What is a Tea? Te, Chay or Cha?

There a lot of definitions of what is a Tea. My version is the following: In sensu stricto, tea is an infusion of the Camellia sinensis leaves and leaf buds. Camellia sinensis is the scientific name of the plant that produces tea. Oolong, green, white and black teas are examples of these teas.

In sensu amplo, the word tea is an infusion of seeds, roots, flowers, bark, fruits, leaves, spices and its combinations. It is common to call the non Camellia sinensis teas “herbal teas” or “tisanes”. The “tisanes” are typically non-caffeinated brews.

Usually when we say the single word tea, we are talking about regular black tea. All other teas have two words to describe the type of tea, e.g., Masala Tea, Honey Dew Tea, Ginger Tea, Lemongrass Tea, Mint Tea, etc.
If you are in a foreign and want to order a tea, one of the three words (te, chay or cha) will get you a tea. What is called commonly tea may have a different way to brew and serve from country to country, but it will be a tea.

The name Camellia is the Latinized surname of the botanist Georg Kamel, and sinensis means Chinese in latin.

Interesting message in a teacup on the Alitalia flight from Rome to Verona last week.

Interesting message in a teacup on the Alitalia flight from Rome to Verona last week.

In the Mercado Publico (Public Market) in Porto Alegre, Brazil, teas are sold in small packages. They are called Chá, here the teas are labelled with the common name and some with the scientific name too.

In the Mercado Publico (Public Market) in Porto Alegre, Brazil, teas are sold in small packages. They are called Chá, here the teas are labelled with the common name and some with the scientific name too.

At the Spicy Market in Istanbul, Turkey the teas are called Çay and are sold bulk together with the spices

At the Spicy Market in Istanbul, Turkey the teas are called Çay and are sold bulk together with the spices

Tea shops near the Yu Garden, Shanghai, China

In the surroundings of the Yu Garden (aka as Yu Yang) in Shanghai there are many tea shops mostly for tourists that want to taste different teas and buy some for use or as a gift. For many people this is the first time they experience the Chinese teas. The shop area is an old part of the town that keeps the traditional buildings in very good shape and clean.

Typical street view on the area near the Yu Garden. The traditional buildings on the foreground and the new constructions on the background create a nice cultural contrast

The tea quality is average to good, enough to be a nice drinkable tea. In the shops they always serve free tea. They make nice demonstrations on how to prepare and drink tea. Visitors sit around the table to enjoy the teas without obligation to buy. It is always fun to go to those stores and spend time tasting teas, also buying gifts, ceramic and utensils for tea making. There are always something to enjoy and learn.

In this nice store you can find all the ceramic and utensils to make tea. There are a significant price difference between the common and high quality items

Here are few pictures of a typical tea shop. The key area is a large wood table carved with multiple levels. The table has a place to brew the tea, serve and store all accessories for tea making. The water is heated with the electric kettle allowing to have always the water in the proper temperature for each type of tea. There are channels in the carved wood to collect the water spilled from the cups. The water is directed to small holes that convey the water to the bottom of the table where it is collected in a glass container.

Nice tea shop with the solid wood table and benches. The store is well lit

Top view of the table. The hot water bottle is on the left, the tea utensils on the middle and large tea can on the top right

The stores usually have many types of teas, ceramic pots and wood utensils. Most of them have everything needed for tea starters.
It is typical to have girls serving and selling tea. They are very polite, educated and speak good English. They have a reasonable knowledge of the teas and know how to sell pretty well. The tea packaging is very nice, either in nice boxes or cans.

The tea for sale are stored nicely on either metal or glass containers. The containers are tightly closed to avoid drying

Turkish Tea (çay) on the boat from Istanbul to Yalova, Turkey

We just crossed the Sea of Marmara from Istanbul to Yalova. It was a beautiful sunny day. The only Turkish tea (çay)in the boat was served in paper cups for safety reasons. But the advertisement continues on the traditional tulip cup.

The çay costs 1.25 Turkish Lira or about 0.70 US dollar


In the morning it is traditional to have the Turkish tea with simit, a crisp twisted ring bread covered with sesame seeds. The simit can be broken in pieces and eaten with the tea.

My friend Zek and I were enjoying the Turkish tea and simit on the Turkish way


While we were drinking tea we enjoyed the view and the seagulls happily flying…

The view of Istanbul from the back of the boat


Seagulls approach the boat to enjoy small bites of simit thrown in the air

Hu Xin Ting Tea House, Yu Garden, Shanghai. A traditional tea experience

The Hu Xin Ting (Huxing Ting) is probably the oldest teahouse in China. It is situated on the middle of a pond in the Yu Garden area (Yu Yuan Garden) in Shanghai.

The Hu Xin Ting Tea House is a landmark in Shanghai.

The name Hu Xin Ting means lake pavilion. Last month I had the opportunity to be there early morning to appreciate a nice green tea, have a quite time and take few pictures. During the day the place gets very crowded and there is a long waiting time for tea, particularly during the Summer months. The most popular teas are the Jasmin and flower teas. There is a small shop on the front where teas, cups, teapots and sets are sold at a reasonably good price.

Since 1996 I had the opportunity to visit few times this tea house. It seems that no change happened. The tea quality and service are excellent with the perfect atmosphere.The Hu Xin Ting is the must go place for tea aficionados.It has the quality and tradition needed to make it a unique experience.

The tea house is on the pond, connected to land with the Bridge of Nine Turnings. The pond has red and yellow carps plus lotus.The building has different sections with nice set ups and decorations. The round and rectangular tables are made of rose wood with marble tops. The open space provide a nice view of the small lake and garden.

The green tea is served with hot water directly to the leaves, not an optimal condition for brewing the green tea. The bottle of hot water is available for refill. The snacks are a mixture of sweet/sour dried fruits, hard salty tofu squares and quail eggs, which are a typical Chinese delicacy.

Traditional green tea setup. The snacks are quail eggs, dried fruits and squares of hard tofu. The rose wood and marble have been seasoned by the tea through the years.

The blue and white contrasts nicely with the red color of the walls, windows and surrounding buildings

Gamro or Sweet Dew Tea – Small leaves – South Korea

A fresh Gamro, Sweet Dew Tea just arrived. This variety of Gamro has small leaves. It is a bit more intense in flavor, aroma and color than regular Gamro. The slight sweet refreshing taste not only reminds of the friendship but also the early morning bucolic atmosphere. The tea came as a gift from my South Korean friend Park.

Gamro tea brewed on the small pot. Here only one tea leaf is sufficient for the brisk yellow brew. As the teacups are filled the typical fragrance flows in the air


Few years ago my friend and I were walking in Seoul, saw a girl in a store promoting a tea, giving small portions to drink. We tried and I bought 2 packages right away. That was Gamro, and it has been a fascinating tea since then.

The Gamro tea leaves are very delicate. Being light and twisted they can remain intact in the bottle. Their asymmetrical shape gives a sparkle to the teapot.


The bright yellow color of the Gamro tea is contrasted by the brown orange color of the infused leaf. The hydrated leaf shows a distinctive texture

Classical Chinese Herbal Tea

Chinese Herbal tea with a colorful mixture of dried fruits, seeds, flowers and sugar

Herbal teas are very common in China. They are also available in tea houses or for purchase in small packages with a particular blend. A typical tea will have dried flowers, seeds, fruits and leaves (including pine needles). Sometimes it contains rock sugar (solid pieces of sugar) as observed in the picture above. Most of them are caffeine-free. The tea is brewed with hot water in this cup where the lid is put on the top to keep it hot. After drinking the tea, it is replenished with hot water few times. It is usual to eat the fruits after drinking the tea. Some fruits are sweet and others are bitter.
These teas are aromatic and refreshing. Each one has a peculiar aroma and taste, which makes the tea experience always unique.

The Bright Crimson Tea: Hibiscus, Roselle, Jamaica, Karkade, etc…

A freshly brewed Hibiscus tea with the characteristic crimson color. On the side two Hibiscus calyxes.

The calyxes of Hibiscus sadbariffa, or simply Hibiscus are used to make a crimson (deep red color) tea. The Hibiscus tea has different names and is consumed hot or cold in many parts of the world.
Few years ago had the opportunity to work in Mexico and tasted the Agua de Jamaica which always fascinated me for the deep crimson color and the fabulous taste. It is a refreshing tea, with the proper balance of acidity. In Mexico it is served cold with sugar and a drop of lime juice. Later I found this tea in Singapore, where it is called Roselle and have enjoyed hot, the form which I prefer. Found the same tea in Cairo, where is called karkade and is sold on the streets competing with the black tea.
The Hibiscus calyxes can be used alone or in mixtures in many herbal teas.

Here we have three Hibiscus calyxes. These are typical size, about 2.5 cm wide and 3.5 cm long.

It’s Turkish Tea Time!


Here we have a classical setup for the Turkish Tea: Tulip tea, two sugar cubes, Turkish delight and the two stacked kettles for brewing the tea.

The Turkish tea (çay) is a medium bodied golden brown black tea. It is prepared in a two stacked kettle (çaydanlık). Usually cold water is put in the lower kettle until boiling, then some water is transferred to the top kettle where the black tea is added and mixed. The two kettles go back to the stove in low heat. After brewing for ten minutes some tea from the top kettle is poured to the tulip cup (usually half cup). Hot water from the bottom kettle is added to fill the cup. The use of the concentrated tea and hot water allows to obtain different tea strengths according to the taste. This technique has many variations, and sometimes water is replenished in one or both kettles to get better tea usage. Traveling in Turkey is not uncommon to drink more than 20 tulip cups of tea in a day. It is refreshing and delicious every time.

A warm welcome in Turkey


A tulip black tea with Turkish delight is offered as a warm welcome to guests and visitors in a Turkish home or a store. Here we have the Turkish Delight (aka Lokum ) made with pomegranate and pistachios served with the tulip tea. This is a perfect combination of flavors and warmth anytime of the day or night. Two sugar cubes are always served with the tea and most of the people use only one cube.