Category Archives: Language

Cultivars and Places in Tea Names

Tea naming is an interesting art, and it’s easy for us Westerners to be confused by the plethora of naming conventions out there. I think a little primer might be helpful.


Let’s take a tea name like Gao Shan Ali Shan Jin Xuan Milk Oolong. That’s a lot of words! But we can break it up pretty easily to learn more about our tea. Within we will find:

1. The height of the tea garden.

2. The place the tea was grown.

3. The cultivar used.

4. A common use-name.

In this case we’re going through a Chinese tea name because I think that can be the hardest to understand, but the same principles apply to tea from other countries. There may, however, be more information as well, such as the leaf size or grade.

“Gāo Shān” (高山) literally means “High Mountain”. It refers to tea grown in a garden above 1000 meters. Many of the oolong teas from Taiwan fall into this category. The theory goes that if a tea is grown at a higher elevation, it will tend toward lighter, sweeter flavors as the increased sunlight and decreased temperature affect the leaf. This is not universally true, of course, but Gao Shan oolongs usually do have those qualities.

tea_culitvarsMany teas include the place name for the mountain or region in which the tea was grown. This has led to some famous locations throughout the tea growing world, and plenty of counterfeits. Ālǐ Shān (阿里山) is one of the most popular tea mountains in Taiwan and so you can often find “Ali Shan” tea that was actually grown someplace else. Still, the place a tea is grown does not in itself tell you if a tea will be good or not, so it’s just another guideline.

A Cultivar (short for “cultivated variety”) is the particular version of Camellia Sinensis that was grown to make this tea. Often the cultivar isn’t mentioned in the tea’s name, but sometimes it is the entirety of the name. Jīn Xuān (金萱), for example, is the name of a particular tea cultivar that is grown in Taiwan and Fujian, China. A particular cultivar is usually processed in the same manner, even in different locations, so if you are familiar with the way a cultivar tastes, that can give you more of an idea of the experience you will have with a tea than anything else in the name.

“Milk Oolong” is the more common name for Jin Xuan tea in the West because the flavor of that cultivar, when gently roasted by the tea manufacturer, gives off a sweet aroma with a texture similar to cream. The common name of a tea is often a translation of the Chinese cultivar name or location, but not always. In this case, Jin Xuan literally means “Golden Day Lilly”, so “Milk Oolong” is not a translation.


So finally, our “Gao Shan Ali Shan Jin Xuan Milk Oolong” is a tea that was grown about 1000 meters on Ali Shan mountain using the Jin Xuan cultivar. This is why you can’t have a Dong Ding Ali Shan (two place names) or a Jin Xuan Tie Guan Yin (two cultivars). As always, though, the only way to really learn about a tea is to give it a try (preferably several).

The Names of Tea

Ever since I started studying tea, I’ve been fascinated with the words I encounter. Naturally, many of them come from China. I don’t speak any Chinese dialect fluently, but I do know a word or two and I’ve made a point to learn the proper way to pronounce and write the teas I deal with every day (that’s not to say I always get it right).

To this end, I keep a list of tea as a pronunciation guide. Below is my current list (by no means exhaustive); I thought it might be interesting to the world. I’ll add to it as I learn more.

Please note that I use Pinyin for romanization, although many of the tea names you’ll encounter in the world are still using Wade-Giles or some random other phonetic transliteration.

If you are unfamiliar with Pinyin, it is worth noting that not everything is pronounced the way an English speaker might think. For example, “Sì” is pronounced something like “Tse” and “Cōng” is something like “Song”. The four tone marks (accents) are very important and visually mark how the voice rises or falls with that character, changing its meaning. (For those who do know Pinyin, remember that the first of two third tones becomes a second tone!)


  • Gāo Shān Chá (“High Mountain Tea”, applied to anything grown above 1km), 高山茶
  • Wū Lóng (lit. “Black Dragon”, proper way to say “Oolong”), 乌龙 or 烏龍
  • Shuǐ Xiān (“Water Nymph”), 水仙
  • Tiě Guān Yīn (“Iron Goddess of Compassion”), 铁观音 or 鐵觀音
  • Bāo Zhǒng (“Wrapped Package”), 包種
  • Cuì Yù (“Jade”), 翠玉
  • Dòng Dǐng (“Frozen Summit”), 凍頂
  • Fèng Huáng Dān Cōng (“Phoenix Single Trunk”), 凤凰单丛
  • Dà Hòng Páo (“Big Red Robe”), 大红袍
  • Bái Háo / Dōng Fāng Měi Rén Chá (“White Hair”/”Oriental Beauty Tea”), 白毫 / 東方美人茶
  • Sì Jì Chūn (“Four Seasons Spring”), 四季春
  • Āli Shān (“Mount Ali”, from central Taiwan), 阿里山


  • Lù Chá (“Green Tea”), 绿茶
  • Lóng Jǐng (“Dragon Well”), 龙井 or 龍井
  • Diān Lù É Shān Máo Fēng (“Yunnan Green Lofty Mountain One Bud Two Leaves”, 峨 = “lofty”) 滇绿峨毛峰
  • Huáng Shān Máo Fēng (“Yellow Mountain One Bud Two Leaves”), 黄山毛峰
  • Mòu Lì Huā Chá (“Jasmine Flower Tea”) 茉莉花茶
  • Liù Ān Guā Piàn (“Melon Seeds from Liu’An”), 六安瓜片
  • Bì Ló Chūn Tài Hú (“Green Snail Spring from Lake Tai”), 碧螺春太湖 (sometimes “moves Buddha’s heart”, 佛动心)
  • Pǔ Tuó Shān Fó Chá (“Putuo Mountain Buddha’s Tea”), 普陀山佛茶
  • Simáo Lóng Zhū (“Simao Dragon Pearl”, Simao/Puer is a city in Yunnan), 思茅龙珠
  • Tiān Mù Lóng Zhū (“Heaven’s Eye Dragon Pearl”), 天目龙珠
  • Máo Jiān (“Furry Tip”), 毛尖


  • Yín Zhēn (“Silver Needle”, pronounced like “een jhun”), 银针
  • Baí Mǔ Dān (“White Peony”), 白牡丹


  • Qí Mén Hóng Chá/Qí Hóng Máo Fēng (“Great Gate Red Tea”/”Great Red One Bud Two Leaves”, Qimen is in Anhui), 祁门红茶 or 祁門红茶 / 祁红毛峰
  • Diān Hóng Chá (“Yunnan Red Tea”), 滇红茶
  • Zhèng Shēn Xiǎo Zhǒng (“Right Mountain Small Type”, the proper name for Lapsang Souchong), 正山小种
  • Jīn Zhēn (“Golden Needle”), 金针 or 金針


  • Hēi Chá (“Dark Tea”, the proper category of Puer, which is regional), 黑茶
  • Qī Zi Bǐng Chá (“Seven Sons Cake Tea”), 七子饼茶
  • Shoú Pǔ Ěr (“Ripe Puer”, Accelerated Aging), 熟茶
  • Shēng Pǔ Ěr (“Raw Puer”, Natural Aging), 生茶
  • Lǎo Shù Bǐng Chá (“Old Tree Cake Tea”), 老树饼茶
  • Xiāng Wèi Túo Chá (“Sweet Smell Bowl Tea”), 香味沱茶
  • Bái Yá Bǐng Chá (“White Bud Cake Tea”), 白芽饼茶
  • Qīng Bǐng Chá (“Green Cake Tea”, another name for Shēng Puer), 青饼茶


  • Gōng Fū (“Skillful”), 功夫
  • Lǎo Chá (“Old Tea” or aged tea), 老茶
  • Gài Wǎn / Gài Bēi (“Lidded Bowl”/”Lidded Cup”), 盖碗 / 盖杯
  • Chá Hú (“Tea Pot”), 茶壶 or 茶壺