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Holy Mountain Trading Company - Tea Terms:  The Natural Language of Tea Tasters

Holy Mountain Trading Company - Tea Terms:  The Natural Language of Tea Tasters

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 Meandering paths through tea plantations of Munnar, India.  Photo  Niraj Kedar, iStockphototo 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. Furthermone, 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.

General Terms

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.
Assam
A tea district in northeastern India known for teas with heavy liquors.
Autumnal
A seasonal term applied to teas grown during the period possessing varying degrees of flavor.
Black Tea
Tea that has been allowed to oxidize as opposed to green tea; also describes color.
Ceylon
Former name of Sri Lanka. Still used when referring to tea grown on the island.
Congou
A general term used to describe all whole leaf black teas from northern China.
Darjeeling
Delicately flavored teas grown in the district of the same name in northern India. Elevations are 2,500 to 6,500 feet.
Earl Grey
A black tea scented with oil of bergamot.
English Breakfast
A blend of tea usually from Assam, Sri Lanka, Yunnan or Keemun which produces a hearty taste and holds up well to milk.
Estate
Land or property holding, perhaps made up of more than one garden under the same management or ownership.
Firing
The method of drying or removing moisture in tea. Firing also heats the enzymes in the leaf and halts the oxidation. Panfired, baset fired and oven drying are all examples of this process.
Flush
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.
Formosa
Former name of Taiwan. Still used when referring to tea grown on the island.
Garden
Used interchangeably with "plantation" in some tea growing countries but usually referring to an estate.
Green Tea
Tea that has not been allowed to oxidize during production.
Gyokuro
Japanese for "Pearl Dew." A high-quality tea made by a special process from shaded bushes in the district around Uji, Japan.
High Tea
A traditional mid-day service which includes light snacks, typically cookies and small pastries.
Hyson
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.
Nilgiri
A tea district in south India.
Nuwara Eliya
A tea district in Sri Lanka.
Oolong Tea
Type of manufacture with some oxidation. Falls between green and black teas.
Oxidation
The process of enzymes naturally found in tea in the production of oolong and black teas.
Self-drinking
A tea of good balance or flavor not requiring blending.
Tea Taster
A judge of the cup quality and the leaf, this expert tests for quality at all stages of production, brokerage and shipping.
Tisane
An infusion of dried herbs or fruit pieces.
Uva
A tea district in Sri Lanka.

Terms describing dry leaf

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.
Attractive
Well made, uniform color and size.
Bloom
Indicates good manufacture and sorting. Good color with a sheen.
Bold
Pieces of leaf that are too big for a grade.
Broken
Broken by rolling or passing through a cutter.
Choppy
Chopped in a breaker mill or cutter rather than in the roller.
Chunky
Usually applied to large-sized tip. Desirable.
Clean
Evenly sorted grade, free from quantities of other grades, stalk and fiber.
Common
Leaf with no style.
Curly
Opposite to wiry.
Cut
Synonymous with choppy.
Dusty
Leaf tea containing smaller particles.
Even
Consisting of pieces of roughly equal size.
Fibrous
Presence of excessive fiber.
Flaky
Flat, open leaf, poorly made tea.
Golden Tip
Highly desirable feature in Orthodox teas. Obtained by good withering and rolling.
Grainy
Well-made hard leaf.
Grey
Can indicate age or over-handling.
Irregular
Uneven blend of leaf grades.
Leafy
Tea containing larger leaves than normal.
Large
Describing size of a grade, implying it is too large for market requirements.
Make
A tea having "make" is carefully manufactured.
Milled
Tea leaf put through a cutter and ground.
Mixed
Denotes presence of other grades in a particular grade.
Musty
Excessive moisture content leading to formation of mold.
Neat
Well-made teas of even appearance, conforming to relevant grade.
Ragged
Poor grading and manufacture, rough and uneven appearance of leaf.
Shotty
Well-made and rolled, particularly of Orthodox BPS.
Small
A grade of lesser size than is normal for it.
Stalky
Indicating undue presence of stems among leaf, the result of coarse plucking. Should be minimal in primary grades.
Stylish
Neat and of superior leaf appearance.
Twist
Well rolled, imparted during rolling, particular reference to whole leaf.
Uneven
A blend containing uneven pieces.
Useful
Possessing good blending qualities.
Well-made
Uniform in color, size and texture.
Wiry
Stylish, thin, well-twisted whole leaf.

Terms describing infused leaf

Aroma
Pleasing "nose" or "bouquet" given off from the rising steam, allowing the taster to assess quality and flavor. The "perfume" of the wet leaf expresses the freshness of the leaf. Premium teas have a thoroughly pronounced aroma.
Black Currant
An aroma emitted by black currants found in some Darjeelings.
Bright
Lively, as opposed to dull-looking infusion.
Coppery
Desirably bright, copper colored leaf, denoting a well manufactured tea of good quality.
Dark
Resulting from either poor quality leaf or bad manufacture often at firing stage.
Dull
Opposed to bright.
Green
Generally undesirable. Typical of first flush.
Even
The term is usually combined with "bright" or "coppery." No irregularity in color.
Mixed
Leaf particles showing color variations from uneven treatment during withering and oxidation.
Old
Having lost most original attributes through age.

Terms describing liquor

Aroma
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.
Astringency
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.
Bakey
Unpleasant taste usually caused by very high temperatures and driving out of too much moisture during firing.
Biscuity
Pleasant characteristic. Toasty or taste of fresh baked bread.
Body
Denotes heaviness, fullness and strength of the liquor on the tongue. Similar to thickness. Ascribable to the presence of thearubigins.
Bright
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.
Brisk
A lively taste in the liquor, as opposed to flat or soft.
Burnt
Tea that has been subjected to high temperatures during firing. Undesirable.
Character
A most desirable quality which also permits recognition of the origin of growth of the tea.
Clean
Lacking in character but no unpleasant taint or taste.
Color
Denoting depth of color. Different growths/grades possess varying depths of color.
Contamination
Foreign taste.
Cream
Precipitate obtained on cooling of tea. A bright cream indicates a good tea.
Dry
Slighty bakey or over-fired.
Dull
A liquor that is neither clear nor bright/brisk. Caused by several factors such as faulty firing or excessive moisture.
Fine
Exceptional quality or flavor.
Flat
Lacking in briskness. Caused by age.
Full
A liquor possessing color, strength and substance.
Fully Fired
Slightly over-fired.
Grassy
Teas without physical or chemical wither.
Green/Greenish
Raw almost vegetive taste. Can refer to early first flush in black teas.
Hard
Penetrating and desirable strength.
Harshness
Raw characteristic - high firing or under-withering creates an astringent taste.
Heavy
Thick without briskness.
Light
Lacking depth of color.
Malty
Desirable character; a thick, reamy mouth-feel.
Mellow
Well matured; opposed to raw.
Metallic
Bitter metallic taste.
Moldy
Tea gone off through age, or damaged by water.
Muscatel
Reminiscent of vineyards; characteristic found in exceptional Darjeelings.
Pale
Lacking color except in "green" teas where liquors should be pale.
Papery
Paper taint with dry, flat character. Sometimes associated with age.
Point
Most desirable brightness and acidity creating a fresh "sparkle" on the tongue.
Pointy
Having good point.
Pungent
Ideal combination of briskness, brightness, strength and flavor; highly desirable.
Quality
Essential characteristic of good tea.
Rich
Mellow liquor, abundant in quality and thickness.
Round
Full smooth liquor.
Scorched
Associated with dryness.
Smoky
A sharp, acrid or smoky taste.
Soft
Opposite of brisk.
Spicy
Character suggestive of spices.
Strong
Can be a bold, heavy cup or sharp, powerful character.
Taint
Foreign characteristic.
Thickness
A description of viscosity, ranging from light, almost water to a heavy, juice consistency.
Thin
Lacking in body -- often due to over withering or inadequate fermentation.
Tired
Flat through age. Stale.
Toasty
Caused by over-firing.
Wild
Liquor character found in end-of-season teas.
Woody
Sawdust-like character. Usually associated with old tea.