’t even remember the Tie Guan Yin!

K S said

Excellent list start Seattle Tea Snob!

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green cloud……..yun cui……….Green (Chinese)
Jade dew…………..Gyokuro Yamashiro……. Green (Japanese)
2nd flush………….Sejak…………..Green (Korean)
High Mountain/Taiwanese…… Formosa……….Oolong (Taiwanese)

I’m adding a few more :)

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TeaVivre said

I’d like to list the Chinese top 10 teas here:

Chinese Name…English Name……….Pinyin………………………Origin……………Type

西湖龙井…………Dragon Well…………Xi Hu Long Jing………….Xi Hu, Zhe Jiang……Green
洞庭碧螺春…Green Snail Spring…Dong Ting Bi Luo Chun….Dong Ting, Jiang Su…Green
黄山毛峰………Fur Peak……….Huang Shan Mao Feng……….Huang Shan, An Hui…Green
信阳毛尖……….Fur Tip……………Xin Yang Mao Jian……………Xin Yang, He Nan…..Green
庐山云雾……..Cloud and Mist…….Lu Shan Yun Wu……………Lu Shan, Jiang Xi…..Green
六安瓜片……….Melon Seed…………Liu An Gua Pian……………Liu An, An Hui…….Green
君山银针…….Silver Needle………..Jun Shan Yin Zhen………..Yue Yang, Hu Nan….Yellow
武夷岩茶….Wuyi Rock Tea (Oolong)…Wuyi Yan Cha (wulong)….Wu Yi, Fu Jian……Oolong
安溪铁观音…Iron Goddess of Mercy……..Tie Guan Yin………..An Xi, Fu Jian………Oolong
祁门红茶……..Keemun Black Tea……….Qi Men Hong Cha…….Qi Men, An Hui……..Black

For more Chinese tea names welcome to check my article on http://www.teavivre.com/info/tea-name-lists/

K S said

TeaVivre the list on your website is pretty extensive. Thanks for taking the time to put this together. And thanks for the shorter version here.

TeaVivre said

I am glad that you appreciate our list. If there’s any tea we missing welcome to tell us.

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Brittany said

Chinese names confuse me a lot… and don’t even get me started on the pronunciations! My boyfriend is actually studying Chinese and consequently loves Chinese teas. He says the names with such ease and just laughs at my attempts to pronounce them! Long Jing is pretty much the only one I know. I can’t even remember my favorite yelllow tea’s name =/

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