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We feel that a flavor wheel is a useful tool for someone who is new to tea and wants to really experience and learn more about it. We also feel it is a good way of comparing and contrasting two teas. Many tea enthusiasts use the flavor wheel to discuss the characteristics of the tea. Also, the flavor wheel might help you also assess the quality of a particular tea and determine if it is you would like to drink it again in the future. As you foray into the world of tea, you will notice many similarities with wine including characteristics such as mouthfeel, body, astringency, aromas, flavors, etc. This is not surprising as tea is popularly known as wine’s sober cousin.
At Herbs and Kettles, we have created three flavor wheels, each having some different characteristics that they might highlight. Also, in our flavor wheel we have decided that Muscatel deserves to be its own flavor.
The first wheel combines tongue-based qualities with aromas and flavors. Tongue-based qualities include mouthfeel and taste. We feel that the mouthfeel of a tea is an important characteristic which will really help you determine if the tea is of good quality. Mouthfeel is a term that combines body, texture, astringency, and aftertaste. For quantitative purposes, we have further differentiated mouthfeel as poor, good and rich mouthfeel.
The body of the tea refers to the fullness or viscosity and represents the thickness of the tea- light, medium and full. Texture implies how the tea feels on the tongue. Astringency is a dry sensation that puckers the mouth and numbs the tongue and sometimes even constricts the throat. It is caused by tannins that are present in the tea. Aftertaste is how long the tea taste lasts for and is rated from brief to lasting.
The second wheel lays out the fundamental aromas and flavors and tries to give them an intensity based on the three different circles- inner (mild aroma/flavor), middle (moderate aroma/flavor) and outer (intense aroma/flavor) circle. For the Herbs and Kettles home page, we have used a simpler version of this flavor wheel, with the main flavors outlined without the intensities so as to make a clickable user friendly flavor wheel for your enjoyment.
The third flavor wheel tries to be more comprehensive and breaks down the fundamental aromas and flavor into sub and sub-sub categories. In the third wheel- the aroma or fundamental flavor is in the inner tier, and the outer segments are extensions of these fragrances and flavors. During your tea tasting experience, if you can stop at a certain aroma or flavor and work your way outward to the different sub-extensions, you can hopefully obtain a more precise aroma and/or flavor profile of the tea. Although we have tried to be as complete as possible, there are so many aromas and flavors that we might not have experienced or forgotten, we are sure that we have definitely missed a few!
Therefore below are some problems that we think are inherent to tea flavor wheels:
Problems with flavor wheels
We were very excited to develop an Indian aroma and flavor wheel for Herbs and Kettles but soon realized that it is no easy task. Flavors are very subjective and based on a person’s experiences and memories. With international travel and globalization, a lot of us have been exposed to flavors from all around the world, such as different tropical fruits and flowers. However, our memories, which also help us recall certain flavors when we taste teas and other foods, are definitely different and based on where we live, our culture and our experiences.
It is also unlikely that two individuals who are tasting the same tea, will have the same sensory experiences of aromas and flavors. Sometimes even the mouthfeel of the tea can be different for two people, as this too is subjective and also dependent on the brewing method. However, it is possible that with multiple people tasting the same tea, a more complete and accurate flavor wheel can be achieved for the tea, by using a median of the different flavors experienced by each person for the same tea.
In addition, the method of steeping also changes the flavors of the tea. Gonfgu style of steeping uses a higher leaf to water ratio, as compared to Western style of steeping tea. It is easier to differentiate the more subtle aromas and flavors in Gongfu style as different polyphenols and aromatic oils dissolve at different times with each infusion. More subtle flavors are definitely missed with Western style, however, the overall interplay between the main flavors might be better appreciated with Western style.
Flavor wheels are also different based on different cultures and food practices. We have tried to make the flavor wheel based on our appreciation for Indian teas, our travel experiences and based on different foods we have tried and tasted. We have also tried to take into account flavors and foods of other international countries. However, there are so many different flavors that it is difficult to have them all written down accurately. Therefore, our flavor wheel though comprehensive might not be complete.
We strongly believe that muscatel should hold its own on the flavor wheel and not be further categorized under fruity and we would like to explain our rationale behind this. The word muscatel for the description of teas is borrowed from muscatel wine which is a dessert wine made from muscat grapes. It is usually rich, full bodied, sweet with fruity, floral and often woody flavor notes. Muscatel is a flavor combination that represents an interplay of sweet, fruity, grapey, floral, musky and woody flavor notes and so definitely deserves its own place in the flavor wheel. As you drink our Indian teas, especially second flush Darjeeling oolong or black teas you will definitely begin to appreciate the muscatel flavor. We have discussed muscatel in more detail on our blog and hope you take time to read more about it.
Now that you know more about the natural flavors of tea, we recommend tasting some of our teas and determining what natural flavors of tea you enjoy most. You will also notice certain common flavors amongst the different types of teas and you will often be able to make predictions on the aromas and flavors a particular type of tea should even before you take the first sip.