Glossary of Tea Terms

Catechins

A type of antioxidant found in the leaves of the Camellia sinensis (tea) plant. Also found in red wine, chocolate, berries, and apples.

When tea leaves are exposed to oxygen during processing (oxidation), catechins are transformed into theaflavins and thearubigins, the substances responsible for the flavor and other characteristics of finished tea. Return to Antioxidants in Tea

Fermentation

A stage of pu'er tea manufacture.  During this phase, tea leaves are heaped into a pile.  Much like a compost pile, the inside is devoid of oxygen, and heat and humidity increase.  Under such conditions, microorganisms proliferate and break down the leaves while converting the starches into compounds that give pu'ers their distinctive flavors and aromas.  Return to Pu'er Tea 

Flavanols

Flavanols are a class of flavonoids, and constitute about 75% of the flavanoids in tea.  They contain catechins, considered to be the substance key to tea's health benefits.  Return to Antioxidants in Tea

Flavonoids

A class of antioxidant compounds created in tea when oxygen reacts with an enzyme in the leaves during processing.  Flavonoids are comprised of both flavanols and flavonols, and determine the tea's color, flavors, and body.  Return to Antioxidants in Tea

Flavonols

A class of flavonoids present in a wide variety of fruits and vegetables. In tea, they are far out-numbered by the flavanols.  Included here because flavonols are often confused with flavanols due to their similar spellings. Return to Antioxidants in Tea

Genus

The first part of a plant's scientific name.  Plants in the same genus are closely related to other species in that genus based on similarities in their flowers, fruits, and sometimes other plant parts such as roots, stems, buds, or leaves. 

A genus is often named after a person (either real or mythical), an ancient plant name, a word that describes the plant, or even something arbitrary.

Genus names are capitalized nouns.  "Genus" is its singular form; its plural is "genera"; its adjectival form is "generic."  Return to Tea's Scientific Name---The Basics

Oxidation

The phase of tea processing when enzymes in the tea leaves react with oxygen to further develop the aromas and flavors of tea.  Black tea is fully oxidized; oolong tea is partially oxidized; white tea is minimally oxidized.  Green and pu'erh teas are not oxidized.  Return to Oolong Tea

pH Level

A measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution. A measure of 7 is neutral.  The higher the number above 7, the higher its alkalinity; the lower the number below 7, the greater its acidity. Return to Tea Plants---Where They Grow, or Return to Water---The Mother of Tea

Polyphenols

Polyphenols are phytochemical compounds found in the vacuoles of most plants. In nature, polyphenols protect tea plants from insects and other attacks, but when tea leaves are damaged (i.e., during processing) polyphenols are released and start a chain of chemical reactions that ultimately impact the color, flavor, and body of tea.

All true teas contain polyphenols, but the kind of processing it undergoes (reflective of type of tea) dictates the level.

Polyphenol compounds are also referred to as tannins.  Return to Antioxidants in Tea, or Return to Tea Processing Basics

Species

A scientific name of a species is the two-part combination of (1) the genus name and (2) specific epithet.  Individuals of the same species are genetically and morphologically similar.  They are capable of interbreeding.  Species are generally geographically isolated from other related species. 

Species names are either italicized or underlined.  Return to Tea's Scientific Name—The Basics

Specific Epithet

The second part of a plant's species name. The specific epithet further specifies and describes a plant based on distinctive traits, although written alone it has no meaning to identify a specific plant.    

A specific epithet may be taken from any source.  It's usually an adjective, and it agrees with the genus name in gender.  The specific epithet begins with a lower case letter.  Return to Tea's Scientific Name—The Basics

Tannins

Also known as polyphenols. The most abundant polyphenols in the plant kingdom are the condensed tannins founds in virtually all families of plants.

Tannins are released when steeping a cup of tea.  They are recognized for their astringent and sometimes bitter characteristics.  Return to Antioxidants in Tea

Theaflavins

Polyphenols formed early in the oxidation of tea leaves.  They are responsible for a tea's astringency and briskness.  Theaflavins are not found in green and other teas that do not undergo oxidation as part of their processing.  Return to Antioxidants in Tea

Thearubigins

Polyphenols formed later in the oxidation of tea leaves.  They round out the sharpness of the earlier-formed theaflavins and result in a mellower and darker cup of tea.  Chinese black teas are oxidized very slowly, giving thearubigins a chance to develop fully; they are very mellow teas. Return to Antioxidants in Tea, or Return to Oolong Tea

Variety

Plants are subdivided into varieties when they have inheritable characteristics distinct from others of the species.  Varieties generally have their own geographic range. 

Variety names are adjectives and begin with a lower case letter.  While the variety name is italicized, they are prefaced with a non-italicized "var." to indicate its status.  Return to Tea's Scientific Name—The Basics

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