If you go to our “About Tea” section on Path of Cha, you’ll find our trusty-dusty tea glossary. It’s filled with terms from the vast worlds of Chinese and Japanese tea, so you’ll never have to question what tea heads are talking about. Another problem that often arises is pronunciation. While Japanese pronunciation is more or less straightforward, Chinese is where it can get tricky. With many words having the same compounds, it would certainly be frustrating to receive not what you asked for. In today’s blog post, we’ll go over common Chinese tea spelling and pronunciation.
Two common transliteration systems exist for the Chinese language — Wades Giles and Pinyin (among other, less common ones). Wades Giles is an outdated system that is no longer used today in China. However, its modified version is still commonly used in Taiwan today, especially when it comes to proper names (like the names of teas). A few tea companies in China also still use Wades Gilles for their tea names. However, most have switched over to Pinyin since it is the standardized system used in China. That’s why you may often see two different spellings for the same tea.
By the way, if you are familiar with Chinese characters, you will also notice that the same tea type will be spelled differently in China vs. Taiwan. This is because, in Taiwan, people follow the traditional writing system vs. the simplified one. Oh, and if you are buying teas in Hong Kong, where Cantonese is spoken, the name will be different altogether! But we’ll save that topic for next time.
Without further adieu, let’s take a look at the different spelling and pronunciation of popular Chinese teas!
Chinese Tea Spelling And Pronunciation Guide
In Alphabetical Order:
Bai Hao / Pai Hao
Like in “Bai Hao Yin Zhen White Tea.”
Pronounced “buy how”
Bai Hao is the variant commonly used amongst Chinese tea vendors, which predominantly produce this tea.
Bai Hao translates as "white hair" (or pekoe). This is because of the prevalent white fuzz on the tea leaves. It's a delicate white tea, with a pleasant sweet soy milk flavor.
Bai Mu Dan / Pai Mu Tan
Pronounced “buy moo dawn”
Bai Mu Dan is the most common spelling for this tea.
The name of this white tea translated as "white peony." The taste is rich and nutty, with a delicate fresh leaf fragrance.
Bao Zhong / Pouchong
Pronounced “b-how jong”
Bao Zhong is the Chinese spelling, while Pouchong is how you will commonly see it from Taiwanese vendors, where this tea is widely produced.
Bao Zhong is actually a unique tea, classified somewhere between a green and an oolong tea. The name translates literally as "the wrapped kind", referring to its particular processing method of wrapping the tea leaves in paper during the drying process. Although this drying method is no longer used, the name stayed.
Pronounced “dawn tsong”
Dan Cong is a tea produced only in one region of China — the Phoenix Mountains of Guandong Province, which is why the pronunciation and spelling are consistent.
Dong Ding / Tung Ting
Pronounced “Dong Ding”
The spelling Tung Ting is more prevalent in Taiwan, where this tea is commonly produced.
Dong Ding is an oolong tea. The name literally translates as "frozen summit." This is because Dong Ding is a high-mountain tea, growing at cold high altitudes. The final taste is particularly sweet and delicious.
Long Jing / Lung Ching
Pronounced “long ching” (the pronunciation of “j” in Chinese is somewhere between “j” and “ch”.)
Long Jing is the most common spelling for this tea, while Lung Ching is outdated.
In English this green tea is referred to as "Dragon Well Green Tea." However, the name comes from the Long Jing Village in Hangzhou, China, where the tea originates. It's known as one of China's top ten teas, with its iconic flat leaves and sweet, refreshing taste. Read more.
Shu Pu-erh / Shou Pu-erh
Pronounced “shoo poo-air”
Both spellings are valid. Shou is an outdated spelling but still commonly used to this day. According to modern Pinyin, it should be spelled “shu.”
Shu pu-erh translates as ripe pu-erh, a post-fermented, aged tea.
You may also notice the various spellings of pu-erh, pu’er being a common one. Pu'er is actually the standard Pinyin spelling of it, which is commonly used in China. However, the old spelling "pu-erh" stuck with most tea vendors. Read more.
Tie Guan Yin / Tie Kuan Yin
Pronounced “tea-ay gwan yin”
This variety of oolong tea is commonly produced both in China and Taiwan. The spelling Tie Kuan Yin is more common in Taiwan.
Wu Long / Oolong
Can be pronounced both “wooh-long” and “ooh-long”
Wu Long is the correct transcription of the Chinese words, while oolong is considered a popularized western spelling. Oolong is definitely used more often in the West. Taiwan and the Fujian region of China, which has its own dialect, also romanize this tea as oolong.
Oolong teas are semi-oxidized and are produced only from certain types of tea bushes. The name literally translates as "black dragon". There are many theories of where the name might come from. Read more.
Above are just some of the many famous teas and their variants. China is a big country and certainly, Chinese teas have a long history. It is no wonder that there may be many pronunciation and romanized spelling variations for the same tea type. Not to mention, the various English translations that exist to convey the poetic nature of the tea. If you are ever unsure, just ask! Most tea vendors will happily help.
Pinyin Pronunciation Guide
a - ah
o - oh
i - ee
u - ooh
ai - eye
e - uh
ei - ey
ao - ow
ou - ou, like in “low”
ua - wa
uo - woah
uai - why
ia - yah
ie - yeh
iao - yow
iu - you
c - ts
zh - j, like in “jam”
r - the letters “j” and “r” together. Similar to the “-sure” in “pleasure”. This one requires a lot of practice in Chinese learners.
j - j like in “jungle”
q - ch / ts
x - sh / ci