I left off at the part where I was describing the values of cupping tea.
I had one tea teacher tell me that cupping tea is like doing your homework. You have to know what 5g of tea is, you have to know how long three minutes is, and you have to know the temperature of the water when the kettle is at varying degrees of boil. The way you get to intuitively know these things is by repeating over and over the brew process in this cupping format. Now let’s go over the cupping format. I have brought three different teas, so we will be doing a vertical tea tasting. I will pass around samples so we can look at what exactly 5g of tea looks like and as you can see, 5g of cooked puer looks a lot different in volume than a tightly rolled oolong, or a twisted leaf oolong for that matter. So these teas are processed differently resulting in different types of tea. The first one is a tightly rolled oolong from Taiwan. It is the Li Shan Winter Glow. I really like this tea for a few reasons and one of the reasons we will be examining after brewing is the radiant color green that this leaf produces. Now evaluation of the tea color is important, but it is given less importance than flavor, aroma, and mouth feel. These elements all combine, but we can do our best to evaluate them separately. Aroma… This is the most alluring as it can reach across the room. How do we evaluate the Aroma? I am so glad you asked. With orthodox tea… Tea that is made from the tea leaf and that is not scented or flavored we do this not by smelling the actual tea soup, but the residue that it leaves behind. Often this is done with a porcelain tool such as a spoon. The aroma of the tea sticks to the porcelain long enough to do this. While holding the spoon close to our nose, we inhale deeply. One of my favorite explanations of this process that I’ve heard (either using a spoon or an aroma cup) is the one on which we are transported to the very fields where the tea was grown. This works if we are in a shop of a crowded city of Taiwan, or all the way over here in North America. Smelling the tea takes us to the pristine natural environment of the tea field so that we are amongst mountains shrouded in mist. This alone is worth the price of admission and not just to this talk, but as a means of relieving stress of everyday life through the practice of brewing tea.
Let us turn our attention for a moment to the tea evaluation sheets. This grid format helps me immensely as I am creating the flavor notes for any particular tea and especially when cupping teas side by side. The sheet with examples of words that we can use was mostly borrowed from various flavor wheels, such as wine tasting flavor wheels or dare I say coffee flavor wheels. What is most exciting to me about this process is that this is a skill that we can improve at over time. Admittedly I am not the best in the world at putting a name to the crescendo of flavors or aromas that can occur after a series of sips. But I have sat with some of the best as they have done so. I have paid chefs and learned from them while tasting teas. One thing I have learned is that words matter. Especially when the goal is to sell tea. I try not to overthink it. I just go as quickly as possible to the best possible familiar association. Armed with this knowledge that we are going to be expected to name certain flavors associated with a wide array of tea, as we go through life, we can do our best to try new things, and to catalog the flavor experience. For example, next time you have a chance, compare the difference in aroma of a fresh flower with a dried flower of the same kind. You will see that they are very different. So keep in mind that this is a skill that we can improve over time, no matter how good or bad you are at it currently.