Dry Leaf Terms
Among the connoisseurs and seasoned tea aficionados, tea has a wide and varied language. For the beginner, the enjoyment comes from developing your own language to describe the aroma, flavor and physical characteristics of the dry and infused leaves and liquor. To assist you on your tea journey, we have broken our tea tasting terms into descriptive categories for the dry leaf, infused leaf and liquor. These terms will help you understand the mysteriously complex and subtle nuances of tea.
Aroma- The scent which reveals a tea’s innate character. Dry leaves, infused leaves and the tea liquor itself all have distinctive aromas peculiar to their region and even to their estates. Aromas are usually described by making analogies with flowers or fruits. For instance, fine Formosa oolong’s aroma may be said to be peach-like.
Black– Not just a type of tea, but also the color of dry leaf, sometimes appropriate, sometimes not.
Blackish– As compared to brownish, a satisfactory appearance for CTC type teas. Denotes careful sorting.
Bloom– A live, as opposed to a dull-looking, surface appearance of made tea leaf. Bloom is usually a sign of good quality created by a varnish-like film and the fine down on the outside of the leaf. Excessive staleness or excessive drying destroys bloom.
Bold – Describes the appearance of the tea to indicate that the pieces of the leaf are big for the grade and should be smaller.
Bouquet- Odors from the type of leaf are called aromas and these you can learn to recognize and expect. Bouquet is the combination of these with other odors which come from the processing, or aging, or preparation of teas. It is a term usually reserved for fragrant teas with superlative flavor.
Brown– With certain exceptions, this color is not a desirable characteristic in black teas. Some fine teas inevitably have a brownish appearance due to a very slow growth of the green leaf or manufacturing methods, however, brownness may sometimes be due to abundance of golden tip.
Choppy– The appearance of leaf which has been through a breaker or a cutter.
Chunky – The appearance of leaf meaning broken grades which include large sized particles.
Clean– Describes the leaf appearance when an evenly sorted grade of tea is free from other grades and devoid of stalk.
Curly– The appearance of some whole leaf grades.
Dull Tip– The color of the tip which was unfortunately spoiled by abrasion during manufacture.
Even– Describes the leaf size. “Even” means fairly regular, uniform. Also used for leaf color to mean regular, when it is often combined with the qualifying adjectives like “bright” and “coppery.”
Fibery– Denote the presence of excessive fiber, i.e. stalk.
Finesse– An elusive indescribable quality which distinguishes a fine tea from one of lesser quality.
Flaky– A flat poorly made tea.
Grainy– Hard leaf fannings and dust grades which are small, clean and granular. Also used for primary grades of well-made CTC teas such as pekoe dust.
Gray– An extremely undesirable color of dry leaf, usually a result of over-sorting and cutting to that “bloom”, the outer leaf varnish, is scratched and broken.
Large – Describes leaf which is bigger then normal for its grade.
Leafy – Used for tea containing leaf larger than would be normal for its grade. When this term is coupled with “useful” it indicates that size of leaf is in good demand.
Leggy – Describes the appearance of a tea consisting of long, thin leaf. Also known as wiry.
Light – Abnormally light-weight tea which has nevertheless been very carefully manufactured.
Make– Tea that has been carefully manufactured with due attention to withering, rolling and sorting.
Musty– Moldy off-odors resulting form improper storage.
Neat– Appearance of a good, even-looking leaf.
Nosing the tea– The act of smelling the tea for its aroma, flavor and freshness.
Open – Appearance of whole leaf which is loosely rolled and untwisted. Formosa oolong was traditionally “open” Souchong leaf.
Pale tip– The color of the tip in dry leaf in contrast to “golden tip.” Pale tip is often the result of under-withering during manufacture and is less desirable than Golden Tip.
Powdery– The very fine light dust, the particles of which tend to cohere.
Pulverized– Dusts containing milled or pulverized fiber, also called unclean dust.
Ragged – Used to describe a rough, shaggy and uneven leaf.
Rough– Term for a leaf having a very irregular appearanc
Shotty – Term used to describe a well-made very tightly rolled leaf such as Gunpowder and many oolongs.
Silver Tip– A color of tip in black tea as opposed to a golden tip.
Small– Any leaf which is of a lesser size than normal for the grade indicated.
Stalk and Fiber– Bits of tea bush other than leaf. This is minimal in superior grades, but is unavoidable in lower-grade teas. Not a defect in oolongs, whose stalk is necessarily included.
Stalky– Any tea containing an abnormal amount of stalk
Stylish– The leaf of a tea which has been well manufactured and is of superior appearance. Keemun Mao Feng is a stylish tea.
Tippy– Manufactured tea containing the unopened bud, or leaflet, also known as Pekoe tip, of the new growing shoot of the tea plant. Abundance in tip is visual proof of fine plucking, “two leaves and a bud,” and promises a sweetness of flavor.
Twisted– Leaf that has received thorough withering and rolling and which has become curled as a result.
Well Twisted– The appearance of the well “made” or “rolled” whole leaf orthodox tea, typically thin, long leaf.
Well-made– The appearance of leaf uniform in color, size and texture.
Whiskery– Leaf containing a high percentage of fine hairy fiber.
Wiry – Very well twisted, thin-looking, whole leaf grades of black tea.