The Best Tasting Tea Party

Tea professionals rely on their keen palates and extensive knowledge to compare and rate teas of different grades and qualities. This often requires them to discern the faintest nuances of flavor and aroma that might separate a good sample from a truly exceptional one. To do this reliably, however, the tea industry has developed a standardized method for tasting to insure that different lots at different times are tasted consistently. This process is referred to as “cupping.”
Human perception and appreciation of flavor and aroma (as well as other sensory cues) can be swayed significantly by the time of day, diet, and environmental factors such as the lighting, cleanliness and organization of the tasting room. One of the key elements of professional “cupping” is consistency. Where possible, cuppings should occur at the same time each day, and the tasting room should be kept clean, clear and free of obtrusive odors. Further, the taster(s) should refrain from the consumption of strongly-flavored foods prior to a tasting. Here is a list of what you’ll need and the basic steps to professional cupping.
What You'll Need:
  1. The freshest, purest water possible, preferably dechlorinated.
  2. Up to six different tea samples to taste (exsample: 2 Black Tea ; 2 Green Tea; 2 Oolong teas) and compare (we find that more than six teas can be a bit overwhelming for meaningful comparison).
  3. A kettle and thermometer to achieve the precise temperature required for your samples.
  4. Enough white ceramic or glass cups or bowls to brew each of your samples simultaneously (colored vessels hinder the evaluation of the color and clarity of the liquor, and can have a significant impact on the impressions of the taster).
  5. Enough tea filters to brew each of your samples simultaneously – we recommend unbleached tea bags or gold foil membrane filters.
  6. Enough white plates or bowls to hold the dry leaves of each sample for examination.
  7. Paper and pencil to record your observations.
The Basic Steps:
  1. Arrange your dry samples on plates or bowls for inspection of leaf grade/particle size, color, tips, and overall uniformity.
  2. Prepare small portions of each sample for brewing using the white ceramic cups or bowls and tea filters. Use approximately 2.5 grams of tea per 6 ounces of water.
  3. Steep samples for the appropriate amount of time, depending upon the type. Remove the leaves. Professional tea tasters will use the same time and temperature for all types of tea (usually a full boil for 3 minutes). However, for beginners we recommend choosing a temperature and time that is consistent with your preferences. Then be sure to use that same temperature and time consistently across all teas of the same variety ( black, oolong, pu-erh, green, white).
  4. Inspect the infused leaves for fragrance and leaf condition. The infused leaf will typically be more fragrant than the brew itself, so this can be a helpful – and often forgotten – step.
  5. View the color and clarity of the infusions, and smell them. It is often helpful to cup your hand over the top of the vessel to funnel the vapor toward your nose.
  6. Finally, taste the infusions. Professional tasters typically slurp the tea from a teaspoon, which aerates the tea and sprays it across the entire palate for even, consistent tasting.
  7. Record your impressions of the dry leaf, the infused leaf and the brew.