What is a varietal?

by Tony Gebely 7

The word varietal is one that is often misused in the tea world (and also in the wine world). It is often erroneously used interchangeably with the word variety. Here’s the correct definition:

Varietal (adj) – a varietal tea is one that was made from a single variety of Camellia sinensis.

Correct usage: Tieguanyin is a varietal tea made from the ‘Tieguanyin’ cultivar (remember cultivar means “cultivated variety“) of Camellia sinensis.

Incorrect usage: Tieguanyin is made from the Tieguanyin varietal of Camellia sinensis.

Tony Gebely

Tony has been studying tea for over ten years and has traveled to many tea producing regions throughout Asia. His book, "Tea: A User's Guide" is available now.

Comments (7)

  1. i like to start tea factory in sri lanka south. i want to invester for it. please comments

  2. Hrm…Michael Coffey also covered this issue on his blog. In it, he looked at it from a language perspective. “Varietal” should be considered an adjective of “variety”. Whereas, “variety” should be considered the parent (or naturally occurring) strain of the Camellia sinensis plant. With that in mind, there are only two varieties – var. sinensis and var. assamica.

    Not sure if “varietal” would apply to a “type” of tea, though. I’ll have to query.

    1. Yes, Michael and I discussed this very topic. What exactly are you referring to– is it the fact that I am referring to Tieguanyin instead of Assamica or Sinensis?

      1. Oh, no-no. I was just asking for clarification about if that was the correct use of the word varietal – referring to tea types.

        Perhaps I should’ve clarified my clarification.

  3. Hi Tony, I started listing various tea cultivars in this article: http://teapedia.org/en/Cultivar
    Please feel free to add comments and suggestions.

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