The iconic tool of professional tea tasters around the world, cupping sets are designed for their simplicity: no infusers, no frills, just a well-placed set of teeth drilled into a ceramic infusing chamber (steeping mug) with a tight-fitting lid that pours perfectly into a 5-oz (150-mL) cup.
The intelligently-designed ceramic steeping mug has ample space to allow the tea leaf to fully express all its compounds, so drinkers can cue into subtleties that are easily lost when made with other, more elaborate tea pots. In addition, the cupping set is built for quick clean up. Tea tasters often have to cup dozens of lots of fresh teas each day (and in the peak season, hundreds). As a result, these sets are also made to be easy to clean so they can be rapidly reused. After the tea is poured, the infused leaf stays inside the infusion chamber, and since there is no metal infuser to deal with, all that’s required is an effortless flick of the wrist into the compost bin to get all the spent leaves out and ready for the next tea.
These sets are intended to standardize the way tea is made, so that there is a uniform basis when comparing teas. While cupping standards vary slightly, the most common is to use 2.5 grams of tea with 5 ounces of boiling water, and to steep for 5 minutes. This leads to a very strong infusion, particularly for green teas, an intentional way to extract all the qualities of the leaf while highlighting any impurities that may be present.
While a professional tester will have a multitude of cupping sets, we’ve found that they also make for great single serving sets for brewing just one tea at a time. The small steeping mug is perfect for hugging the tea leaf while still allowing it to fully open. It’s also deeply satisfying to pour the tea out and into the cup, a minimalist experience. And since a cupping set is pain-free to clean, it’s a portable, convenient setup for any situation.
It’s typical to cup several teas at a time, as tasting them side-by-side provides for maximum insight into subtle differences. So if you really want to experience a true cupping session, we’d suggest getting two or three cupping sets and making several teas in the exact same way. Alternatively, you can make a single tea three ways to see how each variable in tea’s preparation impacts the final cup. We’d suggest starting by steeping the same tea for 3, 4, and 5 minutes in three different cups to experience the difference.