Rookie Steeper’s Guide to Tea Lingo and Sounding like You Know What You’re Talking About

Maybe not as well-known as the lingo used in coffee culture, tea enthusiasts have a language of their own that is rich and steeped in the history of the warm leaf drink.

Here are a few examples of commonly used words you might hear in your favorite local tea spot.

Afternoon Tea: A somewhat ritualistic mixture of tea and small finger sandwiches finished off by tiny sweets, usually little cakes and scones. Afternoon tea is usually consumed between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m. Many grand hotels with British roots across the globe still offer Afternoon tea to their clients and tourists. Afternoon tea shouldn’t be confused with High Tea which is an early evening dinner combined with tea.

Black Tea: Composed of completely oxidized tea leaves, black tea has a stronger taste than its less oxidized cousins green, white and oolong teas. Black tea can retain its flavor for several years which explains why it was commonly used as a trade commodity. Many popular western blends of tea sue black tea as part of their composition: Earl Grey, English breakfast and Afternoon tea, Irish Breakfast and Masala Chai.

Camellia Sinensis: It’s the tea plant. Seriously. If the tea you’re drinking did not originate from Camellia sinensis, then it simply isn’t tea. The various types of tea are differed by their geographical origins and the way the leaves were processed.

Chanoyu: Japanese tea ceremony during which matcha is prepared. It is also referred to as “the way of tea”. The ceremony is based on Taoism and inspired by Zen Buddhism.

Cuppa: This is the contraction of “cup of” mainly used by British when referring to a cup of tea: “I could really go for a cuppa right now”.

Dustings: Occurs when using lower grade tea bags. The dust is a result the tea leaves once they’ve been picked and set aside.

Gong Fu Cha: Also known as the “kung fu tea ceremony”, Gong Fu Cha is a traditional Chinese tea ritual which includes the preparation and presentation of tea. The term translates to “making tea with skill”. True tea connoisseurs have taken to using Gong Fu Cha as a method of fully experiencing their tea selections.

Green Tea: Total opposite to black tea, green tea is composed of tea leaves that are minimally oxidized. There are several types of green teas – which distinct themselves by the regions and conditions where the leaves are harvested. Numerous health favorable health claims have been made about green tea over the years although following clinical research, no valuable conclusions have been reached.

Matcha: In Japanese “ma” means powder while “cha” means tea and so, matcha literally translates to powdered green tea. Because the entire leaf is ingested in powder form, matcha tea is considered the most potent green tea in the world.

Oolong Tea: Semi-oxidized tea also called ‘black dragon’ tea. Once the tea leaves are picked, they are rolled and allowed to oxidize which produces the floral notes oolongs are known for. Following the initial oxidization, oolongs are heated – even roasted sometimes – and carefully shaped one last time. The roasting of oolongs gives it a more coarse aroma and flavor similar to ripe fruits, nuts, caramel, and coffee or chocolate.

Pu’erh Tea: A rather rare tea that has a full, rich flavor. It is oxidized like black tea but in addition, pu’erh also goes through a timely fermentation process (similar to wine) allowing its distinct flavor to develop.

Rooibos: The rooibos plant originates from South Africa; it’s a shrub of the pea family and also referred to as the “red bush”. The leaves of the bush are used to make rooibos tea

Tisane: French term that refers to herbal teas. Tisanes are usually composed of dried flowers, fruits and herbs which are then steeped in hot water. There are no actually tea leaves involved in tisanes.

White tea: There’s very little processing when it comes to white tea. This particular type isn’t oxidized which means it retains many of the natural antioxidants but on the other side, it lacks a bit in terms of flavor, color or caffeine.


Yunomi: In Japanese this translates to “cups for hot water”. It is used for everyday tea drinking, like your favorite cup. Its shape is usually cylindrical, made from ceramic, being taller than wide.