Chinese Tea Appreciation
Tasting Terminologies

How to appreciate Chinese tea the Chinese way? Here is a classification of what to look out for ...

High grade Chinese tea is like a great song. It crosses cultural gaps. But palate is not human emotion. Considering the vast differences between the Chinese and Western cuisine, it is amazing how Chinese tea finds acceptance in many first time Western drinkers.

The way Westerners described tea sensations are much more concrete than the Chinese. Thousands of years of Chinese tea history has evolved into a system which is comprehensive but concise, like the Chinese language, and almost impenetrable to first time drinkers.

So when I shared these Chinese tea terminologies with Danica, I was quite surprised she found them helpful.

I mean, which do you prefer? High and pure aroma or creamy, vanilla and caramel?

Are you ready to begin?

When enjoying a Chinese tea, there are 9 basic criterion:

1. Xiang: Fragrance. Aroma.

Dried leaf. Tea cup. Tea liquor. 

With oolong tea, tasters should distinguish between natural and artificial fragrance.

A high grade is naturally floral and fruity. A low grade acquired its fragrance from extended baking. It is known as Huo Gong Xiang (Fire Work Aroma).

Different teas have a different fragrance.

  • A Wenshan Baozhong, being lightly oxidized, is more "Xian" (akin to green tea) or fresh smelling, with light floral fragrance.

  • A Tieguanyin tea or Phoenix Dancong tea is floral/fruity, with the Tieguanyin tea being more delicate than a Dancong tea.

  • Wuyi tea is more fruity. A Baihao Oolong (Oriental Beauty) is more oxidized and thus more "ripe" and smelled like honey.

There are 3 different aspects of fragrance: 

  • Is it normal? Is there any abnormal smell?

  • Is it high or low? Pure or crude?

  • How durable is the fragrance?

1.1. Yan Yun. Yin Yun.

Fragrance specific to Rock tea or Tieguanyin tea.

1.2. Nong Yu

Characteristics of high grade. Strong and lasting aroma with their characteristic floral flavor.

1.3. Fu Yu

Better and more obvious than Nong Yu (1.2), Probably that of a Phoenix Dancong tea.

1.4.Nong Lie.

Stimulating and even piercing (?) fragrance that is strong and lasting.

1.5. Qing Gao

Fragrance that is high and soothing. Lasting but not Nong Yu (1.2).

Probably refers more to lightly oxidized oolong teas such as Wenshan Baozhong or green tea.

1.6. Qing Xiang

Fragrance that is pure, light and long. Might be a lousier version of 1.5 but not sure.

1.7. Chun Zhen

Normal fragrance. No strange smell.

1.8. Ping He

Low fragrance. No strange smell.

1.9. Di Chen

Low fragrance. Stuffy and boring.

1.10. Qing Qi

Grassy. Vegetable.

1.11. Ri Sai Qi

Strange smell caused by sun drying.

1.12. Hua Xiang

Floral. Usually orchid or cassia.

1.13. Guo Xiang

Fruity. Usually plum, tangerine.

1.14. Nai Xiang

Milk fragrance. Taiwanese oolong (Jin Xuan).

1.15. Jiao Tang Wei

Burnt sugar. Caused by excessive roasting with too high temperature.

1.16. Lao Huo Xiang

Like 1.15 but less fiery.

1.17. Di Yu Xiang

Geography related, such as Wuyi

1.18. Yan Wei

Smoky. After absorbing the fuel smell.

1.19. Jiao Wei 

Leaf has been partially burnt.

1.20. Suan Sou Wei

Smell of rotten food. Sour.

1.21. Chen Wei

No longer fresh. Tea has gone stale from exposing to air and moisture.

2. Chun: the body

2.1 Xian Shuang

Refreshing and lively. Used for green tea?

2.2 Yun Wei

Geography related. Such as Yin Yun and Yan Yun.

2.3 Chun Hou. Nong Hou

Rich and flavorful body. Refers to high grade oolong tea. May mean mellowness?

2.4 Chun Zhen. Chun He

Right balance of flavors. Tastes like what it should taste like.

2.5 Zhong Ye Wei

Tastes like steamed banana skin?

2.6 Hua Xiang Wei

Liquor that is fresh and floral. Also called "water fragrance".

2.7 Ku Se

Bitter and astringent. Refers to green tea or summer teas.

2.8 Qing Se

Vegetal and astringent.

2.9 Chu Se

Old or coarse and astringent.

2.10 Wei Ku

Bitter but not astringent

2.11 Ping Dan. Qing Dan.

Right balance of flavors. But too light and not strong enough.

2.12 Shou Lian Xing

Nong Hou (2.3) but stimulating. Causes the mouth to contract and tighten.

3. Gan

Sweet aftertaste

4. Yun

Yin Yun refers to Tieguanyin tea. Yan Yun refers to Wuyi Rock tea. Shan Yun refers to a high mountain oolong such as Phoenix Dancong.

5. Xing: Shape

The dried leaves can be classified as below:

5.1 Tiao Suo

Just means curly leaf. Can be rounded, semi rounded or just curly.

5.2 Jin Xi

Very tight and small. Made from fresh leaf that is tender.

5.3 Jin Jie

Like (5.2), but less tender leaf. Standard oolong is made from leaf that matures to half the size of a full grown (called middle open face).

This term still describes a high grade.

5.4 Zhong Shi

Heavy. Leaf is tender and fat. When curled tightly, it feels heavy.

5.5 Qing Piao

Low grade tea that feels light.

5.6 Zhuang Jie

Made from leaf that is older but big. Curled tightly together. But lower grade than (5.2) and (5.3).

5.7 Chu Zhuang

Leaf is even older/coarser than (5.6), quite big, still quite tight.

5.8 Chu Song

Like (5.7), but not tight. Loose.

5.9 Song Tiao

Not tight. But tender leaf.

5.10 Wan Juan

Curly like a bow.

5.11 Juan Qu

Curly like a snail. Probably just means more curly than (5.10).

5.12 Yuan Jie

Rounded and tight.

5.13 Ting Zhi

Tight but straight and flat.

5.14 Jun Zhen

Uniformity of size and coarseness/delicateness.

5.15 Duan Cui

Fragmented. Mostly lower body left.

5.16 Qing Ting Tou

Dragonfly head. Big head, gradually smaller body.

5.17 Shen Gu

Weight of tea. Just used as a tea term.

The wet leaves can be classified as below:

5.1 Fei Hou

Fat and thick. Leaf is so fleshy that it conceals the stem.

5.2 Rou Ruan

Soft. Good quality fresh leaf.

5.3 Ruan Liang

Soft and with luster. Better than (5.2).

5.4.Jun Neng

Uniformity of tenderness. Identical color.

5.5 Ying Ting

Old leaf. Hard stem. Leaf opens only when pressed.

5.6 Qing Zhang

Leaf is green due to insufficient withering and oxidation.

5.7 Hua Qing

? I really can't relate to this one.... It means flower green. Leaf that is light-green/red but has darker green.

5.8 Jun Qi, Jun Zhen

Uniformity of color and tenderness.

5.9 Qian Jun

Non uniformity of color and tenderness.

5.10 Kai Zhang

Leaf opens when brewed.

5.11 Qian Zhang

Leaf does not open when brewed.

5.12 Jiao Ban, Jiao Tiao

Leaf is partially black, burnt or yellow-ed.

5.13 Hong Rang Bian

Fresh leaf surrounded by bright, red borders. Sign of good bruising/oxidation.

5.14 Huang Lu

Means yellow green. Normal color. Yellow leaf with greenish color.

5.15 An Hong

Dark red leaf with no luster. Due to unsuccessful bruising/oxidation.

6. Huo

Liveliness. Smooth.

7. Se: Color.

Dried tea. Tea liquor. Wet leaf.

Wuyi rock tea should be dark and glossy. Liquor should be golden yellow.

Tieguanyin tea should be bright green. Liquor should be greenish yellow.

7.1 Jing Huang

Golden yellow. Clear, golden and bright. Mainly yellow. Can be dark or light yellow.

7.2 Chen Huang

Orangy yellow. More reddish. Similar to dark yellow.

7.3 Chen Hong

Orangy red. Dark yellow and more reddish.

7.4 Qian Huang

Light Yellow

7.5 An Hong

Dark red. Not transparent or clear.

7.6 Ming Liang

Uniformity of liquor color. Clear and transparent. No cloudiness or particles.

7.7 Hui Zhuo

Floating stuff in the tea liquor. Poor transparency. Can't see the bottom of cup. Due to poor quality leaves picked during rainy days etc.

7.8 Hui An

As per (7.7) and even darker.

8. Liang

Brightness. High grade liquor should be clear and bright. Wet leaf should have luster.

9. Jun

Durability of fragrance and taste.

Even-ness of quality between infusions, wet leaf oxidation and tenderness.

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