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.
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.
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 trait
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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