Tea Tasting

Tea Tasting

In 1935 the Scientific Department of the Kanan Devan Hills Produce Company published a very useful note on the above subject which is now being submitted to Managers and Assistants with certain modifications

For many years Tea tasting was looked upon as a highly specialized job, outside the scope of the average planter and, insofar as evaluations are concerned, or the suitability of a tea for a particular market, this still holds. However, it was realized that unless a manager could check up on the day to day manufacture at this factory, defects might occur which could reduce the value of a whole invoice considerably. I refer, of course, to such characteristics as soft and over-fermented teas, thin weather or plain teas, teas smoked owing to the presence of broken tubes, moldiness due to the presence of dirt in the rolling room, or taints caused by paint or oil

Some people have little or no instinct for the tasting of tea, therefore, find difficulty in judging the liquoring qualities of an invoice. It is principally for these individuals that the following notes are reproduced

How to Taste Tea
How to Taste Tea

The tasting table should be facing a bright diffused light i.e. facing north in the northern hemisphere, and south in the southern hemisphere. In the tropics, it should face west in the morning and east in the afternoon

The tea should be infused for six minutes and the pots should not stand in a draught

The liquors should be at about 104 degrees Fahrenheit when tasted ensuring it would reach the palate at the most suitable temperature where the latter is most sensitive

In tasting tea, the senses of the taste, feel and smell come into play. There are passages leading from the rear of the mouth through to the nose, lungs and stomach. When swallowing food, the nasal passage gets closed by the soft palate and the passage to the lungs by contraction of certain muscles

Tea Taste

Tea is tasted mainly on the palate at the back of the tongue. About the middle of the palate, bitterness (“point”) is recorded. About the sides of the palate, acidity and sourness (“quality”, metallic or brassy taste, and perhaps one of the attributes of “strength”) are recorded. The front of the tongue is particularly sensitive to sweetness and may record alkalinity and thus “softness” in tea liquors.

Tea Taste

By moving about the liquor in the mouth, “thickness” and “body” are detected. It is useful with good liquors to time the first appearance of creaming and to note the depth of the cream

Tea has an astringent or drawing effect on the gums. This is not a taste but a sensation, and is related to “strength” and includes “pungency”

Tea Taste

The olfactory nerve records smell, which when allied to taste, is called flavor. It is usual to designate smell, taken in directly through the nose, as aroma

In tea tasting, “character”, as well as “flavor” may be a smell. Some tasters, however, attribute character to a tea because of certain tastes

In the tasting, liquor must be well aerated and only a small quantity – about half a dessert spoonful – should be taken into the mouth. Aeration is obtained by taking the liquor with a loud sucking noise. It is essential to exhale through the nasal passage in order to get the flavor or character of the liquor to the olfactory nerve

In tasting a muster, the B.P. should be taken first and then the O.P. The B.P gives the general liquoring qualities and the O.P. the character of the muster

Tea Taster’s Terms

Many of the terms used by tea tasters are difficult to define, and in some cases the same term is not given equal significance by different tasters. This difference, although confusing to laymen, is not fundamentally wrong since tasters are usually in very close or complete agreement regarding the value of a tea, however much may their descriptions vary

Complexion of Leaf

This is of importance especially if the liquors are not outstanding.

Black : may be due to young tea, tipping leaf, lush growth, full wither

Brown : may be due to old, hard leaf, dry weather, or a light wither combined with a quick fire

Grey : due to too much sorting, cutting, crushing, blunt teeth or cells in cutter

Good : a tea with a good complexion is one which does not appear to have been rubbed in sorting. A good complexion may be due to hairs on leaves which give the tea a kind of sheen. Over –sorting removes this sheen


Marked at certain times of the year, e .g. windy periods and in the monsoon. May be due to tipping leaf or banjo leaf. It is thus increased by a short pruning cycle. Some lots of tea produce more tip than others. Tip is conserved by light, slow rolling in the earlier rolls

Red : a light wither

Pale : banjo tip or full wither the latter resulting in a shoot with insufficient juice to stain the tip

Dull : too much rolling, or usually not enough hair on the leaf to produce bright tip

Handsome : due to fat buds which often follow heavy pruning

Make of Leaf

The leaf is poured from the tin to the hand or put out on paper and examined

Flaky : B.O.P, B.P and F.P

Loose : O.P

Flat : Pekoe

Creepy : often occurs in B.O.P of certain marks, the cause is not known. May partly be due to pressure in early rolls. The texture of the leaf probably induces creepiness

Choppy : refers usually to B.P and Pekoe and denotes too much cutting. Leaf should be broken in the roller rather than in the cutter, and to this severe battens for the last rolls are useful

Nose of Leaf

The leaf is placed on a sheet of paper or in the hand and smelt by exhaling into the leaf, to warm and moisten it, and then inhaled

Brisk or malty : a biscuity smell

Coarse: : a leathery smell, suggesting too long a wither or over – fermentation

Gone-off: : a stale smell, suggesting tea packed in too moist a condition

Moldy : smells of molds, suggesting dirty factory plus packing in in a state of excessive moisture

Smoky : smells of smoke, examine dryer tubes, also see that smoke stack is not sending smoke into lofts

Weedy : smells of dried grass and weeds, an inherent property of the leaf

Good : has a smell resembling china tea (Note: the comparison is used here and again under (f) and (I) for want of a better one)

Tainted : tea when freshly made often has an inherent taint, e.g. aniseed, medicated, which disappears before the tea reaches home. Other taints are picked up on the way home e.g. apples, mothballs, kerosene, and other taints which persist which are picked up in the factory e.g. hessian, oil, butter nut; or in the field e. g. blue gum leaf

Color of Infusions

This should be bright, even and red. It is sometimes coppery which is desirable, and often green, mixed and dull which are undesirable. Greenness denotes under-fermentation, but such a color may be necessary if quality in the leaf and is to be present and conserved. Greenness is often due to cutting or breaking the leaf before conditioning

A dull infusion may denote firing at too high a temperature. The color of the infusion is largely a seasonal attribute. To obtain bright infusions often involves a short fermentation and light liquors, and hence it is preferable often to sacrifice brightness for color.

Aroma of Infusions

The infusion is pushed into a heap on the lid of the pot and the nostrils placed against the heap for smelling, the leaf grades often have more aroma when broken

Brisk : briskness denotes the biscuit smell, whilst high fired and burnt denote

High-fired : increasing degree of the smell of burnt organic matter. Frequently a

Burnt : touch of the fire is more noticeable on the cold than on the hot infusion slight fire may disappear by the time the tea reaches home

Sweaty : suggests too long exhaust temperatures in the dryer

Smoky : see above under "Make of Leaf" section for reasons

Good : smell resembles that of china tea

Flowery : smells of flowers, sometimes definitely of roses and of geraniums when cold

Color of Liquors

This should be bright and red. A dull liquor often denotes incorrect firing. A liquor light in color denotes a light ferment, coarse leaf or dry weather leaf. Colors are increased by longer fermentation but quality thus is usually lost if it be present in the leaf

Blenders often add milk to the liquors. If the color so produced is amber, the tea is liquoring well. Yellow and grey colors indicate otherwise

Taste of Liquor

A small quantity of the liquor is sucked into the mouth and drawn to the olfactory nerve by exhaling through the nostrils

Raw : bitterness on the back of the tongue. Rawness denotes under-

Harsh : fermentation, harshness often goes with young tea, point is desirable

Point :

Metallic : an acid taste marked with sundried tea may be induced by incorrect firing

Brassy :

Quality : an acid taste marked with sundried tea

Strength : partly a feeling on the gums

Pungency : an astringent feeling on the gums Point/quality/strength are related, and are probably inherent qualities of the leaf which can be conserved or lost according to manufacture. Strength is developed in rolling, but hard rolling cannot put strength into leaf if that property is not present in the latent form in the fresh leaf

Briskness : difficult to describe, may be related to point, quality and strength. A “live” liquor as opposed to a “flat” one

Softness : a soapiness or alkalinity. May be tasted towards the front of the tongue. Denotes over- fermentation

Flavor of Liquor

As described above, the liquor is sprayed on to the palate and air then drawn through the nasal passage to the olfactory nerve

Character : a flavor resembling that of china tea, and that of certain dried vegetation

Plain : may denote a weedy flavor, or may denote lack of liquoring qualities and refer wholly to lack of taste rather than flavor. (Note: the term “flavor” used here is in the general sense)

Flavor : a sweetness which corresponds with the flowery aroma. (Note: the term “flavor” is used here in the particular sense as applied to tea ) It is realized that the above descriptions are inadequate

The olfactory nerve responds differently to the same flavor in different concentrations. Thus it is possible that a faint flavor of dried vegetation may be described as plainness. The same flavor more concentrated and combined perhaps with a burnt flavor, may be described as character. A combination of the burnt, weedy smells with a faint leathery one, constitutes the aroma of ordinary black china tea


1. BP 1 - Equivalent to size of a high grown BOP, but granular

2. BP Special - Larger particle size than BP 1

3. PF 1 - Equivalent in size to grainy high grown BOPF and granular

4. OF - Smaller than the PF 1, larger than PD

5. PF - (off-Grades)-similar or slightly larger than PF 1 and may contain some fiber

6. BP Special - Grainy dust, grade should be smaller than OF

7. DUST 1 - Less grainy than PD and clean

8. DUST - (Off-Grades) - inferior to Dust 1. Could be powdery and fibery


1. BOP - Well-made, neat leaf of medium size without excessive stalk or fiber. There shouldn’t be any fine particles (fanning’s & dust) which are not true –to-grade.

2. BOPF - Neat leaf, fairly clean and grainy but smaller than BOP grade. There should not be any fine dust present

3. BOP 1 - should be wiry and twisted, but shorter than an OP1

4. FBOP - smaller/ shorter then BOP 1 with presence of tips but larger than FBOPF 1

5. FBOP 1 - Long, twisted, wiry leaf fairly tippy. Longer than BOP 1

6. PEKOE - short, curly or semi-curly leaf of large size and of any elevation

PEKOE 1 - same as pekoe, but smaller in size than pekoe of any elevation. This replaces the flowery pekoe grade Note: Pekoe and Pekoe 1 will be treated as two separate grades, but for cataloguing purposes both will be treated as one grade

7. FBOPF - similar in size to BOP & BOPF and must contain tip

8. FBOPF 1 - larger than a BOP but smaller than a FBOP with a show of tips

9. FBOPF Sp - similar in size to BOP 1 with a fair presence of tips

10. FBOPF Ex. Sp - small leaf and must have an attractive show of golden or silver tips with little black lea

11. FBOPF Ex. Sp 1 - leafy and should have an attractive show of golden or silver tips with little black leaf

12. OP 1 - long, wiry, well or partly wished

13. OP - less wiry than OP 1 but much more twisted than OPA

14. OPA - long bold leaf tea with air twist

15. BP - (off Grades)-should be choppy, hard leaf

16. BOP 1A - (off Grades) – any flaky leaf without stark and fiber (clean tea)

17. BM - (off Grades) – mixed flaky leaf tea. Can have more fiber and stalk then BOP 1A

18. BT - (off Grade) – all mixed teas of varying sizes, with or without stalk and fiber

19. FNGS 1 - (off Grade) – Flaky leaf of small size. Can contain more fiber than BOPF, but reasonably clean

20. BOP - (off Grades) – same as Fanning’s 1 can be more fiery and uneven and not as clean

21. DUST 1 - smaller than BOPF, grainy, even, well-made and reasonably clean

22. DUST - (off Grade) – similar in size to Dust 1 could be flaky and contain some fiber

SILVER TIPS - long tippy leaf, silver color, with hardly any black leaf

GOLDEN TIPS - long tippy leaf, golden color, with hardly any black leaf

Note - Silver Tips and Golden Tips are not catalogues, but only sold privately

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