Monday, April 20, 2009

Cup (a verb)

"Cup" is the verb that many of us tea industry folks use when we are drinking tea for the purpose of evaluation. I usually use the term when I'm comparing two or more teas at the same time. At Teacup, we cup tea almost everyday in order to understand them better or to create our own blends.

Cupping 4 Tie Guanyin oolongs at Teacup:

During a proper cupping, all variables should be controlled. The same weight of leaf, the same temperature of water, the same brewing vessels, and the same steeping time must be used for each tea. After the tea is steeped, it is generally considered best to start with the lightest tea and work your way to the strongest, so you don't overwhelm your palate.

On many tea farms and in large professional blending facilities people will use the cupping sets pictured below.

Professional tea cupping set:

After tea is steeped it is decanted into the bowl:

Then the wet leaves are placed on the lid for easy evaluation:

A tea professional will usually slurp the tea soup
from a spoon and then spit it into a spittoon:

The teas chosen for a particular cupping should have a common theme. The theme can be very specific, such as "three spring 2009 first flush Darjeelings" or it can be very loose, such as "four green teas." Either way, you will learn more about the teas being cupped and how they compare to others.

When I am cupping teas with a new employee at Teacup for the first time I usually start with several regional black teas such as Darjeeling, Assam, Keemun, Yunnan and Ceylon. That way the new employee can more easily pick up some of the defining traits of these regions, before we do more specific cuppings later.

Another method used to cup tea is called "bowl and spoon" (or at least that's what I call it). The tea is steeped in small bowls (such as rice bowls) and spoons are used to get the aroma and to ladle the broth into drinking cups. I used this method during my review of Floating Leaves' winter baozhong tea and while comparing two Long Yuan Hao Puer teas.

David W. and I cupping Spring 2008
Wenshan Baozhong in Pinglin, Taiwan:

If you are new to the idea of cupping tea, I hope this post sparked your interest. I believe that frequently cupping tea is one of the best ways to further your tea education.


Jamus said...


Thanks for the package; I received it yesterday. Yours is on it's way and should be there before the end of the week. Sorry for the delay but I was not able to get to the post as soon as I had hoped. I've sent some music as well; a couple favourites as well as some old groups I used to play with. Hopefully you enjoy it!

I've been eyeballing cups like these for a while; it just seems like many places sell them for much more than I would think that style of cup should cost. Maybe I'm a crabby old tightwad, but when I can spend $6 on a decent gaiwan, I can't fathom $30 for these types of brewing vessels. Presently I have some really nice glass cups that are very good for side by side 'cupping' sessions...which reminds me, now that I've got nearly a dozen types to sample, it's time to let the oolong games begin!

Thanks again for the wonderful package!


Brett said...

你好 Jamus!

No worries about the tea/music swap. like you said, we 普-heads are a very patient people. I'll email you about your package after I've had a little time to digest it.

You are correct... Don't buy those cupping sets retail! 太貴了. Teacup has a couple of them... but I almost never use them. Keep using your cups, bowls and gaiwans until the time when you see them for under $10 a set.

(Your brother from another mother)

Terry said...

This article rocked! Thanks Brett.