Tea Flavor Wheel: More Helpful or Harmful?

by Jason on January 31, 2013

in Uncategorized

One of my side projects occurs at the crossroads of tea appreciation, taste, and education.

Wine aroma wheels have existed for decades now. They have been hailed and hissed at since they were created. There is always some flaw – they are incomplete or too complex. They remove the critical reflection needed to develop taste, and allow you to essentially throw your finger onto the dartboard.

Does tea need a standardized aroma/flavor wheel to help tasters learn?

Part of me says: “Yes.” I tire of seeing/hearing so many green teas being reduced to a single descriptor like “grassy” or “vegetal”.

When a flavor wheel is employed, it is better if those flavors/aromas are a minimal combination of descriptors used in research and those generally accepted by the industry. Color associations can also be helpful triggers.

But flavor/aroma are often not the most important qualities of a fine tea. So many Japanese and Chinese teacups are mere thimbles because tea wasn’t about gulping down flavor. They were about texture and aftertaste. A monk could take a mere sip of tea and savor the feel on his tongue, the residing sweetness in the throat for minutes if not hours.

So appreciating tea flavor/aroma must be put into the tea’s fuller context. Intensity, duration, texture – these must be explored as well.  Admittedly “aftertaste” implies flavor, but it is as much about what happens in your throat and mouth after swallowing the tea. It is the impression the tea leaves upon you, and how you respond to that impression.

So tea tasting and education should also guide learners in the art of appreciating/being aware of  a tea’s aftertaste.

What kind of tea flavor/aroma wheel would you like to see used?

How should taste, texture, aftertaste, etc.  fit into the overall development of personal tea appreciation skills?



Compare teas with others on the Scoresheet.
Walker Tea Review- a tea blog with tea reviews and tea tastings.
Want to see a tea reviewed? Contact me: jason@walkerteareview.com

Subscribe in a reader or by email

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

gingko February 3, 2013 at 13:25

I always feel there is no way to describe flavors accurately. The “chocolatey” taste in tea is not the same as that in chocolate. The “fruity” taste in tea is not the same as that in fruits. The “floral” taste in some people’s mouths is exactly “soapy” in other people’s minds.
I think a tea flavor wheel or some kind of system would be good for more people to realize how diverse tea could taste. But on the other hand, many new tea drinkers who seek for certain flavors in tea, I’m afraid, would be deeply disappointed, because many of the flavors are just flavors by description aren’t exactly the same as flavors found in other things.

Christina February 1, 2013 at 04:20

I remember when I was new to wine, and the vocabulary was all so complicated. I looked up the qualities that were attributed to each wine on my flavor wheel, and off I went trying to “find” the flavor or aroma.

If a flavor wheel simplifies tea for beginners, great! It may lead to a lifetime of learning. Luckily it doesn’t need to represent everything about how we experience tea.

Lisa Boalt Richardson January 31, 2013 at 09:03

I think there is a place for a tea flavor wheel. I believe like the wine flavor wheel it is only a beginning or introduction to wine; a tea flavor wheel would be an introduction to a beverage that some find confusing. The general public from my experience wants to understand tea just as they want to understand wine but find it at times overwhelming and confusing. Anything that helps people begin to understand tea better is a win-win for me!! I don’t believe great wine enthusiasts refer much to a flavor wheel after they begin to really get into wine.

Previous post:

Next post: