Tea Tasting 101
Tea purveyors should be able to cup tea in order to decide their product line, conduct quality control and to describe and speak knowledgably about their teas. Here are a few quick cupping tips:
Professional tasters use white porcelain tea cupping sets that have a brewing cup with lid, a bowl for the steeped infusion. Some brewing cups have small teeth on the rim on the side opposite the handle for holding back the leaves, while other sets have a notch in this place. Everyone has a preference, but as long as you are using such a set, the difference is negligible. These sets ensure consistency with regards to cup size and therefore the infused volume of water used for each tea tested. Porcelain is flavor-neutral, easy to clean and white will reveal the true infusion color.
In order to maintain consistent results, the same amount of leaf should be always be used when cupping. In speaking with other professional tasters, it seems most like to use 2.5 - 3 grams of leaf per cup. The idea is to brew the tea a little on the strong side to ‘get everything out of it.’ Using a scale is mandatory, as large leafy teas can appear more voluminous while weighing less. Be sure to weigh your leaves!
Water Temp and Time
Also for consistency, use an instant read kitchen thermometer to ensure the correct water temperature. Have a predetermined guide for water temperatures and brew times for each type of tea. Keep in mind that the idea is to slightly over steep the tea to fully infuse and let it show you all it has. Most tasters will not cup a tea the same way they would brew it for casual sipping. As an example, for enjoyment, I usually prefer most China green teas at 180F for 2 min or so (depending on the tea,) but when cupping I strictly steep at 185 for 3 minutes to be sure the leaves fully reveal their nuances to the cup. The brew may be astringent or bitter, but a taster will train their palate to perceive beyond those sensations. If the astringency is too much for you, adjust to lower temps and time, but keep detailed records so when cupping a new crop, you can keep those parameters for a clean comparison.