Someone recently posted a question about お茶 and whether it's correct to use お茶 to describe something like 紅茶 instead. Knowing that 紅 usually means 'crimson', was wondering what the etymology for 紅茶's usage of 紅 goes for black.

This might be a case of assuming a translation from what an item is called in one culture versus another (i.e. in English this is "Black Tea" but in Japanese this is "Crimson Tea", literally speaking) but since I'm not fully certain about the kanji choice for 紅茶 just wanted to know where its origins are?

1 Answer 1


Well, black tea isn't exactly black. You might say it isn't red either. Nevertheless, I wouldn't get hung up on the color. It's just a name a kind of tea that in English we refer to as black and Japanese refers to as .

Next time you pour yourself a cup of "black" tea in a white porcelain cup, just fill it about a centimeter deep and reflect on the color. It's neither black nor bright red, but it is somewhat ruddy looking. I've always imagined that's where the name of the tea in Japanese came from.

I imagine, but I don't know, that the name of the tea in English comes less from the color of the liquid tea itself as from the color of the leaves: a good English Breakfast or Earl Gray are, well, not exactly black (in fact, rather brown looking to me). But, in English, we tend to see the world in black-and-white.

Here is an interesting link on the naming convention which seems to suggest that "black" is derived from the meaning on Oolong in Chinese. I don't know since, at least in Japanese, Oolong, apart from being written ウーロン茶 can also be written as 烏龍, both of which I've seen. 烏 means crow (so black because crows are black?). At any rate, there seems to be quite a lot you can find with a google search about the different naming conventions used and theorizing about why.

  • I've certainly done that and thought that "crimson" might be a good color to describe it given its sort of deep, dark red tone, as opposed to black. Just thought I'd clarify that I'm not looking to know why it isn't called 黒茶, for example, but rather how 紅 was selected for this tea, because what I think is true is one thing and what is actually true might be one and the same or completely something else. Good article!
    – psosuna
    Commented Jul 21, 2017 at 16:07

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