Well, here is a tawny owl:
photo by Andreas Trepte
which, as you can see, isn't actually one colour. And here:
photo Jenny Jones
is the tawny pipit, which isn't one colour, either, so after those two examples you might decide that tawny actually means streaked. But how about tawny port?
photo: Jon Sullivan http://pdphoto.org/PictureDetail.php?oldpg=2479
Or how about a Tawny Owl (NB the capital letters)? When I was a Brownie Guide, Tawny Owl was the assistant leader of our Brownie pack.
As I recall, she was principally blue.
This confusion makes spotting something tawny either very easy indeed (anything vaguely brown) or to the scientifically inclined almost impossible (first define your terms!).
Well, all right, you scientists, I'll do my best.
Tawny is basically the same word as tannin, the stuff that's used to preserve leather. This is tannin powder:
And here it is in solution:
Tannin is found in tea (as well as various not-brown things such as red wine) but for the vegetable tanning of leather then you'll probably be using the bark of chestnut, hemlock, guebracho, mangrove, acacia. Terminalia species, or, especially, oak.
Well, that's good, I can see at least four oak trees from my window.
Job done, then.
Spot the Frippet: something tawny. This word comes from the Old French tané, from taner to tan.