Verdant Tea

Focus on Fragrance

Focus on Fragrance

Focus on Fragrance

Deepening Appreciation with Aroma Cups

June 10, 2016

What is an aroma cup, and how do you use it?

Aroma cups – also known as fragrance cups, or wen xiang bei – are simply designed to capture a tea’s aroma to make it easier to appreciate your brew’s fragrance.  Their unique shape makes them ideal for appreciating especially aromatic teas, which makes them popular to use with Anxi Tieguanyin and rolled oolong teas and Taiwanese rolled oolong.

Paired aroma cups are easy to use, whether you’re adding a little flair to your tea ceremony or just looking for a more disciplined way to evaluate tea.

 

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How to Use Aroma Cups

Brew your tea. Tieguanyin and other Anxi oolong teas work especially well, but these cups will help to bring out the fragrance of any of your favorite teas. If you are looking to evaluate tea, be sure to use a porcelain gaiwan or tempered glass. If you’re brewing up a long time favorite, feel free to brew in a seasoned yixing clay tea pot.

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Pour your tea into the tall aroma cup. Take the paired sipping cup, and place it upside-down on top of the aroma cup.

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This next step can be a little tricky to master, but is always fun to share with friends: flipping the aroma cup!  Carefully pick up the aroma cup and sipping cup. Grip both together firmly, and then flip the whole thing over in one smooth, fluid motion.

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Flip Tip: Some people like to do this simply with one hand. Others (or those with smaller hands) prefer to use both hands to flip.  If you’re not feeling confident, try practicing first with room temperature water until you feel comfortable. While the whole thing can look very fun and impressive, the motion is actually more simple than it appears! With well-designed cups like our hand made pieces from Xiang Fu, the pieces fit together well enough to make a nice seal, without fear of spills.

You can also always feel free to simply pour your tea from the tall aroma cup into your sipping cup. The ultimate effect is the same!

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Finally, lift the aroma cup up to allow the tea to pour into the sipping cup.  With the tea poured out, the fragrance of your brew lingers and stays behind in the aroma cup. The tall shape helps capture and lock in that fragrance, allowing you to enjoy the aroma fully.

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Taste and aroma are deeply linked.

Although the tongue plays a major role in taste – its surface is covered with chemical receptors that it uses to detect sour, salty, sweet and bitter along with sensory receptors (providing feedback on heat and pain, texture and tenderness, shape and consistancy) – much of the complexity we perceive in everything we taste comes from our noses. Aroma gives depth to flavor, and the stunning variety produced by the combination of feedback from both the tongue and the nose give rise to all of the delicious complexity we enjoy in everything we taste.

This is especially true for tea. Just as an impaired sense of smell can lead to a dull tasting experience, an enhanced aromatic experience can reveal more of the beauty in what you’re sipping.

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Aroma cups work to deepen a tasting experience by breaking aroma away from taste. Enjoying the fragrance in your aroma cup before you sip works on multiple levels. The link between temperature, taste, texture and aroma – while richly engaging – can also be distracting if you’re looking to focus on a single element, or searching to identify that tantalizingly familiar aroma or taste on the tip of your tongue. Enjoying the aroma before sipping your cup of tea helps you to focus on each unique element.

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Much of a tasting experience is dependent upon expectations and your general state of mind. Smelling before you sip is an easy way to create anticipation and build excitement into a tasting. Were you reminded of a bouquet of lilacs when you sniffed from the aroma cup? This floral impression creates certain expectations as you sip, and can often make it easier to pick out that flavor when you taste the tea itself. A floral lover will look forward to the first sip even more, and that positive point of view can’t help coloring the entire experience.

On the other hand, smelling before you sip can help create interesting contrast. Just as something may taste more or less sweet depending on your most recent experiences, the aromas in the fragrance cup can actually make it easier to taste and pick out contrasting flavours as you sip. Want to see this in action in an extreme way? Try brewing a cup of your favorite tea. After you take your first sips, take a bite of a strawberry or a tart cherry tomato. The bright acids in these fruits temporarily overwhelm your palate, and the next sip of tea will taste very different from the first!

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Like everything in gongfu ceremony, aroma cups serve multiple functions all at once, from the aesthetic and symbolic to mundane matters of practicality and safety. It may sound silly, but you’d be surprised at the number of people who singe their nose while leaning in to get a better whiff of their cup of tea! In fact, there’s a story I’ve heard many times that aroma cups were invented long ago by a courtier who constantly embarrassed himself by burning his nose on his tea. Though clearly a fun fable – most agree that the wenxiang bei appeared only recently in the last few decades, rising to popularity first in Taiwan in the 1980’s – it’s message is easy to understand.

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In a more intangible way, aroma cups add much to a tea ceremony, if only because their presence forces a tea taster to pause and take more time to engage with their brew on a deeper level. Sure, the more kung fu aspects of gongfu tea ceremony can make for a fun display of showmanship – like a party trick that never gets old – but the true beauty of the aroma cups is their open invitation to explore tea with all of your senses.

This in turn brings awareness to the ceremony, a step towards being present in the moment and appreciating the beauty before us.

 
 
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