In casual conversation with fellow tea-fanatics of the Ottawa area, tea-cupping – or, as it is sometimes known, competition brewing – is seldom mentioned. Ubiquitous among tea-connoisseurs in Asia, but virtually unknown in the West, tea-cupping is a standardized, bare-bones brewing technique that allows different teas to be easily compared. Rather than making a tea taste its very best, tea-cupping is intended to extract the full flavour profile of a tea in one concentrated infusion, showcasing its faults as well as its desirable flavours and aromas.
Size quickly you preferences
Because this technique is standardized (i.e. performed the same way each time), it is very easy to compare teas even if they are not tasted side-by-side. Since this technique is so simple and practical, it is often used in competitions to compare many teas very quickly. Using this method, it is quickly obvious which teas will be easy to infuse and provide good flavour and which one suits better you taste.
Know your tea to brew it at its best
An unparalleled technique for getting to know the basic characteristics of a tea, the small investment of time and tea taken for a tea-cupping session will pay dividends to tea-drinkers in Ottawa, Montreal, and across the country on multiple levels.
While gong fu cha and other sophisticated infusion methods are designed to showcase a tea’s assets and mask its faults, it is first necessary to know what you are trying to bring out or hide. For example, an oolong with good florals and an unpleasant bitter character can be brewed using very hot water (to bring out the florals) in a vessel with the lid left off (the quick drop in temperature will prevent the bitterness from emerging).
Refine your palate
Practicing teasing apart the complex layers of a tea infused this way will help you better appreciate the nuances of a more carefully infused cup. Apart from enhancing your enjoyment of fine tea, this will help you learn to better describe the particular elements of aroma, flavour, and texture that you enjoy. This will help you make the most of conversations with Ottawa’s purveyors of tea – the better you are able to describe your tastes, the better vendors will be able to recommend teas that suit your preferences.
How to do it
The method is remarkably simple: a small amount of tea is steeped in a covered mug for a few minutes, then quickly poured out into a bowl and tasted. While the parameters of temperature, amount of tea, and steep time vary slightly from genre to genre, consistency between individual teas and sessions is critical: break out the scales and timers! Keeping a consistent method will allow you to compare notes with other tea-fanatics in Ottawa and elsewhere.
For example, we use 120ml brewing mugs with about 3 grams of tea for each and a 3 minutes brewing. You can adjust and put a little less tea if its made of small strong leaves or a little more for large leaves but be consistant between the same style of leaves. And remember, your tea might not come out at its best but rather showing its whole personality. Enjoy !