Tea Tasting Language : Color

by Arina on June 23, 2010

in Tea Language

Tea liquor color nuances

Funny enough, since having started this blog, I have not yet posted a single tea tasting note. While actually drinking gallons of tea ! But, come on, drinking and tasting are 两回事, liǎng huí shì, two entirely different things ! One of the major distinction between the two, as one of the most authoritative books on wine tasting puts it, is that drinking is mute and tasting is necessarily spoken. Moreover, a value of a taster depends not only on his sensibility and capacity to distinguish various flavors and aromas, but also on his ability to describe his sensations. To do that, one needs to master a wide and precise vocabulary – the one I lack, sadly enough. And for which I hope to make up by running this blog…

Let’s start with the easiest and most obvious part – the words we need to describe color. Did I say “obvious”? Well, it seems so, because we all learned the basic color vocabulary almost as early as we learned how to speak. The affair becomes more complex when it comes to nuances and shades. Uncontestable champions in naming different colors are the manufacturers of paint. Just play for a minute with their virtual color fans and you will see how linguistically resourceful those guys are.

Would a color fan work for tea colors?

My imagination does not go that far. I would rather follow the guidance of my beloved wine tasting book. Which states that, in order to accurately describe color, we need to move along three main axes: intensity, nuance and vivacity.

  • Itensity of color. Just a handful of simple epithets would do, like pale, light, weak, feeble, or inversely, dark, strong, deep, intense,  profound. A color intensity can be influenced by the color of the recipient, the liquor volume and surrounding light. Which is why when you compare colors of different liquors, be sure to use the same recipients (white porcelain rules!) and fill them with the identical volume of tea.
  • Nuance. An urban myth says that Eskimo people have dozens if not hundreds of words to describe snow. We’ll essentially pretend to be  like Eskimo, but in the kingdom of mainly green, yellow and brown shades. I think it is just fine to stay put with the basic colors and their combinations and support them with the intensity-related words. Expressions like pale green, light yellowish-green, dark brown and the like could be correct descriptions of the color of your tea. But why not making your description more precise and lively by looking for color similarities with plants (e.g. olive green, spinach green, straw, mahogany etc.), stones and minerals (amber, jade, topaze, etc.), metals (gold, copper, bronze) or even with other foods and beverages (chocolate, armagnac, champagne, etc.). And don’t forget, in tea tasting, we also need to accurately describe the color of the dry and infused leaves which gives way to even more tones and nuances and makes the experience more interesting than a wine tasting.
  • Vivacity. This quality has to do with limpidity described with words like limpid, clear, crystalline clear. But it also expresses the brightness of the liquor, as well as the presence of  highlights of different colors when we examine the liquor against the light source. Here we could use the words like vivid, fresh, frank, luminous, vigorous, bright, glittering, glowing, or dull, extinct, indecisive, faded. To examine color vivacity properly, I think glass tea cups would work best.

In the next posts, I’ll be struggling trough the jungle of the words describing flavors, aromas and textures. But before you go, can you tell me what are your favorite words to describe color in tea tasting? May be you even have the terms you coined? Thanks for sharing them here!

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: