May 27, 2022 by Diana Rosen
Tea Cupping is the Foundation of Tea SELLING!
Cupping, the procedure for professional tea tasting, is critical to educate your palate, increase your knowledge of tea, and to sell tea because customers love to learn all the nuances you’ve discovered about your inventory. The most vital piece of equipment in professional cupping is the classic white porcelain tea tasting set with serrated brewing cup with matching tasting cup or a glass tasting set that clearly reveals the color of each brewed tea.
HOW TO USE A PROFESSIONAL CUPPING SET:
Practice using your brew cup by pouring water into it just UNDER where the serrated edge begins. Cover the brewing cup with its lid and place the cup in a horizontal position over the tasting cup. To do this easily, lift the brewing cup with the handle, then place your thumb tightly on top of the lid. Hold the tasting cup (bowl) right next to the brewing cup before placing the brewing cup horizontally, serrated edge down onto the tasting cup. The water should flow out immediately through the grooved teeth. If done correctly, the lid knob and brew cup can rest on the bowl cup while the tea pours into the bowl. Once the brew cup is empty, carefully pick it and the lid up while still in pouring orientation to get every drop, then set it down on the table.
Use room temperature water to practice, then graduate to heated water. Repeat this several times until you feel confident you can do it quickly and smoothly without spilling the water on you or anywhere else but the tasting cup. (Or dropping the brew cup!)
OTHER EQUIPMENT TO USE:
For cupping with staff, keep a holder of extra spoons and a tray of tasting cups. Each person should have their own porcelain spoon to scoop out a portion of tea liquor from the brewing cup and pour that tea into her own cup, then taste from the cup. This is more sanitary and quite efficient. Porcelain spoons and small-sized (2-3 oz) cups are readily available wherever Chinese culinary utensils are sold. An alternative tasting cup could be Taiwanese-style thimble cups. Avoid metal spoons as they can taint the flavor of the tea.
Optional equipment: Instant read thermometer if you do not have a variable temperature tea kettle; large bowl for hot water to rinse off cups and spoons, bamboo tongs to securely dip the spoons or cups into the hot water, paper or linen towels to wipe down the rinsed utensils, and large cloth-lined basket to place used items to carry to the kitchen to clean up and store.
Timer, medium-sized bowl for a spittoon, tasting spoon, tea tasting sets, each with a brewing cup, lid, and tasting cup. Use one set for each tea you are tasting so that you can not only taste, but re-taste to compare. Add a measuring cup, measuring spoon (or tea scoop or scale,) and printouts of your own grading templates listing tea-tasting characteristics most important for your buying decisions.
SETTING UP FOR A PROFESSIONAL CUPPING SESSION:
- Use a big enough long table or counter to accommodate all the accessories without crowding, which can lead to breakage and inefficiency.
- Use high-quality, well-oxygenated water, preferably spring water from natural springs, not purified waters. The water needs minerals to connect with the natural elements in the tea leaves to get the best taste in the cup. Never use distilled water or tap water(unless you live in a community with superb, highly-rated city water.)
- Make tea tasting easy, use an electric kettle with an adjustable temperature gauge which matches the tea type to the right temperature of water.
- Set out your equipment: a tea measuring spoon or scale to measure the tea and a glass measuring cup for the water. Even the most experienced tea tasters measure, although some veterans measure “by the eye”.
- Set out each tea tasting set: brewing cup, lid, and tasting bowl in a horizontal row.
- Identify each tea by placing the sample bags of each tea behind the respective brewing cup. Sample bags can use lot numbers or tea type and place of origin.
- Start small. Choose up to three teas; add more as you become more experienced. It is best to compare like with like, so when considering greens, taste one category first then move on, tasting the most delicate first and moving up to the more intensely flavored. It is always better to brew fewer teas and get a thorough idea of each tea’s profile than to rush through many without pausing to savor them, especially when you’re new to the process.
- For herbals and flavored or scented teas, choose those with the same base and move from delicate flavorings to the more intense flavorings to avoid wearing out your palate.
- Use your vendor’s ratio of tea to water. When in doubt, 2 to 2.5 grams of tea to 4-5 ounces of water should work. Or, use a level teaspoon of small dense leaves and up to a tablespoon of large light tea leaves. Sometimes the larger grooved teeth of the porcelain cups allow too many small leaves to pass through so a good alternative is our glass tea cupping set with integrated strainer. Experiment to see what works best for you.
- Place a pinch of the dry leaves on a plain white paper card to help the tasters view both dry and brewed leaves.
Be sure to practice using your brew cups and stay tuned for PART 2!
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