A Word On Tea

A Word On Tea

There are numerous words to describe the taste of tea.

What is a taste 

The tea aroma wheel from the International Tea Masters Association. More information can be found at https://teamasters.org/itma-tea-aroma-wheel/

As previously discussed in several blogs, “taste” is a complicated system. Tasting an item or a cup of tea can involve the sense of smell, taste, and visual cues as well. In fact, all three senses are combined into a nerve signal. Think of a small rural highway that combines with surface streets and access roads to merge into a super highway. The body has a unique system called the trigeminal system. Three nerve highways in the head combine to inform the brain what is the taste experience. The ophthalmic nerve branch is a nerve that goes to each eye. The second nerve branch is called the maxillary branch that extends to the nose and the roof of the mouth. The third nerve branch is called the mandibular branch. This nerve branch is located in the jaw area of the mouth. All three nerves combine into the trigeminal ganglion, and the ganglion then sends a signal to the brain. The trigeminal nerve system tells the brain the full highway picture, what type of cars are on the super highway. For example, the trigeminal system tells the brain if the temperature of something is hot or cold, if the texture is smooth or rough, or if something is menthol cool or spicy hot. Describing what a taste is has biological and pleonasm components. Certainly the senses of smell, taste, visual and even touch can help define and describe what one is tasting. Words, sometimes an excess of depicting words, can help define what one is tasting.

What is a word 

Pleonasm is “the use of more words than are needed to express a meaning, either unintentionally or for emphasis” per the Cambridge dictionary. Pleonasm can quickly occur in the description of tea aromas and flavors. In describing the taste and smell of tea, there are several schematics that one can use to describe the tea profile. A quick internet search can lead to flavor and aroma wheels to help describe the taste and smell of tea. The odor elements can be somewhat quantified by the named elements on a tea aroma wheel. For instance, a pine aroma can be one of the descriptors on the aroma wheel. Additional descriptors can include the aromas of lemon, mint, wet wood, or seaweed. The taste flavor wheel can aid in describing a tea taste such as butter, green bean, apricot, or smokey to name a few.

A tea flavor map guide is similar to a flavor wheel; with both defining a flavor utilizing descriptive words. The difference with the tea map is that descriptive words are loosely placed on a page, with familial descriptive words next to each other. For example, the flavor “grainy” may be next to the word “nutty” which might be placed next to the word “cereal”. It is not as linear of a guide as a flavor or aroma wheel. A flavor map is more connecting collective taste groupings together. I like this sequence of mapping because it helps me connect different flavors to enhance my description of tea. 


Words can certainly be a quantified way of denoting tea aroma and taste. Scientific descriptors can be used to describe a tea. However, I believe there is room for imaginative descriptions of tea. A tea can remind me of a day at the beach, with the aroma of sand and seaweed. Or, perhaps a day in the mountains with the sunshine, woods, and fresh air. I have described tea as a wet campfire, wallpaper paste, or the smell of a library with leather and cigar smoke intertwined. Tea can be described creatively by using imagination as well as science. Using one’s one experiences to describe a tea can conjure up memories and feelings; transporting a person back in time. 

The senses of taste and smell, and the use of scientific analytical terms combined with imaginative descriptors can all blend together to create a unique, meaningful, aromatic and flavorful cup of tea. 





Lovelace, Virginia Uttermohlen. Tea: A Nerd’s Eye View. VU Books, 2020. www.teamasters.org

About The Author

A photo of Leslie on the patio wearing a pink cardiganLeslie Sundberg is a World Tea Academy Certified Tea Specialist, a World Tea Academy Apprentice Tea Sommelier, a Specialty Tea Institute Level IV trained Tea Specialist, and a Tea and Business Etiquette Specialist. On any given day, Leslie can be found teaching, speaking or sharing in the joys of a cup of tea.  No matter what Leslie is doing or where she is, one thing remains constant: 4:00 in the afternoon is tea time!

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