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How to describe teas?


jpr54_
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i  am not sure what floral, bamboo, sweet, etc means?

sour, dry?

is there a common dictionary for words to describe tea-

color

taste

smell

That's a great question, Joanne. And one I am still learning about. I have not run across any standards for those three aspects of tea appreciation. I think it is similar to wine in that it is largely a matter of what your associations are to the aroma and taste of a tea.

For example, I was sharing a cooked Pu-erh that had been fermented in a tangerine. My strongest association was "leather", then "straw"; my friend's was "hay". Others sometimes identify "tobacco". Whether or not a particular aroma or taste is "good" at least partly depends upon whether the association is a positive one for you. Some people, like me, may have a positive response to associations to horses and barns, but others may well go, "eeewww!"

I have also learned that my sense of smell and taste is trainable. I have learned a lot from others at the monthly T-Bar meetings at The Cultured Cup. An Oolong that I could easily enough identify as vaguely floral snapped into focus when another person said it smelled like honeysuckle. Then it was obvious.

As for color, I think it is largely a matter of using common color descriptors. I know of no tea liquor color chart, but something like that would be interesting and useful, since the liquor of many teas are often described as "amber" no matter what they look like.

Can anyone else shed more light on all this?

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  • 3 weeks later...

Hello-This is a topic that happens to be near and dear to my heart. I have noticed that certain terms are common when describing certain types of tea.In my experience,and in the experience of my tea friends, terms like "grassy", "asparagus",and "peanuts" are common when describing green teas.Other terms apply to other types of tea.I usually reserve the term "flowery" for oolongs or Jasmine tea. And "smokey" is usually applied to certain black teas. At least, that has been my experience.

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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  • 2 weeks later...

I don't think anyone would pull your tea-club membership card if you just started with a wine flavor/aroma chart as a base - then add to it. In fact, when drinking wine or tea I often find it helpful to go through those types of charts just to see if something jumps out at me. Sometimes I need to think of something specifically in order to pick it up.

I also don't worry too much about using acceptable phrases/words. If something smells like cola and antifreeze poured over potato, well, thats what it smells like. :D

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I don't think anyone would pull your tea-club membership card if you just started with a wine flavor/aroma chart as a base - then add to it.  In fact, when drinking wine or tea I often find it helpful to go through those types of charts just to see if something jumps out at me.  Sometimes I need to think of something specifically in order to pick it up.

I also don't worry too much about using acceptable phrases/words.  If something smells like cola and antifreeze poured over potato, well, thats what it smells like.  :D

Hello- There are many ways tea and wine are similar, so this makes a lot of sense.I often describe tea color in terms of wine colors. Some greens remind me of sauternes,etc.

"As life's pleasures go, food is second only to sex.Except for salami and eggs...Now that's better than sex, but only if the salami is thickly sliced"--Alan King (1927-2004)

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I don't think anyone would pull your tea-club membership card if you just started with a wine flavor/aroma chart as a base - then add to it.  In fact, when drinking wine or tea I often find it helpful to go through those types of charts just to see if something jumps out at me.  Sometimes I need to think of something specifically in order to pick it up.

I also don't worry too much about using acceptable phrases/words.  If something smells like cola and antifreeze poured over potato, well, thats what it smells like.  :D

I agree. Sometimes I don't notice something unless I read it or someone else mentions it. Then, "aha!". And since our life experiences with smells is different, the associations that components of a tea aroma or taste will trigger may also be different...and positive or negative, just depending.

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If asked by friends for a recommendation of one book on tea, I currently send them to The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide by Mary Lou Heiss and Robert J. Heiss. I discovered in the back of the book a brief but helpful guide to the typical aroma and taste characteristics of the major classes of tea. There are subtlties and individual differences beyond this guide, of course, but it is a terrific starting point.

Buy this book! I can't say enough good about it.

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It would be great if someone could contact a professional tea taster employed by a tea auction house or large buyer. These people taste hundreds of samples at a time and make very accurate judgments based on well-defined parameters, though the teas may vary widely, from Kenyan to Darjeeling to Assam.

My uncle, now deceased, was one of these. I used to marvel at a palate and nose that could remain sensitive and unerring, subjected to dozens of little bowls of hot brewed liquor, day after day. Unfortunately, I have inherited merely a great admiration for the world of tea, but neither knowledge or any skill in any department [plant science, emphatic yes, drinking, sadly no] in spite of having been associated with some of the great tea planters of Assam.

I would urge those living in USDA zones 7 or higher to grow a tea plant in their yard, even a hedge. You would have the makings of white or even green tea at hand. It would be a fun, if minuscule project; great science, geography and cultural project for kids, as well!!

One of the most intriguing experiences I have had was strolling through the short grass in an abandoned tea plantation in the state of Himachal Pradesh in north-western India, at a spot where exposure had stunted the bushes into bonsai-like shapes. They had flowered in that desolate place and were laden with fruit. Little round berries covering the gnarled branches.

Edited by v. gautam (log)
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It would be great if someone could contact a professional tea taster employed by a tea auction house or large buyer. These people taste hundreds of samples at a time and make very accurate judgments based on well-defined parameters, though the teas may vary widely, from Kenyan to Darjeeling to Assam.

My uncle, now deceased, was one of these. I used to marvel at a palate and nose that could remain sensitive and unerring, subjected to dozens of little bowls of hot brewed liquor, day after day. Unfortunately, I have inherited merely a great admiration for the world of tea, but neither knowledge or any skill in any department [plant science, emphatic yes, drinking,  sadly no] in spite of having been associated with some of the great tea planters of Assam.

I would urge those living in USDA zones 7 or higher to grow a tea plant in their yard, even a hedge. You would have the makings of white or even green tea at hand. It would be a fun, if minuscule project; great science, geography and cultural project for kids, as well!!

One of the most intriguing experiences I have had was strolling through the short grass in an abandoned tea plantation in the state of Himachal Pradesh in north-western India, at a spot where exposure had stunted the bushes into bonsai-like shapes. They had flowered in that desolate place and were laden with fruit. Little round berries covering the gnarled branches.

What a great idea, planting tea as a hedge. I don't live in a zone that would work, but I'm gonna file that away just in case.

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  • 2 months later...

The Story of Tea by Mary Lou Hess and Robert J. Hess has a helpful glossary that includes "Terms used to describe the tasting qualities of brewed tea" and "Food adjectives used to describe the tasting qualities of brewed tea". The latter covers descriptors by class of tea - general terms and then food adjectives. They also have a section on "Hue terms used to describe the liquor" that covers "clarity" and "color" terms for each class of tea.

This is the best overview and orientation to describing tea that I have seen. Beyond this, as I mentioned earlier in this topic, it's a matter of your associations to your tea drinking experience, much like describing a wine.

I can't say enough good about this book. It's the one I recommend to anyone who wants one book about tea that will take their understanding and enjoyment to new places.

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