Introduction to Tea Tasting
Tea tasting uses a process similar to tasting other beverages. Tea tasting is the evaluation process in which an experienced tea taster determines the quality of a tea. In this process, the quality of tea is evaluated by visual, smell, taste, and touch.
Climatic conditions, topography, tea manufacturing process, and tea clone will change the taste and appearance of the final made tea. A trained tea taster can recognize these differences before selling or blending the tea.
This process is based primarily on the experience of the tongue. There are four types of taste which are salt, sour, sweet, and bitter. These are identified in four separate places on the tongue. An experienced tea taster will be able to identify these tastes separately.
The Method of the Tea-Tasting
First, the samples of the dry leaf are placed severalty on the tea tasting table for the taster to observe. Here the dry leaf is subjected to visual inspection and sometimes by touch.
And the tea taster observes various characteristics such as the appearance, size, and presence of ‘tips’ or buds.
Next, the tea sample is infused in boiling water (Distilled water). Here, 2g of the tea is mixed with 150ml of boiling water. The cup containing the boiling water and tea leaf is left 4-5 minutes.
Then the infused infusion is poured into tea tasting cups and the infused leaf is displayed on the lid of the tea tasting cup.
The displayed infused leaf is again inspected visually for color and brightness. The tea taster also evaluates the aroma and color consistency of the tea leaf.
Then, the tea taster takes some of the infusion by spoon in his mouth and makes a loud sucking sound. The infusion will mix with plenty of oxygen and let it transfer over all parts of the tongue and coat.
The tea taster then reports the condition of the using tea tasting terminology.
Tea Tasting Terminology
A tea taster when reporting on a tea makes use of technical terms. The object of the following glossary is to explain the more common terms used. An endeavor also has been made to show these terms link up with correct or faulty manufacture.
Aroma-The fragrant smell is usually derived from the dry leaf or infused leaf of tea grown at high elevations; eg. Darjeeling, Nuwara-Eliya, or Uva districts of Ceylon.
Autumnal-A seasonal term will be applied to teas grown during that period. Autumnal teas frequently produce a reddish leaf and liquors with varying degrees of flavor and aroma, with good flavor in the cup this reddish leaf will not detract from the value.
Baggy-An undesirable taint found in both leaf and liquors of tea withered on inferior Hessian or sacking. May also be apparent in teas stored in bags. New Hessians not aired before use and Hessians fibers collected with the leaf when brushing from the chungs will also produce baggy taints. Hessian fibers can be extracted by sifting the Green leaf before rolling.
Bakey-An unpleasant liquor taste usually caused by too high temperatures during firing or the driving off of too much moisture. Certain Bacteria have been known to cause balkiness.
Biscuity-A pleasant character occasionally smelt in the dry leaf or tasted in the liquors of well-fired Assam teas.
Black-Tea has been allowed to ferment before firing as opposed to green or oolong teas. The term is widely used when describing the color of the dry leaf. The leaf which is black in color as opposed to brown, red, or grey, is generally desirable as it indicated good plucking and careful manufacture. In certain circumstances however brown leaf may be preferable. The tea manufactured from the dark leaf as opposed to the light leaf, and also a well-withered leaf, tends to be black.
Blister-Noticeable blistering of the leaf (especially the stem) caused by too rapid removal of moisture in the first fire.
Bloom-A live as opposed to dull-looking tea leaf caused by the fine hairs together with the varnish-like film on the outside of the leaf. The bloom can be removed by faulty sorting and it is often completely through certain types of cutters.
Body-A liquor possessing fullness and strength as opposed to thin liquoring teas.
Bold-Where pieces of dry leaf are large and could with advantage have been cut smaller.
Brassy-An unpleasant metallic taste usually associated with un-withered or poorly withered tea.
Bright-A live as opposed to a dull-looking infused leaf or tea liquor. It is brought out very plainly in tea liquor after the addition of milk. Brightness usually implies the absence of any harmful bacteria, together with careful manufacture.
Brisk-A live taste in the liquor as opposed to flat or soft. Fresh spring water may possibly be described as being brisk when compared with cold boiled water.
Brown-Describes color of dry leaf. Some tipping Assam teas during the second flush have a brown leaf which is quite valuable. Very tipping teas never have a really black leaf appearance. The reason for this is the hair growth down the shoot. The second leaf may have a quantity of hair insufficient to produce a golden appearance known as tip, but sufficient to discolor the leaf to that of a brownish appearance. Also during rolling some hair may be rubbed off the bud and deposited on the coarser leaf. During firing this hair is affixed to the leaf and results in a brownish color.
Burn-Applicable generally to black teas denoting a fully fired and desirable cup character.
Burnt-Tea liquor description meaning that the tea has been subjected to extremely high temperatures during firing. This term is often coupled with blistering although it is not uncommon to have one without the other.
Case Hardening-In the results of too high exhaust temperature when the outside casing of the stem or midrib becomes fully fired and prevents the core from losing its moisture. It may be noticed by breaking a piece of the stem which if the case–hardened, will show a whitish center. This is also known in the trade as white ends. Teas that have been case hardened seldom keep well.
Character-Undoubtedly a most desirable quality in the liquor of a tea, which also permits the recognition of its country of origin and of a particular district within that country.
Chesty– An unmistakable smell on the dry leaf and taste in the cup caused by immature or inferior chest panels.
Choppy-This term is applied to leaf chopped in a breaker, mill, or cutter rather than a roller. It is also used to describe the leaf appearance of a broken pekoe which has been made by cutting pekoe or Orange pekoe and may also apply to a grade containing a large amount of chopped up pieces of stem or midribs.
Chunky-Usually applied to broken grades which are large in size, is a desirable feature when applied to tippy Assams.
Clean-Denotes an evenly sorted grade of tea which is free from quantities of other grades; eg:- B.O.P. should not contain dust and fannings; and O.P. should not contain B.O.P., etc.
Also denotes a tea free from the stalk. May also be applied to the liquor of a poor tea that lacks character but has no unpleasant taint or taste and remains neutral to the palate.
Coarse-Used to describe a harsh liquor or undesirable feature sometimes associated with very coarse plucking. This characteristic has also been known to result from irregular firing.
Colour– Denoting color of the liquor. Liquor colors vary considerably from district to district and country to country. Different grades from the same estate will have different depths of color.
Coloury-A tea liquor possessing a depth of color, apparently possessing substance but not necessarily so, ie; a tea may be colory to the eye but weak to the palate.
Common-Generally applied to a low class of tea; rather worse than plain.
Coppery-Describes the infused leaf color of a black tea. Coppery-infused leaf usually denotes a good quality tea that has been carefully manufactured generally during the second flush or autumnal periods.
Cream– The precipitate obtained when good strong tea cools. Cream in tea is a combination of Catechin with Caffeine. This remains in solution in the hot tea infusion. On cooling, this is thrown out of solution and so remains suspended. After long-standing, it settles at the bottom. A bright cream indicates a good tea, whereas a dull or muddy cream is indicative of an inferior tea.
Crepy-A crimped appearance of the dry leaf usually applied to the leaf appearance of a B.O.P. grade is a popular style with tea blenders for holding in packet Fannings or small quantities of dust. With a flat-leaf, smaller tea would tend to sink to the bottom of the container.
Croppy-Bright and creamy tea liquor with an attractive fresh character found only in some first and second flush Assam teas.
Curly-Used when describing the leaf appearance of whole leaf grades ie; O.P. and long leafed Pekoe as opposed to wiry.
Cut-Synonyms to choppy, but often applied to broken grades.
Dark-This term is used to describe the color of the infused leaf. Infused tea being dark or dull in color denotes poor tea. Common tea, poor quality tea, teas over fermented, or teas suffering from bacterial infection are all likely to produce dark or dull infusions.
Discolored Leaf-A self-explanatory term used to describe tea leaf after manufacture. Discolored leaves in a grade of tea are usually the result of one of the following:-
- Uneven and low withers
- Insufficient rolling to distort cells and so allow fermentation
- May be due to over-charging of rollers
- Tobacco cut manufacture from un-withered leaf
- Very coarse plucking
- Damaging or heating of the leaf between plucking and rolling. Green leaf in black tea is simply, leaf which has failed ferment.
Dry-Slight balkiness in the cup. ie; slightly high fired or scorched character. The term is also used to indicate a lack of fullness due to under-fermentation, but this meaning is by no means general.
Dull-Dull is applied to infused leaf (dark). A liquor described as being dull in the cup is a liquor that is neither clear nor bright to the eye nor lively or brisk to the palate. Dull liquors result from bacterial infection or excessive heating of the leaf-when in the green leaf stage. Certain firing conditions will also produce dull liquors. The term is also used to describe the appearance of the dry leaf when it lacks bloom and has a dull appearance.
Dullness is applied to dry leaf is generally caused by a fault in the sorting room, eg; over-sorting, sagging meshes, etc. these faults tend to rub off the varnish-like coating found on the black leaf.
Dull Tip-The tip which is neither golden, silvery nor pale. It results from abrasion of hairs on the tip and often follows an overcharge or excessive pressures during rolling. Similar abrasion may also occur during firing and more especially sorting. Insufficient hair development on the bud will also result in dull tips.
Earthy-A liquor taste found in tea sorted under damp conditions. Tea left on the sorting room floor for unreasonable lengths of time will acquire this taste. This is especially so where the floor is concrete and is inclined to be continually damp. The provision of adequate storage bins and the making of wooden platforms will eradicate the fault. The platforms should be about 4” to 6” high so as to allow the free passage of air between the tea and floor surface.
Empty-A tea liquor having no substance – lacking fullness. Teas withered in hot weather for over 20 hours, or insufficiently rolled leaves may acquire this characteristic.
Even-Refers to the color of the infused leaf. It is usually combined with bright or coppery as qualifying adjectives. When applied to the dry leaf it implies that the grade in question consists of pieces of roughly equal size.
Fibrous-Denotes the presence of fiber usually in the fannings and dust grades, but sometimes in the broken grades. Fiber consists largely of shreds of the stalk and is caused by a combination of coarse plucking and heavy pressure during rolling. The C.T.C. treatment will also produce fiber if the stalk is present in the leaf. It is possible to extract fiber by use of a pneumatic machine during or after sorting.
Flaky-When coupled with the word “open” it describes a flat, poorly made tea as opposed to a well-twisted leaf. Usually, the result of poor withers, insufficient rolling, overcharging or tobacco cut un-withered manufacture. By itself, the word flaky can be a desirable term used to describe the leaf appearance of fannings grades that are satisfactory in size.
Flat-Uninteresting lifeless tea liquor which is completely lacking in briskness caused either by age, by sorting under damp conditions or by packing with too high a moisture content (about 4%), etc. over fermentation or bacterial infection will also bring about this liquor character. The term is also applied to the dry leaf when describing an open and flaky leaf appearance caused by inadequate rolling and withering.
Flavor– A desirable and most apparent aroma in certain liquors perceived through the mouth, as distinct from via the nose. The pronounced flavor is more generally found in high-grown teas; eg. Darjeeling, Nilgris, Uva, etc.
Fruity-A liquor taste acquired by over fermentation on a floor infected by bacteria. Bacteria alone will also produce this unpleasant overripe taste.
Full-A liquor possessing color, strength, and substance as opposed to empty, thin, etc.
Fully Fired-Describes the liquor of a tea that has been slightly overfired. The teamaker should regard this term with a certain caution and ensure that the future manufacture does not become high fired or burnt.
Glass-Density, A ¼ lb of tea which glasses in the region of 300cc would fit into a standard size packet used in the United Kingdom.
Golden Tip-The presence of golden tip is a highly desirable feature for most tea. Hairy buds (and not infrequently the first leaf) pick up tea juices during the rolling. The hairs are gummed into a mat and after firing appears golden in color.
Gone Off-Implying that tea is past its prime, probably the direct result of age.
Graining or Grainy-Describes hard leaf fannings and dust grades.
Gassy-A self-explanatory taste found in the liquors of tea which have had neither a physical nor chemical wither.
Green-Describes color of the infused leaf. This characteristic at certain times of the year is unavoidable. Green infusions are caused by one of the following.
- Insufficient withering. Climatic condition will affect the withering process to a large degree but poor, uneven and thick spreading will also result in low withers being obtained.
- Inadequate rolling length in time
- Poor rolling. Wrong charge in rollers or incorrect speeds of rollers.
- Too thick a spread in the fermenting room causing both green and mixed infusions.
- Under fermentation
- Coarse leaf
Green as applied to, liquor is an unpleasant astringency caused by under fermentation which may be the indirect result of any of the faults mentioned above.
Grey-A most undesirable color of the dry leaf. Greyness is caused by the abrasion and rubbing off of the gummy or varnished surfaces Greyness is particularly likely to occur during the sorting process and may be caused by one of the following:-
- Cutters running at incorrect speeds
- Blunt knives in the cutter
- Sagging measures
- Undue amount of handling of the dry leaf
- Over sorting
- Over rolling
The chances of greying decrease slightly with good withers.
Harshness-Describes a raw and unpleasing strength in tea liquor. Usually the result of immature tea or tea made from the coarse leaf.
Hay-A not altogether pleasant hay-like flavor often found on teas approaching the autumnal periods.
Heavy-Usually applied to teas having thick, strong, and colory liquors with very little briskness. Over fermentation will cause this. The term is also used as a self-explanatory description of tea leaf, especially applied to a B.P. which has been artificially made by cutting a Pekoe grade.
High fired-Describes a liquor of tea that had too much fiber. Intermediate between dry and burnt.
Hungry-Describes the liquor of tea which is lacking the cup characters generally associated with this particular tea.
Irregular-Applicable to the appearance of the whole leaf grades. Uneven pieces resulting from inadequate sorting.
Knobbly-A term mainly applied to Pekoe Souchong and B.P.S, grades. This does not include long-leafed Pekoes of the type seen in northeast India. The term generally suggests a carefully manufactured grade with special attention having been paid to withering and rolling, to produce around and knobbly grade similar in size to that of a small garden pea. A knobbly B.P.S. is a very valuable and popular grade and especially so when the leaf is black.
Large-Describes the size of a grade in plying at the same time that the grade is too large for market requirement.
Leafy-A tea containing large leaves that would be normal for its grade. When the term is coupled with “useful” it denotes the size of leaf in good demand.
Legg – cut-An unconventional method of manufacture usually producing an open, flaky, and spongy leaf that is reddish in color. Leaf before rolling is passed through a Legg cutter is generally used in conjunction with non-wither manufacture.
Light-Liquor which is lacking depth of color but maybe flavor and or pungent.
Make-A tea having to make has been carefully manufactured with special emphasis on withering, rolling, and sorting.
Matty-A desirable character suggesting a tea that has been slightly high fired but not overfired. Matty tea cannot be produced by the dryer unless the character is present in the leaf.
Mark-All tea is sold by its garden name, otherwise known as Garden mark.
Mature-A tea becomes mature approximately four months after the date of manufacture. A tea more than a year old is usually past its prime.
Mellow-Describes the liquor of a tea that has matured well; opposite to raw rasping etc.
Metallic-The character of a tea liquor suggesting a butter taste of metal. This undesirable taste is usually the result of poor withers. Cases have been known where this metallic character has been present in the leaf itself and not acquired in manufacture.
Milled-Tea leaf which has been put through a cutter. For a tea having a milled appearance, the term is also commonly used when describing artificially made dust and fannings grades.
Mixed-Describes an infused leaf that contains a mixture of more than one color. This indicates insufficient rolling, a Kutcha wither, overloading of rollers, coarse plucking or thick spreading in the fermenting room. The term is also used to describe the appearance of a particular grade that has been badly sorted and contains quantities of other grades.
Neutra-A tea liquor that possesses no pronounced characteristics.
Nose-The aroma of tea leaf or liquor.
Nutty-A desirable taste sometimes found in certain Assam teas. More commonly found during the second flush period.