Oolong Tea Pronunciation Guide

With Audio

This is a rough-and-ready Mandarin pronunciation guide for Taiwanese and Chinese tea. The American English pronunciations use real words whenever possible, and hyphenated spellings are said with a continuous sound (she-ong = sheeyong). The pinyin includes tone marks which are an integral part of the pronunciation. Without the proper tones a native Mandarin speaker is not likely to understand these words.

For those who want to plunge right in, here is the list. A detailed explanation can be found at the bottom of this page.

Teas listed on this web site:

Chinese Characters Pinyin Wade-Giles American English
wu1 long2 cha2 wu lung ch’a oo long cha
Oolong Tea (烏龍茶) audio pronunciation


long2 feng4 xia2 lung feng hsia long fung shee-a
Long Feng Xia (龍鳳峽) audio pronunciation


wu3 ling2 wu ling oo ling
Wu Ling (武陵) audio pronunciation


dong4 ding3 mi4 xiang1 tung ting ming xiang dong ding mee she-ong
Dong Ding Ming Xiang (凍頂蜜香) audio pronunciation


sha1 lin2 qi1 sha lin ch’i shaw lean chee
Shan Ling Xi (杉林溪) audio pronunciation


zhang1 shu4 hu2 chang shu hu jong shoe who
Zhong Shu Hu (樟樹湖) audio pronunciation


cui4 luan2 ts’ui luan tsway loo-ann
Tsuei Luan (翠巒) audio pronunciation


shi2 zhuo1 shih cho shh dz-woe
Shi Zuo (石棹) audio pronunciation


si4 ji4 szu chi sih jee
Four Season (四季) audio pronunciation


chen2 nian2 lao3 cha2 wang2 ch’en nien lao ch’a wang chen nee-ann l-how cha wong
Aged Tea (陳年老茶) audio pronunciation


bai2 hao2 pai hao buy how
Bai Hao (白毫) audio pronunciation


bao1 zhong3 pao chung b-how jong
Bao Zhong (包種) audio pronunciation


Other Taiwanese and Chinese teas:

Chinese Characters Pinyin Wade-Giles American English
tie3 guan1 yin1 t’ieh kuan yin tea-ay gwan yin
long2 jing3 lung ching long jing
shui3 jin1 gui1 shui chin kui sh-way jeen g-way
rou4 gui4 jou kui row g-way
pu3 er3 p’u erh poo er
huang2 guan1 yin1 huang kuan yin hwong gwan yin
bai2 mu3 dan1 pai mu tan buy moo dan

Pinyin pronunciation table:

Tones

1 high and level
2 rising from mid-pitch to the level of tone 1
3 falling and rising
4 falling sharply
5 neutral tone

Vowels

a similar to the ‘ah’ of ‘hah’ ang a Mandarin ‘a’ followed by ‘ng’
e similar to the ‘er’ of ‘her’ eng a Mandarin ‘e’ followed by ‘ng’
i similar to the ‘ee’ of ‘bee’ er a Mandarin ‘e’ with the tongue curled back
o similar to ‘or’ en similar to the ‘un’ of ‘fun’
u similar to the ‘u’ of ‘flute’ ei similar to the ‘ei’ of ‘weigh’
ai similar to the ‘ai’ of ‘aisle’ ou similar to the ‘ou’ of ‘dough’
ao similar to the ‘au’ of ‘sauerkraut’ ye/ie similar to a short ‘yeah’
an similar to the ‘an’ of ‘ban’ yu/u as in the French ‘u’ of ‘la lune’

Consonants

m, f, ch, sh same as English q as in the ‘ch’ of ‘cheese’ – tongue tip is held down
b, d, n, g, s, w, y similar to English x as in the ‘sh’ of ‘ship’ – tongue tip is held down
p, t, k similar to English but with more aspiration zh as in the ‘j’ of ‘jam’ – tongue is curled back
l similar to the ‘l’ in ‘health’ r as in ‘s’ of ‘pleasure’
h similar to English but slightly guttural z as in the ‘ds’ of ‘woods’
j as in the ‘j’ of ‘jungle’ – tongue tip is held down c as in the ‘ts’ of ‘hurts’

Discussion:

There are several systems of Romanization for Chinese characters. The two most common are Pinyin (the official Romanization of Mainland China) and Wade-Giles. Taiwan uses a modified Wade-Giles system that does not include apostrophes. So instead of T’aipei the capital of Taiwan is written Taipei.

What difference does an apostrophe make? In the Wade-Giles system, a ‘t’ without an apostrophe should be pronounced as ‘d’, and a ‘p’ without an apostrophe should be pronounced ‘b’, and a ‘k’ without an apostrophe should be pronounced ‘g’.

This creates all sorts of confusion for western speakers. For many years Wade-Giles was the standard for converting Chinese characters to western spellings, so we had such spellings as Peking for Beijing, taoism for daoism and tofu for dofu.

This confusion extends to the world of tea. Neither Pinyin nor Wade-Giles reflects the popular spelling Oolong. This particular spelling is not found in any of the common Romanization systems, so is probably a simple popularization (like chow mein).

In an ideal world there would be just one system of Romanization that is applied universally. Unfortunately, Romanization has become a political issue in Taiwan because legislators are reluctant to adopt Mainland Chinese standards. It could also be argued that the use of Wade-Giles upholds tradition since it has a much longer history than Hanyu Pinyin.

Talk of traditional Romanization is trivial, however, compared with the much more important topic of maintaining the Chinese written language. Taiwan continues to use traditional Chinese characters whereas Mainland China has switched to a simplified writing system. These simplified characters have fewer strokes than their traditional counterparts and were developed to promote literacy. Many overseas Chinese have expressed concern that the rich heritage of the Chinese language is compromised with this simpler writing system.

Hakka Tea

Making Hakka Tea
Making Hakka Tea
Making Hakka Tea

Taiwan is made up of several ethnic groups. The Hakka are the second-largest of these groups, making up about 20% of the total population of Taiwan.

Many of the Hakka families in Taiwan trace their origin to China’s Guangdong province, originally settling in the northern counties of Hsinchu and Miaoli. There are also Hakka communities in the southern counties of Kaohsiung and Pingtung.

The Hakka have unique customs, cuisine and language. A popular Hakka beverage is lei cha, also known as Hakka tea. Lei cha literally means “pounded tea” which describes the method of grinding the ingredients into a paste.

Lei cha is made by mixing peanuts, sesame seeds, and tea. The ingredients are placed in a ceramic bowl and ground with a wooden pestle into a paste. The paste is mixed with hot water to a soup-like consistency and served in bowls.

Ingredients for Hakka Tea

The traditional ingredients of lei cha are:

  • tea leaves (either green tea or oolong)
  • raw sesame seeds
  • roasted peanuts

Other ingredients can be added:

  • raw pine nuts
  • sunflower seeds
  • cooked or puffed rice
  • lentils
  • mint leaves
  • mung beans

The ingredients are mixed to a ratio of 3 parts tea leaves, 3 parts sesame seeds and peanuts, and 1 part remaining ingredients.

Instructions for Making Hakka Tea

Place all the ingredients in a ceramic bowl and grind them with a wooden pestle. Add a small amount of water as you grind to make a paste.

The resulting paste is mixed with hot water and served in bowls. Lei cha was traditionally served salty, but today is often sweetened with sugar.

Hakka tea is a healthy drink that may account for the renowned longevity of the Hakka people. It is often served with rice and side dishes of vegetables, tofu, and pickles.

Visiting Alishan

Alishan Train

Ali Shan is a famous tea producing region of Taiwan. It is also one of Taiwan’s major tourist destinations, and many visitors take the Alishan narrow gauge railway to visit this wonderful spot.

Alishan Mountain Railway is one of the world’s three top-ranked mountain railways. It passes through three climatic zones along its 71.34 kilometers of track. Starting at an altitude of 30 meters in Chia Yi City, the terminus on Mount Ali is 2,216 meters (7,270 feet) in altitude. Along the way, the railway passes through 50 tunnels and over 77 bridges.

Lumber Train

Construction of the Alishan railway began in 1906 during the Japanese occupation of Taiwan (1895 – 1945). The Japanese wanted to harvest Alishan’s old-growth timber for use in their Shinto shrines. The gates to these shrines require massive pillars and beams, and the two largest of these gates in Japan are made from red cypress trees from Mount Ali.

The railway also made Alishan more accessible to the Taiwanese. Farmers moved in and small settlements were established along the rail line.

Tea Farming

Ali Shan’s first tea plantations date from the 1920s. This makes Alishan a relatively young area for Taiwan tea, as the history of Taiwanese tea dates from the early 1800s.

The earliest of Alishan’s tea farms were located at the more accessible lower altitudes, but higher altitude plantations were established in the following decades. Most of the tea originally produced on Alishan was black tea for the export market.

As Taiwan’s economy strengthened in the 1970s and 80s, the cost of producing tea became too high to compete in the world market. During this time, tea production shifted to oolong tea, and today most of Taiwan’s tea is consumed locally.

Ideal Climate

Alishan proved to be an ideal place for oolong tea. Located close to the Tropic of Cancer, the high mountains of Alishan are frequently shrouded in thick clouds. This creates a cool, moist climate which reduces the levels of bitter chemical components (catechins) in tea leaves, while increasing levels of theanine and soluble nitrogen which make the tea taste sweet.

Alishan soil is also a contributing factor in the quality of the tea. This highly fertile region produces thick tea leaves which are high in pectin, giving Alishan tea a bright green color. Alishan tea is famous for its sweet taste and fragrance, and the flavorful leaves can be brewed many times without becoming bitter.

Train, Bus or Scooter?

Today, many roads criss-cross the hills and valleys of Alishan. Visitors can come by bus, car, motorcycle, or scooter. These modes of transport may give more sight-seeing options, but the Alishan Mountain Railway remains the quintessential way to get to the top.

According to Su Chao-hsu, the author of The Mt. Ali Railway, “The Alishan Mountain Railway is not just a means of transportation. The railway is a ‘living antique’ that has great historical value in and of itself. It provides us with an incomparable feast of nature and a rich historical and cultural journey.”

Alishan Tea

Our selection of Alishan tea includes:

Zhong Shu Hu oolong tea

Four Season oolong tea

Shi Zuo oolong tea


Processing Oolong Tea

Solar Withering

Taiwan oolong tea is renowned throughout the world for its superb quality. Taiwan is blessed with an ideal climate for growing oolong tea, but also has a strong tradition of processing tea.

Tea production is an art and those who excel at it receive the title “Tea Master”. Knowledge of tea production is passed down through the generations and many Taiwan tea plantations have remained in the same family for more than 100 years.

How is Tea Produced?

The first step in tea production is to pick the leaves. Taiwan oolong can be harvested up to 6 times a year depending on the elevation and weather conditions. High mountain tea may only be harvested 3 times a year because the weather is much cooler and the tea grows more slowly. High mountain oolong is the most valued Taiwan oolong tea.

The best quality oolong tea is hand-picked. Tea can also be machine cut, but this results in an excess of stems and damage to the leaves. All loose-leaf teas sold at Tea From Taiwan is hand-picked and hand-processed.

The tea leaves are picked as they are budding. Two leaves along with the bud are plucked from the tea bush and placed in a large basket that the picker carries on her back. Most of the tea pickers are women.

The fresh leaves are transported back to the facility for processing tea. They are spread on a flat surface and exposed to the sun for about an hour. Afterwards they are gathered and placed on drying racks in an air-conditioned drying house.

At this stage of the tea production the leaves are shaken every hour so that the edges of the tea leaves bruise and oxidize. The tea leaves will lose approximately 20% of their moisture content during step in producing oolong tea. They also begin to turn brown due to the oxidation process.

To halt the oxidation the tea must be pan-roasted. The decision of when to roast the leaves depends on the judgment of the tea master. Oolong tea is usually oxidized between 20% and 80%. The tea master makes his decision of the level of oxidation depending on the type of leaves and the desired finished product.

After pan-roasting, the next step in oolong tea production is to roll the tea leaves. The leaves are tightly packed in a canvas cloth and placed in a rolling machine. They are rolled for about 15 to 20 minutes, then again roasted. This rolling and roasting process is repeated up to 20 times.

The variables in tea production include the initial drying time, the time spent in the drying house, the frequency of tossing, the initial roasting time, and the number of times the leaves are rolled and re-roasted. Changing any of these variables results in a noticeable difference in the final product.

Tea production is labor intensive and the major reason why first grade oolong is so expensive. Regardless of the price, there is strong domestic market for top-quality oolong tea. Most of the oolong tea produced in Taiwan is for local consumption.