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Glossary of Tea and Tea Terms
of the 18th and 19th Centuries
Guest Blog Posted on November 26, 2018
by Geri Walton of the United Kingdom

Page 1

Samuel Pepys was the first person in Britain who documented drinking a cup tea, which he noted in his diary on 25 September 1660. At the time, it was an exotic drink and was in fact so exotic sometimes people didn’t really understand how to prepare it. A case in point is shown in the following story:

“A good housekeeper received a pound of tea as a present from a friend abroad; so she called her neighbors together to partake of this great rarity, prepared indeed, in a manner truly novel. First she boiled the herb and strained off the liquor, and then served it up in a dish, after it was properly seasoned with salt, butter, and other choice ingredients. Her guests, ignorant about it as herself, enjoyed it in this state of preparation.”
                                                                     —Samuel Pepys

When tea arrived in England, no one probably ever imagined it would turn into the national drink. However, by the mid-1700s, according to Jane Pettigrew, “tea was widely drunk amongst even the poorest families in Britain.”[2] With all the tea drinking, people began needing some way to define everything associated with it and before long, there were publications defining tea terms. There was even cyclopedia related to tea that provided all the details from cultivation and packaging it to diseases and varieties.

I thought I’d provide my own tea glossary and tea terms of the 18th and 19th centuries gathered from different documents of the 1700s and 1800s.

ASSAM TEA A strong tea with a pungent malty flavor grown in India.

BITTER TEA or CHA TULCH Tea from Cashmere boiled in a tinned copper pot to create a strong decoction and while boiling it salt is added. “The tea is used after meals more particularly after the early morning repast, which consists of plain or butter biscuit and this tea.”

BITTER TEA or SEEN CHA A green tea from Turkestan infused but only allowed to stand for four minutes. The lighter the infusion the more highly it was valued. This was prepared only in a Russian teapot and considered a great luxury.

BLACK TEA Developed in China, this tea underwent the longest process or oxidation.

BLEERIE-TEA A Cornwall term to describe a weak cup of tea.

BOHEA TEA A species of the genus of THEA and the anglicized pronunciation of Wu-yi, mountains in the Fukien region from where this leaf was gathered. In addition, this and CONGO TEA were the top imported teas between 1870 to 1880 in the United Kingdom.

BOX HARRY Slang term for tea and dinner at one meal.

BRICK TEA A compressed tea usually made from old leaves (rather than young ones) pruned in cold weather and formed into bricks that were then dried to prevent mildew. One book described it as:

A common kind of tea prepared … by softening refuse leaves, twigs, and dust with boiling water, and then pressing the compound into large slabs like bricks.”

CAFFEINE A crystalline alkaloid found in coffee, tea, and two other vegetable preparations that stimulates the nervous system.

CAMELLIA SINENSIS An native evergreen plant of China previously known as Thea Sinesis that was a botanical variety. Both green and black teas came from it, but Europeans were unaware of the difference until the mid-nineteenth century.

CAPERS A variety of tea imported into England that “may be generally told by the leaves being rolled up into little lumps with starch or gum, as a class they are much adulterated, and, in fact, can hardly be called genuine tea.”

CATLAP A Cornwall slang term sometimes given to weak tea.

CEYLON TEA In 1824, a tea plant was smuggled into Ceylon by the British from China and planted in the Royal Botanical Gardens in Peradeniya for non-commercial purposes. Further experimenting and the establishment of the Planters’ Association of Ceylon in 1854, resulted in an increased interest in tea. Then, in 1867, James Taylor started a tea plantation on the Loolecondera estate in Kandy and CEYLON TEA became the reference for teas grown in Sri Lanka.

CHURNED TEA A tea from Cashmere that was prepared like BITTER TEA but was churned with milk afterwards. It was highly prized and used primarily for Cashmere visitors.

COFFEE-LEAF TEA Henry Cottam of Ceylon wrote that he was trying to manufacture what he termed “Coffee-leaf tea.” Apparently, some people thought it “wish-washy” and practical unpalatable because it lacked both the aroma and the delicate flavor of real tea. However, Cottam stated of it in 1882:

One great advantage coffee-leaf tea would have over ordinary tea is, that instead of having a tendency to create nervousness, it contains strengthening properties; this fact was endorsed by a Medical Journal … a month ago.

CONGO or CONGOU TEA A corruption of kung-fou or cong-foo, indicated that its preparation relied on great care and labor. In addition, this and BOHEA TEA were the top imported teas between 1870 to 1880 in the United Kingdom.

CREAM TEA or VUMAH CHA A black tea from Tukestan boiled in a tinned copper pot and much stronger than ordinary tea. Cream was added either while boiling or after it was poured into the teapot. It was used in Turkestan in the morning only with bits of bread soaked into it and eaten.

DARJEELING TEA Traditionally, it was a high-quality black tea grown in the Himalayan Mountains of India. Tea planting in the district of Darjeeling began in 1841 after Archibald Campbell, a civil surgeon of the Indian Medical Service, brought seeds of the Chinese CAMELLIA SINESIS from the Kumaon Kingdom and began to experiment with them in Darjeeling. Commercial development then began during the 1850s.

EARL GREY TEA A blend of tea thought to be named after Charles, 2nd Earl Grey who was Prime Minister from 1830 to 1834. Grey reputedly received a gift of tea flavored with bergamot oil from a grateful Chinese mandarin, and when his supply ran out, he asked his tea merchant at the TWINING COMPANY to recreate it for him. It then became a popular staple of Twinings.

EAST INDIA COMPANY A private company that was formed to trade in the Indian Ocean region. It turned into a monopoly for British trade with the East and produced a profound effect on the history of tea.

GREEN TEA A coarse tea sold in Kumaon and Gurhwal to traveling merchants without packing.

GOLDEN LYON The symbol used by THOMAS TWINING that he placed above his tea and coffee shop located at 216 Strand. The lion became the emblem of the TWININGS COMPANY and remains there today.

GRUDGLINGS or GROOSHANS Term used in Cornwall to describe the sediment left in a cup of tea or the dregs.

GUNPOWDER TEA This tea acquired its name from its dark gray irregular-shaped balls that looked like early gunpowder pellets. It was dried at a higher temperature than other teas and therefore contained less hygroscopic moisture.

HORNIMAN, JOHN In 1826, Horniman devised the idea to pre-package tea in pre-sealed, lead-lined tea packets. His tea packets were not an immediate hit with grocers, and, so, initially, he sold his tea only to pharmacies and apothecaries.

HYSON TEA A pale, young tea meaning “flourishing spring.” Like gunpowder tea, it was dried at a higher temperature than other teas and therefore contained less hygroscopic moisture.

JAVA TEA A tea harvested in Java. The first plantation was created in 1827 with seeds sent from Decima in Japan in 1826. However, according to most Londoners, it was a weak tea they described as being “very good looking,” small, and well-rolled.

JOHORE TEA A soft, bright tea leaf and a hybrid of the Assam seed.

JUTE OF TEA Slang term in Cornwall for a small quantity of tea.

LICENSED VICTUALLERS’ TEA ASSOCIATION An Act was passed which allowed any shopkeeper to sell wine and spirits and which resulted in licensed victuallers finding their interests in jeopardy. Therefore, according to one book:

“They thought that, by selecting a few from their body who, assisted by gentlemen of large experience as Tea-tasters and long residence in China, should apply themselves to the purchase of good and serviceable Teas, they would be able to compete most successfully in that commodity.

They then formed the association in September of 1867, which proved to be successful. The also created a trademark which was represented by a “drayman on one side and a Chinese on the other, holding shields; underneath the motto, Dum vivo bibo (while I live I drink).” In addition, they used different covers or wrappers to pack their tea according to its quality."

LIE TEA A tea mixed with willow and other spurious leaves into genuine teal leaves and then fraudulently sold as tea. It looked like tea but was easily detected by a tea taster as not being good tea.

LONDON TEA AUCTION Auctions held daily in London with the first one held quarterly under the EAST INDIAN COMPANY. They were held in Leadenhall Street beginning in 1679, but in 1834 after the EAST INDIA COMPANY ceased to be a commercial enterprise, the auction was moved to Mincing Lane. Auctions lasted until 1998.

MALOO MIXTURE It was a medley of “used tea-leaves, the leaves or various other plants, and rubbish of all kinds, manufactured in Shanghai and shipped to England as tea.”

MASH Referred to pouring hot water over tea leaves.

MEDICINE TEA This tea was composed of coarse leaf and stalks, mixed with various kinds of medicinal herbs.

MOTE SPOONS They functioned in three ways: as a measuring device, a skimmer, and a prodding device. They were made of silver with small holes in the bowl and a thin long handle with a pointed end. These were replaced by the late 1700s with teaspoons.

OOLONG TEA This large-leaf tea came from China and was described thusly:

“A roughly made tea with an unassorted appearance of a light greenish color. It is briskly fired and has a taking scent when crushed in the hand. In liquor, it draws a light coloured water and is pleasant to drink.”

ORANGE PEOKE TEA A large leafed tea that had thin, long, wiry leaves and contained yellow or white tips from the leaf bud.

PARAGUAY TEA A tea substitute used in South America and also called YERBA MATE.

To add to your tea knowledge, read "The Origin of Afternoon Tea."

< Back to Glossaries                                                                       Page 2 >

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