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Tea Tasting & Terminology
Tea Tasting & Terminology

Explore the world of teas and become a connoisseur.  It’s easy, inexpensive and a lot of fun!  Like wine, chocolate and cheese, tea-tasting incorporates all of your senses: sight, smell, taste and touch.  Tea-tasting has its own distinct routine, and culturally has different meanings.  Create your own ritual and report your results to us.

Teas grown in the same region – like wine – have their own characteristic flavors and profiles, which allows you to compare the quality of the tea.  Depending upon the kinds of teas – brands or bulk– you’re tasting, this might be difficult, because they have been additionally processed with other flavors, spices, or herbs. But it really doesn’t matter.  What is interesting is finding out what you like. 



Take the following basic steps:
  1. Examine your tea.  Put some in your hand; notice the size and texture of the leaves, buds, or mixture. What does it smell like?
  2. Measure a teaspoon and place into a tea strainer, then into a cup.   Make sure you use clear cups to view its color.  Pour hot water into the cup.  Begin your observations of the tea as the cups are being filled.  Has the tea remained wiry or tightly rolled, or did the leaves unfurl and become whole in the hot water? 
  3. Steep your tea for a fixed time, usually three to five minutes, depending upon the strength you like.
  4. After steeping, smell the aroma of your tea and examine the infused leaves for color and evenness.  Your tea is now called “liquor.” The color of the tea does not necessarily indicate the strength or body of the tea.
  5. Now taste your tea and swish it around your mouth to get a sense of the tea’s body and flavor.  There are four kinds of taste – salty, sour, sweet and bitter. Usually you can taste the bitterness at the back of the tongue, saltiness in the middle, sweetness in the front, and any sourness on the sides.  A stringency or pungency is a sensation – not a taste – that is felt on the gums and walls of your mouth.  When the liquor is swirled around the mouth, the thickness, body, or viscosity can be felt and judged.
  6. After you have tasted the tea, either drink it or spit it out
  7. Describe what you just tasted.  It may be difficult at first, but after sampling many teas, you will begin to notice the similarities in color, taste, and smell
  8. If you want to sound like a connoisseur, here’s a list of commonly used words – your glossary – to describe tea.  Besides tasting and describing the tea, the ability to value a tea calls for experience and knowledge

 Tea Tasting Glossary

The only thing that really counts is that you like the taste of the tea and you are trying many teas, but if you want to sound like an expert or connoisseur, here are some words and adjectives used to describe tea-tasting: 

Adhesive – tea that is well-rolled or wiry leaves that tend to cling together

Aroma – the smell or scent escaping from your steep, denoting “inherent character;” sometimes referred to as “nose” or “bouquet”

Astringency – the pungent sensation in your mouth that gives tea its refreshing quality.  This is not to be confused with bitterness

Attractive – tea that is uniform in size, color, and texture


Baggy – an unpleasant taste – could be from a number of things

Bakey – an over-fired tea – not enough moisture – unpleasant taste

Biscuity – a pleasant aroma resembling fresh-bakedbread

Bitter – an unpleasant, caustic taste

Black – refers to your tea’s color and is associated with “bloom”

Bloom – healthy-looking tea that retains a lustrous “sheen”

Body – a tea having fullness and strength in your mouth, as opposed to being thin

Bold – can denote flavor, but experts refer to “bold” as particles of the tea leaf being too large for its particular grade

Brassy – an unpleasant metallic quality similar to brass

Bright – a tea with bright color as opposed to dull color

Brisk – a “live” characteristic – a vivacious, slightly astringent taste

Brown – usually refers to the over-processing of tea, which turns the leaves brown.

Burned – observed or tasted; usually caused by too much drying


Character –  distinct qualities that allow you to detect the region where the tea was grown

Chesty – a tea tainted by other flavors or has an undesirable resinous smell

Chunky – broken, large, tea leaves

Clean – clean leaves

Coarse – a tea producing an undesirable harsh, bitter flavor

Colory – indicates depth of color and strength

Complex – a tea that has many flavors or smells

Common – a thin tea with no distinct flavor

Coppery – bright tea leaves that indicate good processing

Cream – a natural precipitate obtained as the tea cools down – a bright cream indicates good quality ,tea whereas a dull cream usually indicates an inferior quality tea

Curly – leaf appearance


Dark – a dark or dull color, usually indicates a poor leaf quality

Dry – indicates lack of moisture in tea due to over-drying; bakey or scorched taste

Dull – tea lacking bloom or lively bright character in both appearance and taste


Earthy – can either mean flavor or body

Empty – a tea lacking fullness or substance

Even – tea leaves being the same size


Fibrous – denotes the presence of fibers with the tea leaves

Fine – tea of exceptional taste and quality

Flaky – tea leaves light in texture

Flat – a tea with no characteristics – usually not fresh – lacking briskness

Flavor – an extension of character

Flavoury – a tea that has a pronounced, desirable – and satisfying – flavor

Fruity – an over-ripe taste not desirable in tea

Full – a good combination of strength and color


Golden Tip – tea that contains golden-colored leaf tips

Green – usually refers to underfermented black teas resulting in a light-looking liquid

Grey – tea that turns grey by too much abrasion during sorting

Grainy – describes the look of a tea


Hard – a pungent flavor or a tea that has penetrating and desirable strength

Heavy – a thick, strong-colored tea with limited briskness

High – tea that has been over-dried, but not burned

Hungry – a tea not having its usual regional characteristics


Irregular – when the tea leaves are not uniform in size


Leafly – whole leaf tea

Lacking – describes a tea with no distinct flavor

Light – a tea lacking strength and color


Make – used to describe a well-made tea or a tea not up to its grade

Mature – a flavor that is not bitter or flat

Mellow –  a satisfying mellow tea

Metallic – a sharp coppery or brass taste

Mixed – uneven tea leaves of mixed color

Muscatel – a grape taste usually used to describe a desirable Darjeeling tea

Musty – tastes or looks like mold


Neat – a grade of tea having good make and size

Nose – the smell of a dry tea leaf


Pale – a tea that does not have depth of color, but may be flavoury or pungent

Plain – tea that is lacking desirable characteristics

Point – a bright, acidic and penetrating characteristic

Powdery – refers to crushed tea leaves

Pungent – astringent, with a combination of briskness, brightness and strength


Quality – describes the most desirable qualities


Ragged – a badly manufactured tea

Rasping – a very coarse flavor

Raw – a bitter, unpleasant taste produced by insufficiently fermented tea leaves

Rich – tea that is pleasantly thick and mellow

Round – a full, smooth-tasting tea


Soft – a tea lacking in characteristics – the opposite of briskness

Stalky – tea with a high concentration of stalks

Stale – tea that has an unpleasant taste

Stewed – a tea with undesirable taste caused by poor processing

Strength – the substance and body of tea


Taint – an unfortunate taste that is foreign to tea such as oil, garlic, or onion flavor

Tarry – a smoky aroma

Thick – tea that has good body, as opposed to being thin

Thin – an insipid light tea lacking desirable characteristics

Tired – a tea that is flat or stale

Tip – a quality tea determined by sight

Tippy – teas that contain lots of leaf tips and produces a more flavorful cup of tea

Twist – indicates the style of leaf created during processing


Uneven – refers to poor or uneven pieces of tea leaf – cheap tea


Weedy --  a grass or hay taste

Well-twisted – a description of the way the tea is packaged

Whiskery – tea leafs covered with a fine, hairy fiber

Wiry – an appearance of a tea leaf that is twisted, thin, and long.

Woody – tea that has a sawdust flavor or tea manufactured in late fall


Now you can add your own words and definitions to describe the teas you taste.

Once you’ve become an expert, try sampling teas from specific countries – China, Japan, India, or some other exotic location – and compare the differences, or stick to flights of greens, blacks, or herbal teas.

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