Tasting terminology

The taster's glossary lists the vocabulary used by tasters and allows the sensations felt during the drinking of tea to be described.

Basic concepts

  • Aroma: in the technical language of tasting, aroma should be reserved for the olfactory sensations felt in the mouth during retro-olfaction. But the word is also frequently used to describe smells in general.
  • In the mouth: the group of characteristics perceived in the mouth, comprising smell, touch and taste.
  • Bouquet: all the characteristics of smell that are perceived through the nose when one sniffs the tea, then in the mouth known as aromas.
  • Infusion: this refers both to the act of infusion and to the soaked leaves which one then retrieves. For tea it is never used to describe the liquid that is obtained by infusion, this is called the liqueur.
  • Liqueur: see above.
  • In the nose: see bouquet.
  • Scent: smell.
  • Smell: perceived directly by the nose, as opposed to the aromas that are felt in the mouth.
  • Flavour: sensation (sweet, salty, sour, bitter, glutinous) perceived on the tongue.

Description of scents and aromas

Here is a list of terms commonly used to describe the olfactory and retro-olfactory impressions that occur during tea tasting and that allow us to express these sensations with reference to known aromas.

Hesperian notes

  • These refer to citrus fruit aromas: Orangey, Lemony, Zesty

Fruity notes

  • Bitter almond, Green almond
  • Ripe fruit, Black fruit, Red fruit, Dried fruit, Fruity, Muscat grape, Peach, Green apple, Ripe grape

Floral notes

  • All flowery notes and in particular: Freesia, Iris, Jasmin, Narcissus, Orchid, Rose

Spicy notes

  • Aniseed, Cocoa, Malt, Nutmeg, Menthol, Honey, Pepper, Liquorice

Vegetable and woodland notes

  • These are the woody, balsamic, musty notes: Dry wood, Green wood, Bark, Chestnut, Peat, Herb, Moss, Rocky, Undergrowth, Damp earth after a Storm, Woody

Empyreal notes

  • Denoting a series of aromas and smells which bring to mind smoke, burning, caramelising Burnt, Grilled, Smoked

Description of a general impression of the tea

  • Aromatic: this is said of a liqueur that is strong and high in flavour.
  • Astringent: having a rather harsh and rough quality in the mouth, caused by tannins.
  • Biting: this denotes a tea which is both astringent and sour and that leaves a strong and lasting impression.
  • Bitter: one of the five flavours. Normal for some teas that are high in tannin. Bitterness has the tendency to develop if the tea is left to infuse for too long.
  • Body: characteristic of a beverage that marries a good constitution (robust) with warm aromas.
  • Complex: this denotes a very rich mix of aromas, of great subtlety.
  • Creamy: see mellow.
  • Delicacy: the quality of a delicate liqueur with many, subtle aromas.
  • Flavourful: this is said of a liqueur with strong, rich flavours.
  • Flowing: denotes a smooth, pleasant beverage, with no harshness. Used to refer to teas with a low tannin content.
  • Frank: this denotes teas whose characteristics (colour, scent, flavours, aromas…) are well defined and express themselves unfailingly and without ambiguity.
  • Fresh: this is said of slightly sour teas that give a feeling of freshness.
  • Frivolous: this is said of teas that are both rich in aromas and short in the mouth. They give a feeling of fleetingness.
  • Full in the mouth: giving a very pleasant sensation and filling the mouth well. See also round.
  • Full-bodied: said of a beverage that has body.
  • Generous: rich in aromas, while not being tiring, which can be the case with heady teas.
  • Glutinous: one of the five flavours, never found in tea. It can be detected above all in a majority of Asian dishes since it is associated with the presence of glutamates in food.
  • Greenness: a fresh and green quality.
  • Harsh: a biting sensation, a little rough, caused by tannins.
  • Heady: this is said of a beverage that is high in spicy and flowery aromas.
  • Invigorating: a characteristic of young, green tea, where there is a pronounced sour note.
  • Iodised: a note found in certain teas such as Japanese green teas.
  • Light: this is said of a tea that is not very full-bodied, with a low tannin content.
  • Lively: this is said of a tea whose characteristics are well defined, with a slight hint of sourness.
  • Long in the mouth: this is said of a tea in which the aromas leave a pleasant and long-lasting impression in the front and the back of the mouth after tasting.
  • Mellow: this is said of a tea that is both round in the mouth and slightly sour. See also creamy, silky.
  • Mild: this is said of beverages whose flavour is slightly sweet, punctured perhaps by a hint of acidity, but which have no astringency. See mellow, velvety, silky.
  • Odorous: this is said of a beverage or an infusion with many strong scents.
  • Pointed: see sharp.
  • Powerful: denotes a full-bodied, long-lasting liqueur.
  • Raw: green and sourer than the average.
  • Refined: this is said of a tea whose scents, flavours and aromas are both delicate and subtle.
  • Robust: this is said of a predominantly tannic beverage, which fills the mouth well. See round, full.
  • Rough: this is said of a tea that is very astringent, often of bad quality or else has been infused for far too long.
  • Round: this is said of a liqueur in which the smoothness and mellowness give an impression of roundness in the mouth.
  • Roundness: the quality of a liqueur that fills the mouth in a spherical way.
  • Salted: one of the five senses. Non-existent in tea that contains absolutely no sodium.
  • Sharp: this is used to refer to a very lively beverage, in which there is an obvious fresh and sour note, almost spicy, and in which each aroma is delicately expressed.
  • Short in the mouth: leaving few traces in the front or the back of the mouth after tasting.
  • Silky: this denotes a smooth and mellow tea, with a touch of harmony, bringing to mind the smoothness of silk.
  • Slippery: see flowing
  • Smooth: denotes a beverage without harshness, owing to the lack of tannins. See slippery, flowing.
  • Sour: this is one of the five flavours. It is found in some green teas, Wu Long (oolong) and spring Darjeeling, to which it gives freshness and liveliness.
  • Strong: a rather vague term, which usually denotes a full-bodied, highly coloured liqueur.
  • Sturdy: denotes a tea whose constitution is very robust. A quality that can be softened with milk.
  • Supple: this is said of a liqueur where the mellowness overcomes the astringency. See slippery, flowing.
  • Sustained: this denotes an aroma that stays in the mouth for a long time.
  • Sweet: one of the five flavours, which can be detected sometimes in certain very light, green teas from China. Rather rare, except in Ama Cha.
  • Tannic: this is said of a liqueur with a high tannin content.
  • Velvety: this is said of a smooth, velvety liqueur, almost sweet.
  • Vigorous: this is said of a tea that is both astringent and lively, whose presence is immediately felt in the mouth.
  • Vivacious: this is said of a fresh, light beverage with a hint of sourness that is slightly, but not excessively, dominant. All in all very pleasant.
  • Voluptuous: used to refer to a beverage that is full, round and long-lasting in the mouth.
  • Warm: denotes spicy, woody aromas married to flavour that is totally lacking in acidity; by extension it is used to describe beverages having these qualities.
  • Young: this denotes teas that were plucked early and which have a green, slightly sour character.