Teas from any tradition tend to reflect the aesthetics, priorities, and even philosophical assumptions of the cultures out of which they developed.
Below are some terms you might find helpful in understanding and describing your experience of Chinese and Taiwanese teas, and which might even give you a new perspective on teas from other traditions.
If you’re coming to tea from more of a Western culinary mindset, you’ll probably notice these terms place primary emphasis on physical sensations, textures, and characteristics which emerge only over time, rather than on the types of flavor- and fragrance-focused terms on which we often rely.
Rather than alphabetical or arbitrary order, I’ve put these in (more or less) the order in which you’ll encounter them when drinking.
As always, I, and this page, owe deep gratitude to my partner, Casey, and her dad, 張少平; Shiuwen Tai & her incredible network of farmers and producers; as well as Lew Perin, and his babelcarp.org. Definitely check them all out!
Also, please see a note on my role here: chasu.org/nb/my-role
湯色 (Tāng Sè)
[Tea] soup color.
入口 (Rù Kǒu)
Enters the Mouth: The first sensations of flavor, texture, etc.
厚釅 (Hòu Yàn)
Rich: Referring primarily to textural qualities of the tea.
厚度 (Hòu Dù)
Thickness: Further physical and textural elements of the tea soup.
苦味 (Kǔ Wèi)
Bitterness: Often a positive element, when providing structure and balance. Can also unbalance a tea, if too much, or too little.
苦澀 (Kǔ Sè)
Bitter and Astringent: Sometimes a positive in its own right; more often an indicator of good things to come through proper storage.
生津 (Shēng Jīn)
Generates Saliva: The opposite of astringency; quenching & refreshing.
潤口 (Rùn Kǒu)
Smooth; oily; lubricating.
止渴 (Zhǐ Kě)
苦有甘韻 (Kǔ Yǒu Gān Yùn)
Bitter, With Sweet Aftertaste: A more linear version of next entries.
回甜 (Huí Tián)
Returning Sweet (shorter; simpler): This is a somewhat less complex version of 回甘 (Huí Gān).
回甘 (Huí Gān)
Returning Sweet: This can be a sweetness that emerges only after swallowing the tea soup, &/or a near magical, real-time transformation.
回感 (Huí Gǎn)
Returning Feeling: This is a somewhat more general term than 回甘 (Huí Gān), as well as a great example of the importance of tone. : )
回味 (Huí Wèi)
Aftertaste: Similar to what we think of in Western culinary language.
喉感 (Hóu Gǎn)
Throat Feel/Throat Sensation: The physical qualities of a tea, as perceived in the throat (and, sometimes, far back in the mouth).
喉韻 (Hóu Yùn)
Throat Rhyme: Shorthand for an ineffable, yet somehow recognizable quality of sensation; a sort of harmonious feeling.
倉味 (Cāng Wèi)
倉香 (Cāng Xiāng)
棗香 (Zǎo Xiāng)
Date Fragrance: A characteristic fragrance/sweetness of some aged pu’er (referring to the Chinese red date, or jujube).
樟香 (Zhāng Xiāng)
Camphor Fragrance: Certain aged pu’er displays this prized aroma. Sometimes further subdivided: 青 (Qīng—blue/green) 樟香, 野 (Yě—wild) 樟香, 淡 (Dàn—mild) 樟香, 陳 (Chén—aged) 樟香 . . .
陳香 (Chén Xiāng)
Aged Fragrance: This is hard to describe, can take several forms, and is really best understood through experience.
陳味 (Chén Wèi)
Aged Taste: To me, this quality comprises both tastes and textural elements. (Also, see previous entry. : )
杯底香 (Bēi Dǐ Xiāng)
Cup Bottom Fragrance: Literally, the fragrance that clings to the inside of a cup, once it’s been drained; this often reveals layers of a tea’s complexity which might otherwise remain unnoticed.
Sweet Water: Often, after the tea has been steeped many, many times, and the most distinctive elements of flavor and fragrance have dissipated, one is left with textural elements, and a distinctive, gentle sweetness.
知茗度 (Zhī Míng Dù)
Degree of tea knowledge; connoisseurship.
雜味 (Zá Wèi)
Miscellaneous/extraneous flavor; “off” flavors or aromas, often absorbed from storage environment.