Language and Tea Research

I was just going over some of the materials I picked up on my trip to Taiwan to glean a little something to put on the Tea Geek wiki and I was struck by how important language fluency is to getting good information about tea.  I already know that the English-speaking world gets some basic information wrong because of the translation of Chinese word 發酵 (pronounced “fa jiao” according to four dictionaries, but everyone I’ve heard actually say it would be “fa xiao” in pinyin)–in Chinese it can mean either “ferment” or “oxidize” and is often translated one way when the other is more accurate.  Thus, we get black tea being called “fully fermented” when it isn’t fermented at all.

But then there are translations that just are bewildering.  This is the description, in English, that I found about how Baozhong tea is made:  “The tea-making process requires the undertaking of tea soot picking collection, shrinkage and fall by sunlight, indoor shrinkage and stir mix, tea cream stir-fry, kneading, and dessication in order to complete the strip-shaped Paochung Tea characteristic of Pinglin.”

Now, I’ve seen wulong production and I generally understand what steps they’re talking about but I’m confused why some of those English words show up in that description.  For example, “tea cream stir-fry”?  That sounds like a weird entree or something.  Imagine that your local tea shop sees that description of the process of making this tea and doesn’t have any recourse to either (a) someone who has seen the process, or (b) knows a Chinese speaker or knows a little Chinese themselves.   What stories do you suppose they’d tell their customers and/or other folks in the tea industry to show off what they know about tea?

"Kill Green" machine at the Tea Leaf Processing Demonstration Facility in Nangang.

(By the way, the “tea cream stir-fry” process is, I think, the “kill green” process where heat is applied for a few minutes to stop oxidation in the leaf; this pamphlet didn’t include the Chinese characters to double-check.  Some teas like Longjing/Dragonwell have “kill green” done by hand in an actual wok much like stir-fry.  Other teas are made using what looks like a very deep industrial clothes drier.  As to the “tea soot picking collection,” I think they mean “tea shoot picking collection” rather than some process where ashes are spread over the fields or something… although there does seem to be a craze where bamboo-charcoal is being added to all kinds of things as a cure-all.  Not sure how much science there is behind it, though some of the claims I saw were at least possible.)

2 thoughts on “Language and Tea Research”

  1. Perhaps “tea cream” is tea-seed oil, which can be used in pan-firing to keep leaves from burning.

  2. Possible. Typically, æ²¹ (yóu​) is used for fat, oil, grease, gasoline and other petroleum products, etc. It’s also used in the word for soy sauce and for the cream derived from milk (literally “milk fat”, while butter is literally “cow fat”). So it’s possible that the “tea cream stir fry” is actually just a strange translation of what might be better described as “pan fired with tea seed oil.” If only they’d put the Chinese characters so I could check. Oh well. I guess I’ll just have to go back to Taiwan… 🙂

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