A cupping set is used to conduct a formal analysis of tea. It is found in tea competitions, when comparing and contrasting the same style of tea from different estates or seasons, or simply for the enthusiast tea drinker. The equipment is made up of a porcelain bowl, spoon and brewing cup.
The intention is to assess the wet leaf, dry leaf and tea liquor of either a single tea, or multiple teas within the same category, such as green tea. The parameters of time, temperature, water and tea leaf quantity are standardised.
As a verb, the use of a set is referred to “cupping”, or holding a “cupping session”.
150ml boiling water, per cupping set
3g loose leaf tea, or 2 level teaspoons
3 minute steeping
Cupping set (porcelain bowl, brewing cup, porcelain or metal spoon)
Notebook, pen or pencil
Weigh the teas to ensure they are 3g each, and place into the infusion cup.
Set aside some of the dry leaf on piece of sheet paper for later comparison.
Pour 150ml of boiling water into the infusion cup, and place the lid over it immediately.
Meanwhile, observe and smell the dry leaf, taking note of the length, plumpness, aroma.
After three minutes have elapsed, carefully tip the cup over the tasting bowl.
The liquor will flow through the opening and fill the bowl.
Holding the lid in place, flip the infusion cup upside down, so that the leaves are caught on the inside of the lid. Replace the lid on the cup and back onto the table.
Inhale the aromas of the wet leaf by bringing the lid up to your nose.
Using your tasting spoon, take some of the tea liquor from the bowl and smell it, then proceed to take a sip.
Be sure to slurp the liquor to ensure it reaches all of your mouth and palate.
With the liquor still in your mouth, breathe out completely through the nose to help engage your olfactory gland, to engage many of the subtle aromas that will have eluded your senses.
Swallow the liquid and again breathe out completely, taking note of the finish, texture and other qualities that stand out.
Record your results.
Try to avoid applying heavy scents from perfumes, colognes, hand creams and shampoos, and avoid consuming a meal with strong flavours, such as garlic and onion. Any external aromas on your person, environment or palate can affect your assessment of the tea.
Conduct the tasting in a bright, distraction-free environment without clutter. The bright light of a window is a good choice. This will help you focus on assessing the shades of the liquor and the subtle aromas of the tea itself.
Try presenting the teas in ascending order, from mildest to strongest, or least oxidised to most oxidised, as the contrast will enhance your detection of the difference between the teas.
Some teas are intended to be served with milk, particularly teas from certain regions of India such as Assam. This should be factored into your cupping session by including some in your tea liquor!