I started to take tea seriously, moving beyond just being the friend that knows a bit about tea into the full on tea nerd space where my friends dreaded asking me to come over for for a cup of tea for fear of not making it properly, over a decade ago. One of my biggest regrets was not being more systematic about my approach to tea and having to rely on my memory for the impressions I had for certain teas at a specific point in time.
I wish I had been introduced to tea cupping earlier in my life as a tea practitioner. This practice coupled with ongoing tea brewing practice and experiments really accelerates your tea knowledge. Unfortunately, for me, I did not get serious about this until I started my tea business in 2015.
I think there is a balance you need to maintain in your tea life particularly if you are sitting in the avid tea practitioner space and haven't crossed into the tea industry land (as alluring as it is...I promise you it is hard)!
Enjoying teas taste and fragrance is equally as satisfying and important as breaking down exactly what is in your cup. Where I think it becomes very important is when you want to start to expand your world of tea and you recognise the impact of cultivars, seasons, environmental conditions, harvesting and processing conditions.
And just to be clear we are talking about putting a tea under a long hot steep to draw out the highlights and the lowlights. When a tea can perform under these conditions you can start to have a conversation about its quality. By capturing this personal tea catalogue it provides a baseline to compare other teas and starts to help you identify quality and cost elements, perhaps you are really paying for great marketing?!
It may feel a little clinical and you may be hesitant to start. All I can say is start now you really won't regret it! And here are 3 tips to incorporating tea cupping into your tea life.
1. Approach it systematically for relevance
My intention is not to cover the mechanics or process for professional tea cupping here but my advice here is stick to a standard method. Many tea professionals have their own approach but as a Chartered Accountant where globally accepted standards are necessary for accounting information to be consistent, comparable and of a high quality I default to the ISO3103:1980 Tea - Preparation of liquor for use in sensory tests.
By using ISO, a globally recognised standard approach, I find it an easy place to defend when people ask me why I cup tea differently to the way they may have been taught through different education bodies or programmes.
2. Record your evaluation in a consistent manner
This part of the practice is the one that requires the most discipline. Set yourself up a log book or grab the very special bonus I mention below produced by Tania Stacey of Cuppa Cha and start a folder with your notes. By recording the results of your sensory tests you start to become much more aware of all the elements that makes a tea what it is and this translates directly to the tea appreciation we bring to the tea table. And don't be like me and rely on a foggy memory post children, baby brain is real people and I can attest it doesn't improve!
3. Push the fancy equipment to the side and start with what you have in the kitchen
Ok, cool nerdy tea images aside, you don't need to invest in cupping sets. Yes, when you are cupping many days of the week they help to simplify and streamline the process but you don't need the whole set up.
A really quick solution is to use a number of small bowls (same size and shape), brew the tea liquor to the required parameters and instead of decanting the liquor you can use a soup spoon to sweep the leaves to the side in the liquor to examine and taste. This works well if you are cupping with a few samples.
And, a bonus 4th tip!
Embrace the tea cupping approach only when you are in a head space to follow through with the process and are open to the knowledge that may come. Don't aim to start a long tea cupping line on day one. Start with one tea to get used to the process followed by a comparative tea. Do this for a little while until you start to see the benefits it brings and add on subsequent teas.
My good friend, Tania Stacey, of Cuppa Cha has got some excellent video resources on her YouTube to help those visual learners out there. Check out Cupping Tea - Building your Tea Knowledge in which I had a little cameo. Plus there is a huge bonus in the show notes of Introduction How to Cup Tea like a pro!.