Getting on Good Terms with Your Tea

That may sound silly, but getting on good terms with your tea is a splendid idea. It basically involves knowing about the tea you are preparing to enjoy. But it is also about knowing proper tea terminology, and that can be a very debatable subject.

Note the reddish color of the liquid in this “black tea” –
no wonder it’s difficult to get on good terms with your tea!

Learning about tea is a tricky business, especially since some of the tea “experts” disagree on even fundamental issues. For example, recently someone commented on one of my articles that I shouldn’t use the term “fermentation,” that it was only appropriate for alcohol. She suggested that I use the term “accelerated” to describe to speeded up aging that was instituted for some pu-erhs. I actually agree with this and so now have a good term for this process.

Another term to get in good with is the one I used in that same previous article: “shou pu-erh.” Again, there is quite a debate going on. This seems mostly due to a lack of good information available. Some folks seem to think that the readily available online sources such as this Wikipedia entry and a host of tea vendors are in error. But no further sources are provided by them to information that would be correct. So we are left with a questionable term.

And then there are things like “black tea” versus “red tea” which are used by different tea drinkers in different countries in different ways. In the U.S., for example, “red tea” is often misused to refer to a non-tea called “rooibos” (a Dutch word meaning “redbush” based on the color of the dried leaves). However, in Asia “red tea” is used for fully oxidized teas such as this Keemun. The steeped liquid usually has a ruby red color. In the U.S. we call such teas “black teas” based on the dark color of the processed tea leaves.

Speaking of rooibos, calling it and other non-teas by the term “tea” instead of something like a “tisane” or “herbal infusion” can put you on bad terms tea-wise. While it’s quite true that China and other countries in that part of the world use the word “tea” to refer to any beverage made by steeping or infusing plant matter, it’s a good idea here in the U.S. to be more clear. English has far more words in it than many languages, so differentiating “tea” as being a steeping of the leaves of Camellia Sinensis from steepings from other plant matter seems appropriate.

As for other tea terms, sorting through them can help you better understand and appreciate the tea you are enjoying. May your journey be a fulfilling one!

About Janice and Stephen Shelton

Purveyors of Premium Teas
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