Tea Trivia: Japanese and Chinese Tea Names

October 01, 2016

Last time we talked about some common or unusual tea names. This time we’re explaining the meanings behind some Chinese and Japanese teas. As mentioned previously, these tea names tend to be romanizations of their original names, but sometimes there are very interesting histories surrounding their origin.

Green tea is popular and well known among Japanese teas, but there are actually many varieties, depending on factors such as when it is harvested or where it is grown. Listed below are some common Japanese green teas, as well as some Chinese teas with rather unusual names. The Chinese characters and their definitions are also provided.

Japanese Teas

Yunomi Factory Direct, Matcha G3, Premium Natural

Matcha – (抹茶) The characters mean “rub” and “tea”. Matcha is fine, powdered green tea that is frequently drunk during tea ceremonies. It is mixed with hot water to make matcha tea, or milk to create matcha lattes. It is also used as a food dye or flavoring. Desserts or foods made with matcha are becoming increasingly popular, such as matcha tiramisu, matcha ice cream, and matcha chocolate. The matcha used for tea ceremonies is considered ceremonial-grade, while the ones used as dyes or flavors are considered culinary-grade.

Sencha of the Earth, premium spring green tea from Kyoto Obubu Tea Farms

Sencha – (煎茶) The characters mean “boiled tea” or “roasted tea”. This is the most popular type of green tea in Japan. The flavor varies depending on water temperature and when or where it is grown. In Japan, most green teas are first steamed to prevent oxidization before being rolled and dried. As a result, Japanese green teas tend to be more bitter than Chinese green teas.

Kurihara Heritage Gyokuro Green Tea

Gyokuro – (玉露) The characters mean “Jade Dew”. This is a green tea from Japan that is grown in the shade for about three weeks, which gives it a sweeter flavor. As the name suggests, the tea is a lovely pale green. The first character can also mean “jewel”, which is appropriate as gyokuro is one of the highest grades of tea.

Yunomi's genmaicha

Genmaicha – (玄米茶) The characters mean “brown rice tea” or “roasted rice tea”. This is a type of green tea that is mixed with roasted brown rice and produces a pale yellow color when steeped. The rice sometimes pops during roasting, and so it is also known as “popcorn tea”. It is not as strong as other green teas, and has a faintly nutty note. While it is a popular and frequent beverage these days, in the past it was consumed by those from poorer classes since the added rice lowered the price of the tea. Genmaicha is also a good drink for those who are fasting or have tender stomachs.


Hojicha – (焙じ茶) The characters mean “roasted tea”, though it is usually written as ほうじ茶, without the first Chinese character. This is a green tea that has been roasted in porcelain over charcoal, causing the leaves to turn into a reddish brown color. The process also decreases the amount of caffeine, and as a mild tea, it is very popular with children and the elderly. Hojicha is frequently made from the last tea harvest of the season.

Chinese Teas

Higuchi's Japanese Black Oolong Select

Oolong – (烏龍) The characters mean “Black Dragon”. This is a traditional Chinese tea that is grown under the sun so that it withers and oxidizes. There are many varieties and flavors of oolong tea but the leaves take one of two forms: long and curly or bead-shaped. There are many theories as to where the tea got its name. One suggests it was originally grown in the Wuyi Mountains and was named after the region. Another says that it was named after the discoverer, whose name was similar to “oolong”.


Image by Akuppa John Wigham via Flickr

Baihao Yinzhen – (白毫銀針) The characters mean “White Hair Silver Needle”. This refers to the color, shape, and slight fuzziness of the tea leaves. Silver Needles are white teas grown in Fujian Province, China. These are the most expensive white teas because only the leaf shoots are harvested, before the buds open. The tea has a sweet and delicate taste.


Image by Quelcrime via wikimedia commons

Tieguanyin – (鐵觀音) The characters mean “Iron Guanyin”, Guanyin being an East Asian bodhisattva commonly known as the Goddess of Mercy. This is a prestigious variety of Chinese oolong tea that is also grown in Fujian. One legend tells of a man who took care of an old Guanyin temple. After many months, Guanyin eventually appeared in the man’s dream and told him of a treasure hidden behind the temple, where he found a tea shoot that produced the greatest tea. A different legend claims that the tea was originally found beneath Guanyin Rock and thus took its name.


Image by A Girl With Tea via Flickr

Golden Monkey – (金猴茶) The characters mean “Golden Monkey Tea”. This is one of the finest black teas and originates from the Fujian and Yunnan provinces of China. The name comes from the beautiful pale gold color threading the tea leaves, as well as its shape, which is said to resemble a monkey’s claws.



Da Hong Pao – (大紅袍) The characters mean “Big Red Robe”. This is a very expensive and highly prized dark oolong tea from the Wuyi Mountains. The name comes from a story about an emperor’s mother who was very ill. She was cured by drinking a particular tea, and in gratitude, the emperor clothed those tea bushes in fancy red robes. Some of those bushes are said to be from the Song Dynasty and exist to this day.

Again, there are many varieties of tea, even within the same branch. Some teas may be given the additional name of the producer or the area it was grown.

Did any of these teas pique your interest? Take the opportunity to try out some of the ones mentioned on this list and enjoy the great flavors for yourself.


The post Tea Trivia: Japanese and Chinese Tea Names appeared first on YUNOMI.

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