Thursday, May 9, 2019

How To Use An Aroma Cup Set

When tasting teas aroma plays a huge role in the overall flavor profile. A fun way to concentrate the perfume of your tea is to use an aroma cup. I've been getting more questions about how to use one so I thought it was time to do a 'how to'.

I've written about using an aroma cup set before (have a look, since I even posted a nifty video), but I wanted to lay out the steps a bit more clearly.  In my previous post, I discussed the importance of using your nose, which is something to keep in mind:
Think about how you perceive flavors with a stuffed-up nose- flavors appear muted or non-existent. According to this article (and quite a few others I stumbled upon), 80% of what we're tasting is actually coming from our sense of smell. Even without the research, the gorgeous aroma of a lightly oxidized oolong needs to be appreciated just as much as the flavor. Whenever I'm handed a plate of food, I always smell it first. I love getting a first impression through the aromas, and the same is true for tea. Without the aroma, you're not fully tasting the tea. 
What Is An Aroma Cup?
The aroma cup is actually a fairly recent creation. Reportedly invented in the 1970s in Taiwan, the Taiwanese government was trying to stimulate more interest in Taiwanese tea. The cup created a new way to enjoy the tea's perfume, and is a handy tool to help evaluate the aroma. The elongated narrow shape of the fragrance cup concentrates the aroma around your nose. 

The long shape of the fragrance cup is what sets it apart. A standard drinking cup is short and wide, so it doesn't really capture the aroma of the tea. The narrow aroma cups holds the fragrance long enough to sniff and enjoy. The cups are reminiscent of whiskey tasting glasses that have a tall neck to concentrate the scent. 

The tasting cup (left) and fragrance cup (right)

How To Use An Aroma Cup: The Gear
A set (wen xiang bei) comes with two pieces: the regular sized tasting cup, and the longer cup to capture the fragrance. There are many aroma cup sets on the market, and they're easy to find online. I have a simple white set that was gifted to me, but this set is inexpensive, and does the trick. The sets here are a little more decorative, if that's what you are looking for. If you'd like a few for a group tasting, this set is a good choice.

How To Use An Aroma Cup: The Steps
First, brew your tea. Aroma cups are usually suggested for fragrant oolongs such as the floral, high mountain varieties (Like those you'll find in Taiwan, where the cups were invented). But really you can use them to evaluate any type of tea you'd like. Prepare the tea with your method of choice, but choose a vessel that will easily pour into a smaller cup.

Once your tea is ready, fill the long fragrance cup to about 3/4 full. You don't want it all the way to the top, as you will get leaky when you try to turn the cups over. 

doesn't it look like a tall mushroom?

When your fragrance cup is filled correctly, place the tasting cup on top. The whole thing will look a little bit like a tall mushroom (photo above). Let it sit like this for a few seconds, to capture all of those beautiful aromas inside.

When you are ready, flip the cups upside down- hold that cup firmly (see the above photos for where I put my fingers)!! This takes a bit of practice, but there is no need to be afraid- the hot tea creates a bit of a vacuum seal, so it's not easy to spill if you've filled it correctly.

Once you've turned it over, it's time to lift up the fragrance cup. Again this can get a little splashy,  but with a little practice you'll get the hang of it (although if you visit my Instagram page, you'll see I still often make a mess). Once the cup is empty, get your nose right in there to experience the aroma. Close your eyes, inhale, and enjoy. 

When you're ready, you can drink the tea! 

Does An Aroma Cup Really Work?
To be honest, I'm not sure how much more aroma you're really getting by using an aroma cup, but it's a fun way to get more interactive with your tea. Is it totally necessary? Not really, especially if you're using a gaiwan. But if you're doing a tasting for a few people and you don't want them to all stick their nose in your gaiwan or teapot, an aroma cup is a great way for everyone to experience the changing aromas of the tea. It's also a nice interactive element to add to a group tasting.

What do you think? Is this something you'd like to use as part of your tea ritual, or maybe as an occasional way to help enjoy your tea? I like to pull out my aroma cup when I have a really fragrant tea, and it's also fun to use with friends.

1 comment:

  1. Great article! We completely agree, the aroma of the tea is just as important as the first sip.