International Standard Tea Cupping Set
"Tea cupping" is the phrase used by professionals to taste and evaluate tea. Common characteristics that are judged include the flavor, of course, but also the look of the dry leaf, the aroma, the color of the liquor and the look of the wet leaf. I've had the great good fortune to sit through several tea cupping seminars, starting with Tim Grafton in London, several times on the Asia Tea Tour and then for the past two years with Suzette (Rishi Tea) at the NW Tea Fest.
The International Standard is:
- 3 grams of tea
- 150 ml (~5 oz) boiling water
- 5 minute steep
- Here's a great video for the mechanics of it!
Dry leaf, liquor, wet leaf = the ingredients to make an evaluation of the tea
Consistency is super important here. Each tea you are comparing must be treated in the same precise manner. "But 5 minutes for a green tea?!" you might justifiably exclaim! Yes, it's true, as an industry, we've finally gotten traction when it comes to educating people to brew different teas at different temperatures. Why now break this rule? Because professional cupping has a very different purpose than drinking for pleasure. (Please keep brewing those greens with cooler water for your home enjoyment!)
The Differences Professional tea tasters have well developed palates that allow them to notice subtle differences between teas. Those differences are what the taster is after. S/he compares many similar teas side-by-side. Perhaps it's a blind tasting that compares different vendor's teas for selection. Or perhaps it's at the tea farm and samples of the same tea varietal are being tested from the same harvest, the only difference being the location of where the samples were grown. By "pushing" the tea, meaning treating it to a very long and hot soak, the subtleties shine through. Likewise, any weaknesses in the tea become apparent.
Do Try this at Home! Have you ever tried tea cupping? If you get the chance to do so, it's very fun! And just because the International Standard is as described above, it doesn't mean you have to buy the fancy equipment. For your personal tasting, the most important factor is to be consistent. Pick two or three teas to compare (maybe three black teas, for example), and find brewing vessels of the same size. Use the same amount of leaf, same temperature and volume of water, and brewing time and see what you think!