I recently came across a vintage poster from I & M Smith, International Tea & Coffee Brokers (“trading in South Africa since 1915″). There was nary an image on the sheet, but I couldn’t stop staring at it. It was a very simple poster, plain white (now yellowed) paper printed with blocks of sans-serif text. But to me it was like a book of magical incantations, or a first encounter with a foreign language that somehow feels familiar. The poster was framed in the kitchen of a friend’s sublet, and while she was busy at her laptop, I gazed and scribbled notes.
Terms describing dry leaf: chesty, choppy, crepy, curly, make, mushy, nose, ragged, well twisted
Terms describing infused leaf: aroma, biscuity, bright
Terms describing liquors: baggy, bakey, common, cream, harsh, high-fired, point, rasping, raw, stewed
Terms describing green coffee: black jacks, mbuni, peaberry, quakers
Terms describing liquors: erpsig, firey, grassy, rank, rubbery, winey
Amazing, no? I’ve since located these lists online (they’re linked above), and have discovered still more fascinating tea and coffee terms via Google. (Erpsig, by the way, refers to a potato flavor!)
Holy Mountain Trading Co mentions self-drinking — which conjures up the loveliest image of a cup emptying itself with satisfied smackings — and adds shotty, stylish, and well-made to the terms describing dry leaf.
Tealand begins its list with the equally evocative agony of the leaves, and also offers dhool, fannings, tippy, and two and a bud.
One of the challenges I’m always running into in writing is vocabulary to describe sensory qualities. It’s not so hard when it comes to color (red can be carmine, scarlet, crimson, lipstick, blood, and so forth), but how does one describe the egginess of an egg, or the scent of a carnation? I forget that there are actual industries devoted to just this kind of terminology, and that their expertise is at our disposal. Maybe this is why (as you’ll already know, if we’re friends on Facebook) I’m intrigued by perfumes with alluring descriptions, as well — they help me form language for things I’m as yet unable to explain in words.