Comparative Cupping: Traditional Black Teas
What is Comparative Cupping?
Comparative Cupping is the practice of steeping two or more teas for the purposes of identifying the unique characteristics of each. This practice is useful for comparing different brands, harvests, and grades of tea. Comparative cupping also helps you develop your palate and allow you to better enjoy the subtle nuances characteristic to the tea plant. The best tool for identifying the flavor profiles of teas is the Aroma Wheel developed by the International Tea Masters Association.
Traditional Teas vs. Blends
What defines a tea as traditional? Despite the age-related connotation attached to the term, for our purposes a traditional tea is here defined as an infusion made up entirely of true tea leaves such as our Keemun. While there are traditional teas that have been cultivated for centuries, newer varieties and cultivars are included under this umbrella term as well. Any tea that contains other ingredients such as spices, dried fruit, essential oils etc. is considered a tea blend.
Traditional Black Tea
Depending on where you live in the world, the first two types that most likely come to mind when you think "tea" are green or black. Though the other types are consumed around the world, these are the two types most readily available. Next time you partake of a complimentary beverage station at your local bank or car dealership, check out the tea selection and you'll notice there is usually a black option, a green option, and maybe something herbal.
Furthermore, when you think of these types there might be some base assumptions that arise if you are new to the multifaceted tea world:
- black teas are dark, bitter, heavy
- green teas are light, vegetal, astringent
While there is teaspoon of truth to this premise, essentializing the tea types leaves little room for experiencing the myriad of flavors that exist within the leaves of the Camelia sinensis plant.
Black teas are the most heavily processed of the true tea types and so tend toward earthier or more mineral flavor profiles. However, black teas can also exhibit lighter flavors such as nutty or floral notes depending on cultivar, harvest, and terroir (the complete environment in which a tea is grown).
To highlight this spectrum, we chose to compare three traditional black teas produced in different corners of the world. For the purposes of this comparison we steeped all three teas at 212°F/100°C for 4 minutes.
Our Guatemalan Black tea, sourced from the Chirrapec Tea Cooperative in Coban, Guatemala, steeps a smooth medium-bodied cup that offers a good amount of caffeine to start your day with. This unique tea exhibits a distinctly mineral flavor reminiscent of granite. Guatemalan Black is characterized by a mild mouth-feel and is robust enough to stand up to milk and honey.
On the opposite end of the black tea flavor spectrum we have Himalayan Black which offers a uniquely floral option. A lighter black tea, Himalayan Black has a slight astringency to it which results in a lingering mouthfeel and added depth. This tea exhibits forward notes of garden flowers which hold steadfast throughout as well as subtler notes of grapefruit and citrus. We recommend steeping this tea using a traditional gaiwan to fully appreciate the flavors that develop over multiple short infusions.
Our Kenya Black tea comes from the Milima Estate in southwest Kenya and offers a good medium ground between the other two teas. Kenya Black steeps a medium-bodied copper-colored cup that is redolent of flowers and characterized by a slightly sweet malted flavor. This tea has a lingering mouthfeel and mild astringency. Try sipping as part of your morning routine or as a mid-afternoon caffeine boost!