Test Driving Teas

news_natcsummer2011_cups_360px.pngEveryone who signs up for tea classes is eager to learn about teas, and looks forward to trying new teas. But their responses to the professional tea cupping protocols vary quite a bit. This is how I tried to put the cupping procedure into perspective for someone who was, in his own words, ‘dubious about the value of subjecting any tea to what seemed like the brutal treatment of boiling water and a 5 minute steeping time.’

If you were trying to decide which car to buy, would you feel satisfied in making your decision if you had only driven each car around the parking lot and through the neighborhood never going over 35 mph?

Evaluating a tea that has been brewed at its ideal temperature for just a minute or two or three is thumb_20120308natc_600.gifthe same kind of test drive for a tea. Cupping is not about discovering how good the tea can taste. Cupping a tea is the equivalent of taking the car out on the highway, pedal to the metal. It’s there that will you have the best chance of detecting any flaws or problems. Only there will you see how what’s beneath the hood really performs. Cupping is about testing the tea at its limits to see what it really has to offer. The professional cupping protocol pushes the tea to its limits so that we have the opportunity to perceive all its qualities and to then record our observations for future reference. Standardizing the procedure assures that we are comparing apples to apples when we want to refer to our evaluations.

I strongly maintain that cupping is the single most important skill that any tea professional can develop. And just like you see in the car commercials when they are pushing a car or truck through some rigorous maneuver – Professional driver – Closed course – Do not attempt at home – cupping is a technique used by tea professionals to evaluate teas in the tea lab, in the time and space set aside to analyze and evaluate the qualities and characteristics of teas. It’s not how we prepare and drink our ‘personal’ tea any more than that professional driver drives his personal car on the street where he lives like he did in the commercial.

If enough time is spent playing around with some tea leaves, an amount, time and temperature could be found that would (finally) bring out the best and avoid the worst in a tea. There’s nothing wrong with that when buying a tea for our own enjoyment and edification. But do we want to buy a tea that has a worst to avoid? (You won’t notice that the front end is out of alignment as long as you don’t drive it over 55mph.) But in the real tea world, if we are buying 100 (or 40 or 5) pounds of a tea to be offered to our valued customers, having to explicitly delineate the different brewing procedures for 40 or 60 or 100 teas is going to drive us crazy and our customers away. And anyway, do we want to buy a tea whose ‘front end’ is ‘out of alignment’ in the first place?

The professional tea protocol is an exercise in testing and evaluating teas. It’s not about the person and his or her preferences. It is scientific observation as registered through the organoleptic experience. And yes, bitterness and astringency will be more noticeable in some tea liquors when the leaves are brewed with boiling water, but all the other qualities and characteristics are brought out to be noticed as well. What a great opportunity! (And as I mentioned in the instructions for the assignment, in many cases green and yellow teas are additionally cupped at lower temps for shorter times for a ‘sweet cup’ afterwards.)

Tea Health / Education
Donna Fellman

About Donna Fellman

Donna Fellman is Online Education Director of World Tea Academy. Donna’s experience managing tea houses, training staff, and tea procurement convinced her that the key to success was educating herself, her staff and her customers about tea. Since that time, she has focused her work on serving the tea industry’s needs by creating educational programs and classes, especially for the tea professional. In 2003, Donna founded the Tea Education Alliance specializing in staff and management training. She has authored numerous training manuals for well-known tea retailers and educational materials for other prominent educational programs. She studied Chado for 12 years and co-authored Tea Here Now, (Inner Ocean Publishing, 2005) exploring tea as a way of life. She also has an M.S. in Holistic Nutrition.

2 thoughts on “Test Driving Teas


    Iam a kenyan working in a tea industry dealing with blending, packing and distribution of finished goods iam new on this site i would like to know more about your online education.Thanks in advance awaiting for your generous reply.

    Yours faithfully,
    philip lelgo