Chinese Tea Tasting Terms
Tea Drinkers Handbook
Delmas, Minet and Barbaste
Publisher: Abbeville Press
The Odors, Scents, And Aromas
Let's start with the hardest part, the
vocabulary of odors, which helps us describe
those characteristics linked to the sense of
smell that can be detected both in the dry
leaf and the infusion, and also the
characteristics of the liquor, perceived
by retro-nasal olfaction. Like many
professional tasters, we begin with families
of odors, rather than the molecules or groups
of molecules that create the odors. Our
objective in assembling this vocabulary is to
define a certain number of the major
aromatic "families" encountered in the course
of tea tasting. This approach allows us to
pass from general sensations to specific
ones and fits in well with the way the odors
enrich one another. It is important to
understand that these families do not stand in
isolation and there are no strict barriers
between them. So, an iodized note
suggesting fish, like that found in
Japanese Sencha teas, often also has floral
accents of the rose type. The note of hay that
can be detected in many dry tea leaves may
lead on towards the vanilla and woody groups.
- Fresh herbaceous : green stems,
privet, freshly mown grass, sap, sorrel,
watercress, cultivated mushrooms
- Aromatic herbs : basil, mint,
bay leaves, coriander, sage, dill
- Cooked vegetable: artichoke,
spinach, French beans, zucchini, cooked
vegetables, raw vegetables
- Dried herbaceous : hay, wicker,
straw, tobacco, malty, coumarin (resembling
- Shellfish : winkles, mussels,
- Crustaceans : crab, velvet crab,
- Fish : salmon meat, fish skin
- Others : iodine, seaweed, kelp,
- Fresh Floral: fresh roses,
orange blossom, peony, geranium, hyacinth,
freesia, lily of the valley, lilac,
- White flowers : jasmine, daisy,
marguerite, mimosa, wisteria, lily,
osmanthus (a native Chinese species)
- Exotic flowers : frangipani (the
Temple tree of Hawaii), orchid, Tahitian
gardenia, magnolia, ylang-ylang (from the cananga
odorata tree ), Rose absolute (Rosa
- Orchid Fruits : pear, apple,
quince, grape, plum, mirabelle, cherry,
grape, peach, apricot
- Berries : strawberry, raspberry,
blackcurrant, blackberry, black fruit, red
- Exotic fruit : mango, passion
fruit, lychee, kiwi
- Citrus fruit : zest, lemon,
orange, mandarin orange, bergamot orange
- Cooked fruit: prune, date, fruit
jam, stewed fruit, fig, raisin, currant,
- Nuts : green almonds, bitter
almonds, chestnuts, hazelnuts, walnuts,
- Mild spices : cinnamon,
licorice, vanilla, anise, nutmeg
- Hot spices : clove, cardamom,
Butter, Dairy Produce
- Fresh butter, melted butter, cream, milk,
- Vanilla sugar, honey, wax, pollen
- Chocolate, cocoa, mocha, sweetened
chestnut puree, frangipane, caramelized
apple, caramel, jam
- Humus, damp leaves, moss, patchouli
- Damp soil, cellar, mushroom, mold, dust,
stony, wet earth after a storm, peat,
- Waxed wood, dry wood, cedar, sandalwood,
vetiver (a relative of lemon grass), balsa
wood, pine, arnica
- Woody with gamy notes : holly,
- Leather, saddlery, horse
- Big cat, musk, damp wool, sweat
- Manure, stable, tannery, menagerie
- Cat urine, indole (chemical present in
some plant oils and tar, also in feces)
- Roasting coffee,
- Breadcrumbs, bread crusts, brioche,
- Toasted hazelnuts, peanuts, popcorn
- Bacon, juniper, tar, hydrocarbons
- Metallic, hot metal, silica, flint
A Reminder of Flavours
- Umami (Japanese word meaning
"savory" or "meaty")
Words Describing Texture
Astringency : a
bitterness in the mouth, of varying degrees,
caused by tannin. Sometimes a sensation of
characteristic of a liquor combining good
structure with a certain thickness. Adjective:
describes a liquor that is supple, without
asperity. Used to describe teas with low
gives a sensation of fullness in the mouth.
See also roundness.
Oily : reminiscent
of oil in texture, with a varying degree of
describes a very slight astringency on the
palate that leaves an impression of a fine
powder in the mouth.
Rasping : is said
of very astringent teas, often of poor quality
or infused for too long.
Robust : describes
a very full-bodied tea.
characteristic of a liquor that fills the
mouth in a rounded way. Adjective:
rounded in the mouth.
Silky : describes a
supple and slightly oily liquor, reminiscent
Smooth : describes
a liquor lacking harsh tannins and therefore
describes a predominantly tannic,
Supple : is said
of a liquor that is more velvety than
Thick : describes
a liquor with a viscosity not like water but
more reminiscent of oil or cream.
Unctuous : is said
of a tea that is rounded in the mouth and
describes a slightly thick liquor, reminiscent
Watery : describes a liquor
without astringency or sense of texture.
Additional Tasting Terms
Ample : a liquor
that is full and round, with flavors that fill
describes a rich liquor with plenty of flavor.
Aromatic palette :
the entirety of the notes perceived in a
Aromatic profile :
the whole of the aromatic characteristics of
tea. It takes account of the transience of the
notes (initial-main-background) and often of
the impact of the texture and flavors on the
Ascending : often
used to describe very volatile and direct
Attack : describes
the first notes perceived, either by direct
inhalation or retro-olfaction.
describes a liquor in which the aromas succeed
each other smoothly, well highlighted by the
flavors and texture.
Bouquet : the
whole of the aromatic characteristics sensed
by the nose.
describes a bouquet that is very rich in
clearly defined aromas.
describes those families of aromas most
strongly present in the liquor or infusion.
Final : describes
the last notes picked up either by inhalation
Finesse : a liquor
with subtle and precise aromas.
Frank : describes
a tea with well-defined characteristics
(texture, flavors, aromas, etc.) without
defect or ambiguity.
Frivolous : a tea
that is both rich in aromas and short in the
mouth— an impression of elusiveness.
sensation offered by a tea which fills the
mouth, without acidity and with rather sweet
Generous : rich in
Harmony : when
flavor, texture, and aromas are well balanced,
with a fine succession of notes.
Heavy : refers to
a background aroma.
means both the act of infusing and the wet
leaves that are recovered after infusion. In
the case of tea, the product of the infusion
is always referred to as the liquor.
Intense : having
strength and duration.
Liquor : the
liquid obtained by infusing tea leaves.
Lively : a liquor
that is fresh and light with a dominant note
that is slightly, but not excessively, acid.
Very agreeable in general.
Long in the mouth
: is said of a tea with aromas that leave a
pleasant and lasting impression in the mouth
and at the back of the mouth, after tasting.
describes a narrow aromatic palette, the
individual notes being inseparable from each
Mouth : the
entirety of the sensations perceived by the
Nose : see
Note : synonymous
describes a rich, heavy, and often heady
Peak : initial
notes expressed in fits and starts.
characteristic of aromas that linger long in
Presence : the way
the tea presents itself in the mouth.
Short in the mouth
: leaves little trace in the mouth or at the
back of the mouth after tasting.
Strong : rather
vague term that is generally applied to a
full-bodied, dark-colored liquor.
describes an aroma that remains a long time in
Sweet : is said of
teas having a slightly sweet flavor, with no
astringency associated with sweet,
Tannic : describes
a liquor that is rich in tannins.