How to Cup
Cupping is the method used by tea professionals to evaluate tea quality, and is a daily practice at the G.S. Haly Company. Maintaining a consistent cupping routine is one of the most valuable skills a tea buyer can develop, as it establishes deep familiarity with the complexities and nuances in the tea itself as well as the global marketplace.
Among the skills one acquires through regular cupping are the abilities to discern the difference between low and high quality, poor and skilled manufacture, and fresh and stale teas. Through broad exposure to many tea types and levels of quality, a skilled cupper learns to not be swayed by price point, tea name, or origin, but instead to rely on the quality of the tea itself.
A consistent cupping protocol minimizes the variables and distractions that might influence the cupper. Here is the standard cupping protocol used by tea professionals worldwide:
- Arrange teas in order of intensity from light to heavy.
- Weigh 2.5 grams of dry tea into each cup.
- Display additional dry leaf in a clean white tray.
- Bring fresh, filtered water to a boil and pour over leaves. Fill each cup to just below its serrated spout, and immediately cover with a lid.
- Steep for 5 minutes. Then tip the cups into the bowls to drain all the liquid out, keeping the lids in place.
Does the dry leaf appear to be broken or whole leaf, twisted or flat, regular or uneven? What about the color of the tea itself—is it dull or glowing, clear or cloudy?
Compare the aroma of the dry leaves, the wet leaves when they’re hot and the wet leaves after they’ve cooled.
Slurp the liquid so that is spreads evenly over the entire surface of your tongue and reaches all of your taste buds at one time.
When identifying the similarities and differences found in each tea, try to isolate the following characteristics:
- Most of flavor is smell, and our olfactory sense identifies notes and qualities that our taste buds do not. Slurping the tea draws aroma through the retronasal cavity so the taster can identify floral, herbal, malty or honey-like characteristics.
- Sensation, or Mouthfeel
- How does the tea feel on the palate? What is your perception of its texture? Common sensations range from soft to round and buttery to crisp and bright.
- A puckery or lively sensation on the palate gives tea its refreshing quality. A tea that is brisk or muscatel has high astringency.
- The feeling of thickness or viscosity on the palate; how light or heavy the tea feels. Body might range from delicate and ethereal to heavy and syrupy.
- Taste or Flavor
- Simply what your taste buds can detect—sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami. Slurping sprays the liquid across your palate so as many taste buds as possible come into contact with the tea.
- A way to describe flavor when it has many aspects. Simple teas are straightforward, with easily identifiable characteristics. Complex teas change as you drink them, and do not completely reveal themselves at once.
- Describes the aftertaste that lingers on the palate. Dry teas have a lingering finish that continues to persist and change on the palate after the tea has been swallowed. Clean teas are just the opposite with a crisp finish that does not linger.
For more detailed terminology, please see our Glossary of Tasting Terms.