Talking Green Tea – A Green Tea Flavor Lexicon

by Jason Walker on May 18, 2014

in green, Member Content

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 Maxwell House Tea Tin

What would happen if you gathered a group of experts in the field of food tasting and asked them to come up with a set of characteristics to describe the range of tastes found in green tea?

Someone did just that. One of the gleanings from that study – if you’re not sure what to say about a tea, your safest bet is to say it has asparagus notes.
Having written about this study before, it was worthwhile to revisit and prioritize the taste experiences recorded, and consider how the findings relate the development of a person’s palate for appreciating green teas.

A few considerations on the background of the study:

1. The study used reverse-osmosis, deionized water. This process can remove minerals that may actually enhance, or alter the flavors in tea, and thereby the tea tasting experience.

2. 138 loose leaf teas from 9 different countries were tasted. Some of these included teas that would be considered white teas. This may account for increased frequency of some terms.

3. Other characteristics were listed, like bitter, astringent, and tooth-etch. While these may be tastes, they can be confusing when trying to distinguish flavor from mouthfeel.

The List

This is not the original ordering of the list, but rather a re-sequence into characteristics most useful and frequently found among the samples of green teas.

1. Asparagus
2. Green Bean
3. Parsley
4. Spinach
5. Seaweed³
6. Straw-like³
7. Ashy/Sooty¹
8. Tobacco¹
9. Fruity²
10. Almond†
11. Animalic†
12. Grain†?
13. Medicinal†
14. Mint†
15. New Leather†
16. Floral
17. Citrus
18. Beany*
19. Brussels Sprouts*
20. Celery*
21. Green Herb*
22. Brown
23. Fermented*
24. Brown Spice
25. Nutty
26. Burnt/Scorched?

Most Frequently Used

If you find yourself in the midst of tea-tasters who are asking what flavors you detect, you are less likely to go wrong with the flavors in bold. Asparagus was the most frequently used term in tasting green teas.

* Infrequently Used –

Brussels sprout, , fermented, beany, and celery were infrequently used. These terms described as few as 1 – 12 tea samples.

†Infrequent But Intense

In the case of the almond, animalic, grain, medicinal, mint, and musty/new leather, these attributes were found fewer than 12 samples. When they were present, they were often quite obvious and easily detected.


Other flavors were found occasionally. 30% of the samples were described as having a straw-like or seaweed component. 25% had ashy/sooty or tobacco attributes. 17% of the teas contained a fruity flavor.

A few other things to consider

1. There was no list of the specific teas tasted. I wonder how many pan-fired Chinese greens were included. A good longjing tea can have nutty (or freshly cooked rice) attributes, but there may not have been many teas exhibiting this character.

2. One element was used to represent 2 characteristics. The same wheat puffs cereal was used as a reference for the grain and burnt/scorched attributes. Is this the same attribute being identified under 2 different terms? Is one of these attributes redundant?

3. This lexicon was created by a group of professionals looking to capture the flavors of green tea. It serves as a great reminder to re-introduce ourselves to the natural, original flavor characteristics present in our foods and teas. Why not brew some of your own asparagus-water and see what associations it creates with the teas you drink?


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