An extensive glossary of terms is available to the taster to define the many subtleties of sight, smell and taste. Many of the definitions can be confusing to the uninitiated, due in part to the fact that some of the words overlap in meaning, while others have taken on a new significance, peculiar to the jargon of the trade. Furthermore, there are different sets of terms to describe black teas, green teas and oolong teas and these are further subdivided into lexical sets that differentiate the characteristics of dry leaf, infused leaf and liquor. Tasting is chiefly concerned with comparing teas. The value of knowing the language of the industry lies in the need not only to compare teas in a single tasting session, but also to be able to refer back to earlier flushes or crops.
The following is a selection of terms used in the qualitative assessment of teas by tea tasters and producers. It is in no way exhaustive.
Before the tea reaches the cupper’s table, certain processes, growing areas or seasons have already begun to affect the flavor of the made tea. Knowing how these can alter the flavor of the finished product is important in evaluation to determine similar quality to expected standards.
A tea district in northeastern India known for teas with heavy liquors.
A seasonal term applied to teas grown during the period possessing varying degrees of flavor.
A blend of tea usually from Assam, Sri Lanka, Yunnan or Keemun which produces a hearty taste and holds up well to milk.
Land or property holding, perhaps made up of more than one garden under the same management or ownership.
The method of drying or removing moisture in tea. Firing also heats the enzymes in the leaf and halts the oxidation. Pan-fired, basket-fired and oven drying are all examples of this process.
Young tea leaf shoots, new growth that appears at the tip of each branch or shoot. There can be several flushes in a season. The term can also refer to the various harvests – thus first flush is the early, spring plucking. Second flush is plucked in late spring/early summer and so on.
Former name of Taiwan. Still used when referring to tea grown on the island.
Used interchangeably with “plantation” in some tea growing countries but usually referring to an estate.
Japanese for “Pearl Dew.” A high-quality tea made by a special process from shaded bushes in the district around Uji, Japan.
A traditional mid-day service which includes light snacks, typically cookies and small pastries.
Chinese for “flourishing spring.” A make of China green tea in the eighteenth century, the name was also applied to the tea drink. “Young Hyson” is a type of China tea made from an early spring picking.
The dry leaves with their great variety of style and color can be smelled to assess the “nose” of the tea, namely the presence of any pleasing aroma or distinctive fragrance. However, the emphasis on the evaluation of the dry leaf is predominantly on appearance. The degree of rolling, the texture of the made leaf and the presence of stalks, fiber, dust and tips all provide important clues to the tea taster as to the quality of the tea being examined.
Well made, uniform color and size.
Indicates good manufacture and sorting. Good color with a sheen.
Pieces of leaf that are too big for a grade.
Broken by rolling or passing through a cutter.
Chopped in a breaker mill or cutter rather than in the roller.
Usually applied to large-sized tip. Desirable.
Evenly sorted grade, free from quantities of other grades, stalk and fiber.
Leaf with no style.
Opposite to wiry.
Synonymous with choppy.
Leaf tea containing smaller particles.
Consisting of pieces of roughly equal size.
Presence of excessive fiber.
Flat, open leaf, poorly made tea.
Highly desirable feature in Orthodox teas. Obtained by good withering and rolling.
Well-made hard leaf.
Can indicate age or over-handling.
Uneven blend of leaf grades.
Tea containing larger leaves than normal.
Describing size of a grade, implying it is too large for market requirements.
A tea having “make” is carefully manufactured.
Tea leaf put through a cutter and ground.
Denotes presence of other grades in a particular grade.
Excessive moisture content leading to formation of mold.
Well-made teas of even appearance, conforming to relevant grade.
Poor grading and manufacture, rough and uneven appearance of leaf.
Well-made and rolled, particularly of Orthodox BPS.
A grade of lesser size than is normal for it.
Indicating undue presence of stems among leaf, the result of coarse plucking. Should be minimal in primary grades.
Neat and of superior leaf appearance.
Well rolled, imparted during rolling, particular reference to whole leaf.
A blend containing uneven pieces.
Possessing good blending qualities.
Uniform in color, size and texture.
Stylish, thin, well-twisted whole leaf.
Terms describing infused leaf
Pleasing “nose” or “bouquet” given off from the rising steam, allowing the taster to assessquality and flavor. The “perfume” of the wet leaf expresses the freshness of the leaf. Premium teas have a thoroughly pronounced aroma.
An aroma emitted by black currants found in some Darjeelings.
Lively, as opposed to dull-looking infusion.
Desirably bright, copper colored leaf, denoting a well manufactured tea of good quality.
Resulting from either poor quality leaf or bad manufacture often at firing stage.
Opposed to bright.
Generally undesirable. Typical of first flush.
The term is usually combined with “bright” or “coppery.” No irregularity in color.
Leaf particles showing color variations from uneven treatment during withering and oxidation.
Having lost most original attributes through age.
Terms describing liquor
Denotes the presence of one of a range of desirable fragrant smells. The analysis of aroma is the most vital aspect of tasting or enjoying tea.
The pallet registers a dry, harshness or coarseness compared to a soft mellowness. The unoxidized or natural polyphenols present in tea account for the “puckering” sensation which in turn activate the salivary glands, giving tea its reputation as a thirst quencher; they also account for the bitterness.
Unpleasant taste usually caused by very high temperatures and driving out of too much moisture during firing.
Pleasant characteristic. Toasty or taste of fresh baked bread.
Denotes heaviness, fullness and strength of the liquor on the tongue. Similar to thickness. Ascribable to the presence of thearubigins.
The ability of the liquor to reflect light from the surface, varying from mirror-like to total lack of reflection. Reflective quality is imparted to tea by the presence of theaflavins.
A lively taste in the liquor, as opposed to flat or soft.
Tea that has been subjected to high temperatures during firing. Undesirable.
A most desirable quality which also permits recognition of the origin of growth of the tea.
Lacking in character but no unpleasant taint or taste.
Denoting depth of color. Different growths/grades possess varying depths of color.
Precipitate obtained on cooling of tea. A bright cream indicates a good tea.
Slighty bakey or over-fired.
A liquor that is neither clear nor bright/brisk. Caused by several factors such as faulty firing or excessive moisture.
Exceptional quality or flavor.
Lacking in briskness. Caused by age.
A liquor possessing color, strength and substance.
Teas without physical or chemical wither.
Raw almost vegetive taste. Can refer to early first flush in black teas.
Penetrating and desirable strength.
Raw characteristic – high firing or under-withering creates an astringent taste.
Thick without briskness.
Lacking depth of color.
Desirable character; a thick, creamy mouth-feel.
Well matured; opposed to raw.
Bitter metallic taste.
Tea gone off through age, or damaged by water.
Reminiscent of vineyards; characteristic found in exceptional Darjeelings.
Lacking color except in “green” teas where liquors should be pale.
Paper taint with dry, flat character. Sometimes associated with age.
Most desirable brightness and acidity creating a fresh “sparkle” on the tongue.
Having good point.
Ideal combination of briskness, brightness, strength and flavor; highly desirable.
Essential characteristic of good tea.
Mellow liquor, abundant in quality and thickness.
Full smooth liquor.
Associated with dryness.
A sharp, acrid or smoky taste.
Opposite of brisk.
Character suggestive of spices.
Can be a bold, heavy cup or sharp, powerful character.
A description of viscosity, ranging from light, almost water to a heavy, juice consistency.
Lacking in body — often due to over withering or inadequate fermentation.
Flat through age. Stale.
Caused by over-firing.
Liquor character found in end-of-season teas.
Sawdust-like character. Usually associated with old tea.