What is the Definition of Tea?

While the definition of tea might seem obvious, there is a much broader scope of how to think about it. In this article we review what all the components that constitute tea.

Definition of Tea

The definition of tea incorporates botanical, classification, cultural, historical and evolution components.

Botanical Classification:

  • Tea is scientifically classified under Kingdom Plantae, Angiosperms, Dicotyledoneae, Archichlamydeae, Order Ericales, Family Theaceae, Genus Camellia, Subgen Thea Chang, Sect Thea, and Ser. Sinenses Chang.
  • The most commonly cultivated tea is Camellia sinensis (L) O. Ktze.
  • Other species within Sect Thea exist, but they are mostly uncultivated.

Classification of Teas:

  • Teas can be classified based on processing method, color, place of production, level of fermentation, and season.
  • Common classifications include green tea, black tea, yellow tea, oolong tea, red tea, and white tea.
  • Regional classifications include Shu tea (Sichuan), Dian tea (Yunnan), Zhe tea (Zhejiang), and Min tea (Fujian).
  • Teas can also be categorized as full fermented, half fermented, or lightly fermented.
  • Seasonal classifications include spring, summer, fall/autumn, and winter tea.
  • The basic classes of teas are green tea and oolong tea.
  • Additional processed teas include yellow tea, red tea, flower tea, pressed tea, fruit tea, and healthy tea.

Symbolism and Cultural Significance:

  • Tea symbolizes longevity, as reflected in the Chinese character 茶 (cha), which has components signifying numbers 20, 8, and 80, totaling 108.
  • People over 108 years old are called “Cha Sui Lao Ren,” signifying longevity.
  • Tea is often given as a gift during festivals, symbolizing healthiness.

Historical Names for Tea:

  • Throughout history, tea has been referred to by various names, including Cao Zhong Ying, Luo Nu, Cao Da Chong, Bu Ye Hou, Li Xiang Cao, Tu, Rao, She, Ming, Chuan, Jia, Jia Meng, Jiao, Cha Chuan, Ku Cha, Ku Tu, Yao Ming, Xiang Ming, Chuan Cha, Xing Cao, Yao Cha, Lao Lü, and Ming Jiang, among others.

Evolution of the Term “Tea” (茶):

  • During the Tang Dynasty, the most used names for tea were “cha” (茶) and “tu” (荼).
  • Emperor Tang Xuanzong’s book, “The Pronunciation and Meaning of Characters of Kaiyuan,” contributed to the replacement of “tu” with “cha.”