By Tiffany Taylor, Certified Industry Specialist.
We all enjoy a great cup of tea, but if you want to truly discover and understand quality tea, you must graduate from cup to cupping.
Cupping is a term used in the tea industry to compare and evaluate tea.
Cupping is done in many countries and each has their own parameters and style. The primary goal is to have the same method and parameters in place to taste all teas the same way, keeping it possible to fairly evaluate tea under the same conditions to see how they rate and compare. The common cupping parameters help to max out all the tea’s potential and identify the quality, aroma, complexity, color and flavor. You’ll be evaluating the dry leaf, wet leaf, aroma, and tea soup.
A common “industry standard” cupping is usually done by using an industry standard white cup with a lid and handle and white bowl to pour the broth into. The cupping is done with 3 grams of tea to 4 oz. of filtered water at 205 degrees Fahrenheit for 5 minutes. There are also “cool” cuppings you can do for softer teas such as green or white at 175 degrees fahrenheit for 3 minutes, this is fine as long as you use this method for all the green and white you’re cupping in a given session. It is ideal to do both of these cuppings for green, white and yellow tea.
I’ll take you on my journey of how cupping tea became the most effective way I learned about tea. As my palate grew for the luxury of loose leaf tea, I became curious as to why I’d pay $12 versus $24 for Green Tea X versus Green Tea Y. The prices didn’t make sense to me, so I could only trust what the seller is saying, instead of deciding for myself if it was worth the price. Also, I really wanted to buy a ‘bulk’ of my favorite tea, but had no idea which one was my favorite out of all the complicated names beyond “green tea” there were on the website. I would drink tea X one day and think it is yummy, but by the next day when I was drinking tea Y, I had no idea how it was any different – since green tea always tasted like green tea to me. The differences were so subtle that it was impossible to tell from casual (distanced, even by a day!) daily cups.
One day, I decided to taste all the different types of green tea I had at my desk at the same time, with the same water and steeped for the same length of time – I really wanted to understand what the subtle differences were in these teas that made people call them by their different names (and which was my favorite)! A few friends joined me for this amateur “competition” I was having and guess what – it worked! Instantly we were able to smell, see and taste the not subtle, but vast differences in these green teas I had at my desk that I could never really tell the difference between! Maybe I was a novice, but it was still eye opening. I did this often with teas I purchased to slowly learn what my “favorites” were and knew what to buy a pound of, but it still didn’t answer, how do I know if it’s worth the price this website is asking for – is it good quality? Could I have better? Is this same tea cheaper elsewhere, if so, why?
As my hunger for knowledge grew, I joined the World Tea Academy to become a certified tea specialist. During my training, I learned more about the industry standard cuppings that people do in the tea industry. This was similar to what I was already doing, so it was easy to adapt to and understand. This time, I learned cupping tricks of “stressing out” the tea to it’s max potential to really see what value and quality it can bring to the cup. It’s an instant way to determine how many buds (without even looking) might be in a given pile of leaves – one of many attribute to define quality and/or the grade of tea. My cupping of tea quickly expanded to learning how to cup not only types of tea, but also to compare locations/terroir (i.e. comparing Chinese red tea, Japanese red tea, and Indian red tea), times of year, as well as brands and tea farms.
After cupping a consistent way with all tea over and over again, I start to discern more quickly what is a “good quality” and what is a “lower quality” tea thanks to the sheer exposure the activity brings. Cupping is a useful way to bring alive your own preferences, control, and knowledge to find quality tea to enjoy and share.