Tea Tasting Division

The Tea Tasting Division of the Sri Lanka Tea Board together with the Analytical Laboratory is responsible for assessing the quality of Ceylon Tea prior to the auction and export. Its panel of independent Tea Tasters also undertake the evaluating, comparison and the assessment of teas imported into Sri Lanka from other destinations.

Main Roles of the Tea Tasting Division

  • Pre-Auction Teas Evaluation
  • Pre-Shipment Teas Evaluation
  • Lion Logo Samples Evaluation
  • Imported Teas Evaluation
  • Direct Sales /Private Sale/Forward Contract Panel Ratification

In addition to all of this, the Tea Tasting Division is also involved in the marketing and public relation functions as well as conducting tasting sessions and classes in making aware the art of tea making for local and foreign guests.

Pre-Auction Samples Evaluation

Every Broker has committed to send their catalogued samples to the Sri Lanka Tea Board. The Tea Tasting Division is responsible in evaluating the samples. The Assistant Director (Tea Tasting) and Tea Tasters visually observes all these samples.

Any suspected samples are separated using their experience. By Smelling the teas, Touching, By looking at the appearance, according to crude fiber percentage (16.5%), foreign matter suspected samples are separated from the lots.

These suspected samples are presented to an expert tea tasting panel consisting of representatives from the CTTA, CBA, TEA, SLTFOA, TSHDA, CPA nominated by different organizations related to tea sector as well as Independent Panel Members.

By evaluating the teas, the panel members come to a collective decision whether these teas should be released to the auction or withdrawn from action as a suspected sample. All these decisions depend on ISO 3720 and Tea Board guidelines.

The suspected samples are sent to the SLTB Analytical Laboratory for the further analysis. After the laboratory analysis, based on the parameters in accordance to the ISO 3720 standard & Tea Board guidelines, these lines are released for re-catalogue and Auction. If the tea is not compliant with the ISO 3720 standard & Tea Board guidelines, they are sent back to the factory for upgrade or denature.

The Tea Taster’s decisions depend on Leaf Appearance, Infusion and Liquor. Their collective decision can be separated as follows.

  • Sour – Teas Contaminated with Microbial (Bacterial)
  • Moldy – Contaminated with Yeast and Mould
  • Adulterated – Teas Can be Adulterated with Ferrous, Sodium, Calcium any
  • Heavy Metal
  • Tainted – Taste & Odor foreign to tea
  • Siliceous – According to ISO 3720 of Black Tea Acid Insoluble Ash

Should be minimum 1%. If more than 1%, rejected as teas contain siliceous matter.

  • Crude Fiber – If more than 16.5% Crude fiber available in tea it is rejected

Registration of the Lion Logo

The Lion Logo which is a symbol of quality and country of origin is fully owned by the Sri Lanka Tea Board.

The Tea Tasting Division’s approval is essential for any tea, packed or branded anywhere in the world, that carries the Lion Logo. The franchise rights for the use of the Lion Logo awarded to exporters for those products should pass the quality test as well as meet the specific legal requirements.

Those who wish to include the Lion Logo on their packaging should forward their applications along with the packs to the Tea Tasting Division. The valuation of a Lion Logo certificate for brands is 03 years for Exports and 01 year for Local Sales. The samples are evaluated according to the destination and markets before the Lion Logo approval is granted.

Application & Guideline for the Use of Lion Logo

Check Pre- Shipment Samples

The Exports Division sends samples to the TTU prior to the shipment. Samples are checked by Independent panel members to certify if they adhere to ISO standards and Tea Board Guidelines.

Direct Sales/Private Sale/Forward Contract Panel Ratification

The Division also undertakes price ratification of Private sales, Direct Sales, Forward contracts and the issuing of quality certificates for CIS countries.

Private Sale Panel Ratification

The Tea Board provides the facility to the exporter to purchase teas on a private sale basis. Generally, this happens at the time a small quantity of teas is needed to fulfill their requirement. Green Tea, Specialty Teas and Organic Teas are also sold under this category. This process is approved by the Tea Tasting Division for Private Sales involving Producer, Broker, Tea Board and Customer.

Ratification of Direct sales

If the Producer (Tea Factory) wants to sell their teas directly to the overseas customer, it is also facilitated by the Sri Lanka Tea board. From up to 50% of the total production, the producer can sell as direct sale teas manufactured by either Orthodox or CTC methods/

If they produce only Green Tea or Organic Tea, they can sell 100% of their teas on a direct sale basis. For this, the Broker is not involved and the approval by the Tea Tasting Division is essential.

Ratification of Forward Contracts

Ratification was done for few selected marks depending on the buyer’s requirement for a particular period. The Seller, Buyer, Broker and the Tea Board ratifies the contract sale.

Pre-Import Teas and Unloaded Teas

Pre-Import samples are sent by the Export Division to the Tea Tasting Division every Thursday. These Pre-Import samples are evaluated by an expert panel for their suitability to Import. The approved samples are then drawn from arrivals imported tea consignments and forwarded to the Tea Tasting Division for approval.

What is Tea Tasting?

Tea tasting is the process where a trained Tea Taster determines the quality of a particular tea. It is in fact the Tea Taster who describes and values tea. His description of the liquor is based on taste.

Due to climatic conditions, topography, manufacturing process, and different clones of the Camellia sinensis plant (tea), the final product may have vastly differing flavors and appearance. These differences can be tasted by a trained taster in order to ascertain the quality of the tea prior to sale or possibly prior to blending.

In its widest sense, which includes aroma, taste is a very complex property that has so far not been assessed chemically. A taster may deal with several hundred tea samples in a single tea tasting process that includes measuring a level teaspoon of each sample into the cup. Generally, white or clear cups are used to view the truest colour. It commences by the analyzing of the infused leaves as the cups are filled. Smaller flat leaves will show more body than larger twisted leaves, which take longer to steep. After steeping take in the aroma of the tea and examine the infused leaves for colour and evenness. Colour does not necessarily indicate the strength or body of the liquor.

Tea tasting is a precise skill and one that can be performed only with a good natural palate and active olfactory nerve. Apart from tasting and describing tea, the ability to value a tea calls for long experience and knowledge.

Sensory Organs in Tea Tasting

Trained, sensitive taste buds and a keen nose are essential to judge the quality of a tea in such a short period of time. An excellent palate memory is a must as the Tea Taster should be able to compare it with the teas he/she has tasted over the years.

While it is mainly the tongue that experiences taste, other surfaces of the mouth also play a role here. There are four kinds of tastes – salt, sour, sweet and bitter. Sweetness is tasted at the tip of the tongue, and bitterness at the back. Saltines too are tasted at the tip, but also at the sides of the front of the tongue. Sourness is experienced at the back edges. A stringency or pungency is a sensation, not a taste that is felt on the gums and part of the cheek. When the liquor is swirled around the mouth, the thickness, body or viscosity is felt and judged. For tasters, “infused” leaf refers to the wet leaf left over after the liquor is drained out; “infusion” refers to the liquor.

The flavor characteristics and indeed leaf color, size and shape are graded using a specific language created by the tea industry to explain the overall quality.

2.15.3 Tea Tasting Terminology Terms Describing Dry Leaf 

  • Black: A black appearance is desirable.
  • Blackish: A satisfactory appearance.
  • Bold: Particles of leaf which are too large for the particular grade.
  • Brown: A brown appearance in teas that normally indicates overly harsh treatment of the leaf.
  • Clean: Leaf that is free from fiber, dust and all extraneous matter.
  • Curly: The leaf appearance of whole leaf grade teas such as O.P., as distinct from “wiry”.
  • Even: True to the grade, consisting of pieces of leaf of a fairly even size.
  • Flaky: Flat, open and often light in texture.
  • Gray: Caused by too much abrasion during sorting.
  • Grainy: Describes primary grades of well-made CTC teas such as Pekoe Dust.
  • Leafy: A tea in which leaves tend to be on the large or long side.
  • Light: A tea light in weight, of poor density. Sometimes flaky.
  • Make: Well-made tea (or not), true to its grade.
  • Musty: A tea affected by mildew.
  • Neat: A grade having good “make” and size.
  • Powdery: Fine light dust.
  • Ragged: An uneven, badly manufactured and graded tea.
  • Stalk & Fibre: Should be minimal in superior grades but is generally unavoidable in lower-grade teas.
  • Tip: A sign of fine plucking, apparent in top grades of orthodox “Low Grown Type Teas”.
  • Uneven & Mixed: “Uneven” pieces of leaf usually indicative of poor sorting and not true to the particular grade.
  • Well Twisted: Used for describing whole-leaf grades, often referred to as “well-made” or “rolled”.
  • Wiry: Leaf appearance of a well-twisted, thin-leaf tea. Terms Describing Infused Leaf

  • Aroma: Smell or scent denoting “inherent character,” usually in tea grown at high altitudes.
  • Bright: A lively bright appearance. Usually indicates bright liquors.
  • Coppery: Bright leaf that indicates a well-manufactured tea.
  • Dull: Lacks brightness and usually denotes poor tea. Can be due to faulty manufacture and firing, or a high moisture content.
  • Dark: A dark or dull color that usually indicates poorer leaf.
  • Green: When referring to black tea, refers to under-fermentation or to leaves from immature bushes (liquors often raw or light). Can also be caused by poor rolling.
  • Mixed or Uneven: Leaf of varying color. Terms Describing Liquors

  • Bakey: over-fired liquor. Tea in which too much moisture has been driven off.
  • Body: liquor having both fullness and strength, as opposed to being thin.
  • Bright: Denotes a lively fresh tea with good keeping quality.
  • Brisk: The most “live” characteristic. Results from good manufacture.
  • Burnt: Extreme over-firing.
  • Character – An attractive taste, specific to origin, describing teas grown at high altitudes.
  • Coarse: Describes harsh, undesirable liquor.
  • Coloury: Indicates useful depth of colour and strength.
  • Cream: A precipitate obtained after cooling.
  • Dry: Indicates slight over-firing.
  • Dull: Not clear and lacking any brightness or briskness.
  • Earthy: Normally caused by damp storage but can also describe a taste that is sometimes “climatically inherent” in teas from certain regions.
  • Empty: Describes a liquor lacking fullness. No substance.
  • Flat: Not fresh (usually due to age).
  • Flavor: A most desirable extension of “character,” caused by slow growth at high elevations. Relatively rare.
  • Fruity: Can be due to over-fermentation and/or bacterial infection before firing. An overripe taste.
  • Full: A good combination of strength and color.
  • Gone off: A flat or old tea. Often denotes a high moisture content.
  • Green: An immature, “raw” character. Often due to underfermentation (Sometimes under withering).
  • Harsh: A taste generally due to under withered leaf. Very rough.
  • Heavy: thick, strong and coloury liquor with limited briskness.
  • High-Fried: Over-fired but not bakey or burnt
  • Lacking: Describes neutral liquor. No body or pronounced characteristics.
  • Light: Lacking strength and depth of color.
  • Malty: A full, bright tea with a taste of malt.
  • Mature: Not bitter or flat.
  • Metallic: A sharp Metallic taste.
  • Muddy: dull liquor.
  • Musty: Suspicion of mold.
  • Plain: A liquor that is “clean” but lacking in desirable characteristics.
  • Pungent: Astringent with a good combination of briskness, brightness and strength.
  • Quality: Refers to “cup quality” and denotes a combination of the most desirable liquoring qualities.
  • Raw: A bitter, unpleasant flavor.
  • Soft: The opposite of briskness. Lacking any “live” characteristic. Caused by inefficient fermentation and/or firing.
  • Strength: Substance in cup.
  • Taint: Characteristic or taste that is foreign to tea, such as oil, garlic, etc. Often due to being stored next to other commodities with strong characteristics of their own.
  • Thick: Liquor with good colour and strength.
  • Thin: insipid light liquor that lacks desirable characteristics.