Whether you’re new to fine teas or a true tea connoisseur, the term “grand cru tea” has very likely come up in your readings. However, few of the people using this phrase bother to define it, so being the ever helpful types, we thought we’d do it here for you.
The term grand cru joins terms like sommelier and terroir on a list that actually comes from the wine industry. And they’re French. Both of these facts are hardly surprising. Tea is often compared to wine, whether it deserves that fate or not. (Tea over the ages has been seen more as a healthy alternative to alcoholic beverages, despite claims some make of being “tea drunk.”) Some similarities between factors considered for buying and enjoying fine teas and buying and enjoying fine wines (year of harvest, where grown, how processed and by whom, final product) can be said of other things such as cheeses, coffees, even chocolates. Nevertheless, the term has stuck and in several ways seems appropriate.
The term grand cru means basically the same thing, whether applied to wine or tea, and is composed of actually two terms: grand and cru.
Cru – comes from croitre (KWA-truh), which means “to grow” (related to plants) and so it means generally “growth.” In addition, it tends to encompass the idea of the soil in which wine grapes (or tea leaves) are grown (the terroir) imparting a particular flavor and character to the crop. This, then, leads to the term referring to specific vineyards or tea gardens where the terroir has been shown to impart those qualities to the grapes or tea leaves.
Grand – indicates a high or great level of cru, so the term grand cru has a meaning generally of “great growth.” There is also premier cru which refers to “first growth” and is usually not considered as good. Yes, a bit confusing, but keep reading for a little clarity.
With regard to wine, the term grand cru has very specific rules for application, especially in the Burgundy region of France, but the same usage does not seem to hold for tea. The meaning seems more broad, indicating a generally exceptionally fine tea, especially with regard to oolongs. It’s a verbal gold star, Oscar award, Emmy award, or even Nobel prize. For you, the buyer, this term can mean very little, at least until standards are established for its usage. Just consider it a claim that they consider a particular tea better than other versions of the same tea.
Some Grand Cru Teas (in Our Opinion)
Experts will debate which teas deserve the title grand cru, but we’re putting a few out there that get our vote:
- Longjing (Dragonwell) West Lake Spring Imperial Handmade Green Tea
- Aged Liu An Black Tea 1999
- Phoenix Mt. Wudong Dancong Oolong – Huang Zhi Xiang “Gardenia” Spring Nonpareil Song Variety
- Wuyi Rock Oolong Tea Da Hong Pao “Big Red Robe” 2014 Medium-Roasted Ban Yan
There are certainly many more out there. Please feel free to post a comment here with your choices!