What is the Definition of Tea?

Tea (茶, cha), According to Modern Chinese Dictionary (现代汉语词典), is:

  • First, an evergreen shrub, with white flowers and hard-shelled seeds. Tea is from its processed tender leaves. It is an important economic crop in southern China.
  • Second, the drink made from tea: drink tea, taste tea.
  • Third, refers to betrothal gift (Since tea was used as betrothal gifts in antient times): give tea gifts (Give betrothal gifts).
  • Fourth, tawny: tea-colored spectacles, tea-colored crystal.
  • Fifth, the name of some drinks: milk tea, fruit tea.
  • Sixth, refers to Camellia oleifera: tea tree oil.
  • Seventh, refers to Camellia japonica: flower camillia (In Chinese, shan cha hua).
  • Eighth, a family name.

Tea, according to the Encyclopedia of Chinese Agriculture, The Book of Tea (中国农业百科全书·茶叶卷), is classified as Kingdom Plantae, Angiosperms, Dicotyledoneae, Archichlamydeae, Order Ericales, Family Theaceae, Genus Camellia, Subgen Thea Chang, Sect Thea, and Ser. Sinenses Chang. The Sect Thea is named Camellia sinensis (L) O. Ktze., as acknowledged in the tea studying field around the world. In Sect Thea there are seventeen species. Currently the tea that is cultivated and used in the world is one species among Sect Thea (that is C. sinensis), of which, mostly, chromosomes are diploid (2n=30). The rest species of the Sect Thea are mostly uncultivated. Though some of them were plucked and used, their chromosomes are mainly haploid (n=15). Therefore, scientifically, “wild tea” refers to those who are classified as Sect Thea but do not belong to Ser. Sineses Chang. They are not widely consumed by human beings. Since strictly speaking, the “wild teas” are different from those that are commonly cultivated, whether it can be consumed or not needed further scientific experiment. (Note: Camellia sinensis (L) O. Ktze. is the collective name of the plants that are being studied as tea. 2n=30 refers to the proportion parameter, or multi-digit element parameter of plant’s chromosome.)

Teas can be classified as green tea, black tea, yellow tea, oolong tea, red tea, and white tea according to their processing method and color. It also can be classified as Shu tea (Shu, abbreviation of Sichuan), Dian tea (Dian—Yunnan), Zhe tea (Zhe—Zhejiang), Min tea (Min—Fujian) according to the place where they are produced. As for the level of fermentation, we have full fermented tea, half fermented tea, and lightly fermented tea. From the different seasons in which the teas are made, we have spring, summer, fall/autumn, and winter tea. The basic classes of teas are green tea and oolong tea. Some of the teas that have been through an additional second process are yellow tea, red tea, flower tea, pressed tea, fruit tea, and healthy tea.

Tea is the symbol of longevity. Its character 茶 (cha) has a 艹 top part that is similar with 廿 (nian, which means twenty). The middle part 人 (ren, means people) is similar with 八 (ba, means eight). The botom part 木 (mu, means tree) can be split into 八十 (ba shi, means eighty). Twenty plus eight and eighty equals one hundred and eight. Thus, the elders that are, and more than, one-hundred-and-eight years old are called Cha Sui Lao Ren (literally means elders that has tea’s logevity). The character of tea stands for long life. And tea itself is a popular gift during festivals that symbolizes healthiness.

There are many complicated names for tea in history. 草中英 (cao zhong ying, means the elite of the grass), 酪奴 (luo nu), 草大虫 (cao da chong), 不夜侯 (bu ye hou), 离乡草 (li xiang cao, literally the grass of the homesick), 荼 (tu) , 桡 (rao), 蔎 (she, a fragrant hurb), 茗(ming, which is used nowadays too), 荈 (chuan, means rough tea) 葭 (jia), 葭萌 (jia meng), 椒 (jiao), 茶荈 (cha chuan), 苦茶 (ku cha, means bitter tea), 苦荼 (ku tu), 药茗 (yao ming), 香茗 (xiang ming), 荈诧 (chuan cha), 醒草 (xing cao, literally the grass that awakes), 药茶 (yao cha, literally medicine tea) 老绿 (lao lü, literally old/dark green), and 茗将 (ming jiang), etc.

During Tang Dynasty (618-970 AD), the most used names for tea were cha (茶) and tu (荼). During Kaiyuan Era, Emperor Tang Xuanzong directed the compilation of a book called The Pronunciation and Meaning of Characters of Kaiyuan (开元文字音义), which was prefaced by Xuanzong himself. In this book, whether intentional or mistaken undetermined, the character tu (荼) was missing a horizontal line and became cha (茶). Since its preface was written by Xuanzong the emperor, no one dare to disobey. After nearly eighty years of using both characters, cha eventually replaced tu.

Tea in Chinese is Cha (茶), which means the drink or the tea-leaf. Green tea is lü cha (绿茶); oolong tea is wu long cha (乌龙茶); black tea is hong (means red) cha (红茶); yellow tea is huang cha (黄茶); jasmine tea is mo li hua cha (茉莉花茶); white tea is bai cha(白茶); red tea is hei (means black) cha (黑茶). In Chinese, hei means black while hong means red. But with tea, hei cha refers to red tea and hong cha is black tea instead.