In China, you can get a master’s degree in Tea Science. My friend Jingyong has this degree. His knowledge is distinctly analytical. He’s a numbers guy. As he talks about tea, it’s not about unplugging chakras or meditation—it’s about the percent of polyphenols by weight and about densities and other technical data. He’s part of a newer generation of Chinese tea professionals, working to dissect the myth from fact and bring modern business and farming practices to an ancient industry—something that we appreciate greatly.
Jingyong and I meet in Hangzhou (杭州市). After a day of rest—including good food and an abundance of Chinese beer—we find ourselves at a cupping table. I’ve brought a selection of our current teas with me, from our shop in Kansas City. It’s strange, I suppose, that we import tea only to tote it back to China for cuppings. But it’s necessary. We need a baseline. No matter how trained your pallet, you must be able to compare flavors side-by-side, in real time. We cup each of our teas; our Da Ye Xi—a distinctly sweet maofeng style green tea from Guangxi, and 100 Year—our flagship single-origin black, among many others.
The process for cupping tea varies widely depending on where you are and what your goal is. No matter what anyone tells you, there’s no standard set of guidelines. In the course of our previous travels to Asia, and in meetings with experts, we’ve seen tea cupped with 2,3,4, and 5 grams and at temperatures from 180 to 200, and for 1,2,3,4, and 5 minutes. The rule is what you make of it. At Hugo Tea we cup twice when making a thorough evaluation—first as the farmer recommends it, and second as we’d drink it ourselves.
The important thing is to practice your pallet, be consistent between brews, and have plenty of samples for direct comparison.
--Shaoxing, April 16th 2016