An array of different tea forms, with different tea names and tea naming concepts
By Leo Kwan
Naming of teas has always been problematic, especially when there are so many different ways of doing it for such a huge number of varieties in the thousands of tea regions and subregions.
In the naming of wine, you see either the region name or the vine variety name, or both together. Basing on that one can have a good idea what kind of wine you are getting. The name of the vineyard is the final seal of quality assurance. Some vineyards become so famous with certain wine that their names become the name of the wines. Otherwise, there are not a lot of irregularities in the naming of wine.
This systematic approach makes it easy for the market to understand the product and what to expect behind the label of a name.
in tea, this simplicity does not exist
As far as we know, there are these popular ways in how the name of a tea can be formed:
- Cultivar name
A tea can be named after its cultivar, such as Aijiao Wulong.
- Association of appearance
Some names have been created basing on an associated image of the shape of the processed tea leaf, such as White Peony, Spring Snails, Golden Dragon, etc
- Description of pluck shape
Similarly, a tea name may be the description of the appearance of the pluck, such as Guapian ( meaning Melon Seed, describing the shape of the green leaves ), Maofeng ( meaning downy apex, referring to the down-covered leaf shoot ), Zixun ( meaning Purple Shoot ), etc
- Modified product form
The appearance of a product can be modified quite dramatically from the leaf form. The name of the modified form is used sometimes as a product name. Matcha, Brick tea, Tuocha, etc are examples.
- Production process
The production process or tea subcategoric name can also be the name of a tea, such as Sencha Steamed tea, ( previously translated as Congou and presently misused in almost all Western brands ), White Tea etc
- Production condition
A particular production condition related to the final quality of a product is used in the name for a certain prestige for some teas. Examples include Shaded growth tea, Single Bush harvest, tea from the cliffs etc
- Region name
Region names are used too, such as Pu’er, Dongding, Darjeeling, etc
- Grading name
Grading names, limited as they are, have a strong presence in the market, such as Orange Pekoe, Imperial Golden Tip, Gunpowder, etc. In b2b communications, grade jargons are essential, particularly for mass market products, including such labels as STGFOP, Zhu 1, 401 etc.
- History/ Legend
Names associated with a tea’s history, be it a true story or a fable, are quite popular: such as Earl Grey, Monkey Pick, Da Hongpao ( Big Red Cloak ) etc
- Marketing name
Purely marketing names, from the old days to the just invented. Examples are Gyokuro ( Sweet Dew ), Oriental Beauty, English Breakfast, etc
- Added taste/ aroma
When taste or aroma is added to a tea, its name will also be modified to reflect that. Examples include Jasmine Pearls, Milk Oolong, Chrysanthemum Pu’er etc
- Combination name
Any of the above can be combined to form a final name. When the region name is used, you see such names as Huangshan Maofeng, Xihu Longjing, Keemun Snails etc. When a production condition is used as a qualifier, you see Darjeeling First Flush, Hand-roasted Biluochun, Yancha Shuixian etc
the quality behind a name
It is important to note that while some products are appropriately named, a large proportion of merchandise are only remotely qualified for the name. We have seen that situation in many old style teashops, internet vendors, and even big brand names.
Quality irregularity is prevalent for many reasons. The hugely diversified production processing is one. The extremely polarised concept of tea as a product is another. I will not go on to distract the focus of this article, but will mention two key market conditions related to the label of a tea.
what is a top premium grade in one brand maybe equivalent to an ordinary quality in another.
Basically there is no laws or rules to govern how a retail merchant grade a product. I am worried that I see this bad practice spilling off even to b2b trading. The only solution to this is comparative shopping.
Prestigious region names are often borrowed to label a product, even though in reality, productions authentically from a reputable region is no guarantee of quality.
This is a story that I like to tell people all the time:
A gigantic previously national owned enterprise bought the hill which the four original tea bushes named as Da Hongpao are. You would think that they would have the best of the tea. They had the rightful origin claim, selling at an extreme price and yet for quality barely above restaurant grade.
By contrast, there are only a couple of families producing authentic Wulong in Liaoxiya, a small hill village in tiny region of the tea’s same name. Weather permitting, their productions have never failed. They produce only one harvest each year to ensure that quality.
Such is an extreme comparison when authentic origin is concerned. I have many, many more stories to tell.
All in all, it is a sharp learning curve to understand the label of a tea. Above that, the quality a consumer gets from the label is only as good as the vendor’s skills and conscience in delivering the optimum quality for that label.