A Chinese Tea Glossary, Now on Our Site

With a tea-making history stretching back thousands of years, it’s no surprise Chinese culture and language is full of sophisticated tea terminology. Many of these words and phrases have no English equivalent, such as oolong or naipaodu (a tea’s ability to withstand multiple steeps). The deeper you dig into Chinese tea, the more you see such terms printed on packages or discussed among tea lovers—and if you don’t speak the language, it’s easy to get lost in the wilderness. That’s where Babelcarp comes in.

Babelcarp is a Chinese tea glossary nearly two decades in the making. Developed by tea enthusiast and longtime friend of IPOT, Lew Perin, it allows you to enter Chinese characters or romanized pinyin equivalents and discover their meaning in the context of Chinese tea culture and history. Dictionaries and translation programs can tell you that 白牡丹—or bai mudan—literally translates as “white peony,” but not much more. By comparison, here’s Babelcarp’s comprehensive definition:

bai mudan (Bai Mu Dan) = second grade of baicha made, after Yinzhen and before Gongmei, from first leaf without bud, literally White Peony (白牡丹)[2,3,1], also, unrelatedly, a Wuyi yancha cultivar using the same Chinese characters; also (白牧丹)[2,4,1] a baicha grown in Zhenghe, Fuding, Jian'ou, and Songxi 

We have referred countless curious tea drinkers to Babelcarp over the years, but when writing about tea here, we’ve often wished we could include Babelcarp entries as a kind of shorthand, a way to elucidate terms without cluttering every sentence with a parenthetical reference. So over the past few weeks we’ve been working with Lew on a brand new tool (a.k.a. a programmer’s nightmare) that brings Babelcarp directly onto our site.

Now, if you’re reading about our Jingmai Old Forest Bingcha and curious about the word sheng in the description, you can mouse over it (or tap, if you’re using a mobile browser) to see a pop-up definition. The same goes for tea names in our Chinese green tea guide.

Every single Chinese tea word won’t be cross-referenced, but we hope this handy tool empowers you to better explore China’s rich language of tea, whether as a quick reference or a jumping-off point to deeper linguistic and cultural understanding. Let’s yum cha!

In Pursuit of Tea