Tea cupping is a way of evaluating the different flavours, aromas, and visual characteristics of a particular tea – and it is a real adventure. When you truly pay attention to the profiles of each brew, you will be amazed by how much you’ll be able to detect.
Tea cupping can be both an art and a science – and we aim to explain how it can be simple and enjoyable. The flavour attributes of a tea leaf develop when exposed to different water temperatures, so cupping is a great way to learn about how each profile evolves and grows into something more complex.
Tea cupping was initially used by industry professionals to ensure that their products were of a satisfactory standard for their customers – but now, tea drinkers everywhere use it to learn about their brews.
Tea cupping is especially interesting as it allows the drinker to understand the most basic flavours of each tea, helping them to appreciate some of tea’s finer points. It is a great way to evaluate tea when each blend varies so much from farm to farm.
The typical process of tea cupping follows four main steps:
First of all, it is incredibly important to use the same cupping method each time in order to compare and contrast each tea accurately. This means that the water temperature and the steeping time should be the same for each cup of tea that you are tasting.
There are no rules in tea cupping, as there are no standard guidelines to follow (unlike in the coffee industry). This means that you have the freedom to experiment and work out your preferred way of cupping.
However, the typical equipment used for this is a porcelain cup, porcelain tasting bowl, a kettle of hot water, and the tea itself. If you don’t own the first two, then a regular brewing device (e.g. metal strainer) and a mug will do. You will also need a thermometer.
The exact quality markers for tea will depend on the type being inspected.
For example, typical quality markers of a good oolong are leaves that are tightly rolled into balls with the stems poking out, they should be a rich, green-blue colour.
Whereas a Keemun black tea has leaves that are twisted and a red-black colour and Silver Needle will have white leaves covered in little hairs, and Gyokuro is made up of leaves that are a rich green colour, long, and thin.
Following the visual inspection, prepare the tea samples with water – preferably spring, mountain, or pure oxygenated water. This is an incredibly important step, as the taste of the water will alter the taste of the tea, for better or for worse.
Professional tea tasters will use 227ml of 100°C water with 2g of tea leaves – unless it’s for green and white teas which should have water temperature at 80°C. as higher will burn the leaf and result in a bitter taste.
Visual aspects of the tea
Pay attention to the brightness, colour, and depth of the tea liquor. Typically, bright and rich teas suggest a high quality, with dull, dusty water suggesting a lower quality.
Take a handful of the dry leaves from the bag and evaluate their fragrance. Do they smell fresh? Sweet? Roasted and nutty?
Following that, wet the leaves and smell them, and compare the difference. Typically, the aroma would have increased in intensity, unlocking new scent profiles.
Ask yourself a few questions
Remember to record your observations, ideally in a notebook dedicated solely to evaluating tea. Over the years, you will see how your tastes and knowledge have increased – and perhaps even notice how you picked up on different aromas of the same tea over the years!
And then we get to the good bit – finally drinking the tea.
When sipping the tea, you should immediately be able to recognise many of its different flavour profiles.
As you go along, begin to recognise the main flavour, and then hone in on it – one of the best ways of doing this is by following the ITMA Aroma Wheel.
Once you have truly taken in the varying flavours of the tea, think about the body of the tea, and its ‘mouthfeel’.
When you swill it in your mouth, does it feel full and rich, or delicate and thin? Where in your mouth do you first notice the presence of the flavour?
Following that, pay attention to the aftertaste of the tea, and whether or not it lingers.
Do any new flavours come out just before the taste disappears?
The world of tea tends to open up and expand the more you learn about it – for us, our journey will never end. There are seemingly unlimited flavours, aromas, and appearances of tea, with each and every brew having its own characteristics.
Each month we search out new and different teas to bring you on a journey of discovery. Click here to order your own Blue Tea Box and start cupping
If you love black tea then choose 3 bags of black tea each month, or what about green tea, did you know there were so many different green teas even available?
Our Herbal Box gives you three teas to try containing herbal, fruit and rooibos and if it’s all too tricky to choose we do have our best selling “Surprise Me” option where our dedicated team of tea packers select from the many fresh new bags arriving in each month.
If you try some tea cupping do let us know – we are social and love to see what you all get up to.
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