Here’s a small tasting (or “cupping,” in tea biz lingo), in which different lots from a single estate are evaluated side by side—in this case some early April Darjeeling First Flush batches from Makaibari. When you cup teas, each one is brewed with the same parameters for leaf weight, water volume and temperature, and infusion time. The idea is to standardize the extraction, so each cup showcases a tea’s full range of flavor and, just as importantly, any flaws.
This cupping was six teas, selected for us by Sanjay, Makaibari’s manager. Two of them, labeled as 2 and 5, are grown from seed of the original C. sinensis sinensis plants brought over from China. The other batches are called clonal, replanted from cuttings of specific cultivars, and are genetically identical. At this cupping we were most drawn to teas 2 and 5 for their dense, potent flavor and complexity, as well as pleasant balance. Teas from China bushes aren’t always better than clonal—sometimes it’s the opposite—but these cuppings are an essential way to find out.
We’ll cup at each estate we visit here in Darjeeling, selecting our favorites along the way. When sourcing at origin, as we do, these multiple tasting experiences help give invaluable perspective on a tea’s overall quality for the season.