Tea terminology - the language of tea tasting

September 13, 2016

Tea terminology - the language of tea tasting

Just like the world of wine, tea has its own distinct tea tasting language. This language is made up of tea terminology used to help differentiate between different tastes, flavours, mouth feels and aromas. 

Tea tasting terminology

This is the nomenclature of tea connoisseurs, tea tasters and tea sommeliers, but it is also useful for those new to specialty tea and looking to improve your palate, this list will help give you the words you need to describe what you’re experience when you're tasting and appreciating tea.  

This is not an exhaustive list, but it's a good start. If you're looking to improve your tea tasting palate Certified Tea Master, Alison Dillon, has a few tips and hints on where to start. As you explore and discover exceptional tea, think about the words below as you assess and describe what you taste and observe.

The language of tea 

Astringency - sharp dry taste caused by unoxidised polyphenols - a bitterness in the mouth, of varying degrees, caused by tannin. Sometimes a sensation of dryness.

Bakey - an unpleasant characteristic noticeable in the liquors of teas which have been subjected to higher than desirable temperatures during processing

Balanced - describes a liquor where the aromas succeed each other smoothly, well highlighted by the flavours and texture

Biscuity - a desirable trait usually referring to a well fired Assam

Bite - a very brisk and "alive" tea liquor. A desirable traittea tasting terminology - language of tea

Body - a liquor with both fullness and strength, as opposed to being thin

Brassy- an unpleasant metallic taste usually associated with un-withered or poorly withered teas

Brisk - a live taste as opposed to flat or soft

Character - an attractive taste specific to origin

Chesty - a tea that may have been contaminated by improper storage or tainted by inferior tea chest panels.

Coloury - Indicates good depth of colour and strength

Common - liquor of inferior tea having little character

Complex - generally describes a bouquet that is very rich in clearly defined aromas

Crisp - term used for a lively tea with good body and bite, yielding a clean, refreshing taste. The opposite of “flabby” and “dull”

Dull - lacks brightness and can indicate poor quality. Can be due to faulty manufacture and firing, or a high moisture content

Earthy – can indicate an unfavourable characteristic generally caused by storing tea under damp conditions

Fibrous - a term used to identify pieces of stem in tea

Flowing - describes a liquor that is supple, without asperity and is often used to describe teas with low tannic content

Generous - rich in aromas

Gutty - thick, full bodied liquor that holds colour despite milk addition of milk

Harsh - refers to a tea which is bitter which could result from picking (plucking) tea before it is ready

Hungry - describes the liquor of a tea which is lacking in cup quality

Intense - having strength and duration

Light - describes a liquor which is rather thin and lacking depth of colour but which may be flavoury or pungent or both

Lively - a liquor that is fresh and light with a dominant note that is slightly, but not excessively, acidic – generally an agreeable trait

Long in the mouth - a tea with aromas that leave a pleasant and lasting impression in the mouth and at the back of the mouth after tasting

Metallic - an undesirable trait which imparts a metallic taste.

Muddy - a term which describes a dull or lifeless liquor

Muscatel - a characteristic reminiscent of grapes, this is highly desirable in second flush tea from the Darjeeling region

New - a tea which has not had adequate time to mellow

Nose - a term used to denote a good aroma of tea

Powdery - describes a slight astringency on the palate that leaves an impression of a fine powder in the mouth

Pungent - a tea liquor with marked briskness and an astringent effect on the palate but without bitterness

Sappy - a tea liquor which has a full juicy flavour

Short in the mouth - leaves little trace in the mouth or at the back of the mouth after tasting

Silky - describes a supple and slightly oily liquor, reminiscent of silk

Soft – a tea which is under fermented or oxidised

Spicy - liquors with flavour notes suggestive of cinnamon, pepper or clove, sometimes results from spices growing near the tea bushes

Structured – tea with a predominantly tannic, "mouth-filling" liquor

Supple - a liquor that is more velvety than astringent

Sweet - a slightly sweet flavour, with no astringency associated with sweet, vanilla-flavoured aromas

Tainted - an undesirable characteristic with a taste and odour foreign to the tea

Tarry - a tea with a smokey aroma

Vigorous – a tea that is both astringent and lively and immediately felt in the mouth – generally like a high quality first flush Darjeeling

Watery - a liquor without astringency or sense of texture

Woody - a characteristic reminiscent of freshly-cut timber, usually associated with teas processed late in a growing season





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