Chinese tea names (in both their Romanized versions and their translations into English equivalents) are colorful, poetic, and sometimes have quite a story behind them. Some of those stories are as simple as, “Gee, it looks like such-and-such to me.” Others involve Emperors, goddesses, an English Queen or two, and vivid imaginations. They are all a delight and can enrich your tea drinking experience. After all, drinking Oriental Beauty can be more enticing than drinking something named “Bug-bitten Tea.”
Legend: Iron Goddess of Mercy Oolong Tea
One explanation of the name is that the Iron Goddess of Mercy is said to have appeared in a dream to a local farmer and told him to look in the cave behind her temple. Then he found a single tea shoot which he planted and cultivated.
A more detailed version: In the high mountain Shaxian province of Fujian on the southeast coast of China stood a rundown and neglected stone temple with an iron statue inside. It was of Kuan Yin, the Goddess of Mercy, to whom Buddhists pray for enlightenment. A farmer came daily to sweep out the temple and pray for relief of the drought plaguing them. The farmer’s devotion and daily visits brought the iron statue to life. She said to him, “Tend the withered bush outside the temple door.” It turned out to be a tea bush.
Either way, this tea remains one of the best oolongs around.
Queenly Name: Oriental Beauty Tea (Dong Fang Mei Ren)
Originally named “Bragger’s Tea” (Pong Fong Cha) when the farmer, who had dared to harvest the bug-nibbled leaves was able to sell them and got a high price, told his fellow farmers about it (they thought he was exaggerating a bit about the price). Some of the tea was presented to the Queen of England who declared it an Oriental beauty of a tea. The rest, as they say, is history. Maybe.
Legend or Tall Tale: Monkey-picked Tea
Actually, this could be legend or just some local Chinese tea farmers pulling the legs of foreigners that they thought were asking too many questions about how their tea was made.
- Legends – Monkeys have been part of local legends in tea growing countries, especially India and China, and therefore a part of the world of tea. One Chinese legend is about how 1000 Day Flower Green Tea was created. The King of Monkeys was demoted for eating all the Empress’ ripe peaches and, to make up for it, learned from some sympathetic monks to sew tea leaves together in the shape of peaches. These pleased the Empress, who restored him to his regal position.
- Tall tales – One story says that this idea came about from a “tall tale” that a Chinese tea grower told a visiting British writer in 1793 in reply to him asking how tea was picked. This was when the Chinese were still the only tea growers in the world and wanted to keep their tea secrets to themselves. Another story states that, monkeys being the great imitators of human behavior that they are, they began picking tea leaves as they saw monks and other humans around them doing.
Tea Names Based on “Gee, it looks like…”
- Bamboo Leaf (Zhu Ye Qing) – has a similar shape to a bamboo leaf with both ends pointed. The tea produces a clear light-green brew with very grassy undertones; a truly refreshing tea.
- Green Snail Spring (Bi Luo Chun) – one of the 10 most famous teas in China and originally from the region surrounding Dong Ting lake in Jiangsu province. Tightly-rolled first-grade leaves stand out as high quality plus each leaf has a tiny fluffy appearance. They are said to look like little snails, that is, spirals.
- Hairy Tips (Mao Jian) – an entirely sweet and well-rounded taste differing significantly from the darker and more complex Bi Luo Chun, making it a delicious and inspiring green tea!
- The “eyebrow series”: Lady’s Slender Eyebrow (Ming Mei), Longevity Eyebrow (Shou Mei), Precious Eyebrows (Chun Mee or Chun Mei), Tribute Eyebrow (Gong Mei). Each is a green tea where the leaves after being processed resemble (in the eyes of the tea processors) various styles of eyebrows.
Just Plain Neat Names
- Big Red Robe (Da Hong Pao) – a much sought after Chinese oolong from the area of Wuyi Shan, the birthplace of oolong, and the flavor is known for its lovely cocoa notes.
- Cloud and Mist (Yun Wu) – from Zhejiang province, China. The name relates more to the taste than the leaf appearance.
At first, many of these tea names can seem like tongue twisters, but the more familiar you are with them, the more you will prefer them to less “colorful” tea names.