Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Tea Cupping Part I: International Standard

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!


11 comments:

La Tea Dah said...

Very interesting post. What a great opportunity you've had to experience these courses. I think it would be fun to try at home. Another element of the tea story...

Snap said...

Great post!

Angela McRae said...

I have a cupping set like yours but you've made me realize I have not been consistent at all with its use. And I had no idea 5 minutes steeping time was an International Standard, so thanks for the education!

Steph said...

Angela - feel free to steep as long as you like for your personal preferences, since you're not judging the tea for production decisions. But if you are comparing side-by-side, then steep all teas the same lenght/temp.

relevanttealeaf said...

Very informative post, Steph! You brought back wonderful memories from our London Tea Master's Class.

Karen said...

Wonderful post, Steph! I love tea cuppings. :)

Donna from Green Tea Weight Loss said...

Tea is always been my favorite drink for health I won't let my day pas without drinking a cup of it.

Marilyn said...

Nice coverage and enjoyed the video. I am actually finding I like my teas hotter and sometime longer brew than always recommended, just be experimenting and trial and error.

Marlena said...

I've tried this but my palate isn't good enough to get more than the broad strokes. But it is a fun thing to do. I've done more with brewing a group of say, Earl Greys, brewing all alike and wow, you can tell differences. Interesting video and post, thanks!

How to Get More Willpower said...

International standards are standards developed by international standards organizations.

Donna Crabtree @ CLA Health Benefits said...

The term cupping is used to describe the tasting of different teas to determine quality, taste or color.