Iâ€™ve just returned from a trip to Hong Kong and Guangzhou, China, where I traveled with a Sri Lankan friend, a tea grower, and a very astute Chinese tea professional. We were there looking at the present market for non-Chinese teas in China. It was interesting, educational and a lot of fun. It also helped me to realize what a different perspective I, as a person from a nation that does not produce tea, had from my friends, both natives of tea producing countries.
My home, the USA (not a tea producing nation), a nation which is presently a major consumer of specialty teas, has become a landing point for fine teas from almost every tea producing nation. This is a stroke of luck for all of us here in the USA. Here, I sometimes take for granted our fine selection of quality tea leaves from almost every tea producing country in the world. We have no import taxes or duties on teas so they flow easily into the USA and nearly every sort of tea is available to us. What a privilege this is!
Not only are we blessed with teas from all over the world but we also benefit from the marketing campaigns and abundant inflow of tea-information that accompanies these teas. We have many readily available knowledge platforms at our fingertips.*
We have the privilege to be exposed to all of the tea types, the countries of origin, the good and the bad from many gardens and estates in all of the major tea producing countries. We actually get to taste each of the different cultures that exists in every cup of tea at the moments of our choice. Wow, could it get any better for a tea drinker?
My travel friends (both from major tea producing countries) had a much different realization during our trip. They both had a very different focus and much more in depth knowledge of the teas from their particular countries than I might ever hope to have. The information about Chinese teas never ceased rolling in and the Sri Lanka tea info was as readily available. I felt like a tea info-sponge.
It was interesting to note however, that my Chinese and Sri Lankan friends, both accomplished professionals and tea tasters, both experts on the teas from their own regions, were not familiar with the teas of each others nations. Tariffs and taxes their respective countries impose on imported teas had kept them from becoming familiar with teas grown outside of their own countries. I felt privileged to be asked by each to explain this or that about steeping and production methods in Sri Lanka or in China. It gave me a good perspective on my own tea knowledge, a look at how broad based it is and yet so shallow in some areas. I realized how lucky I am to live in a non-producing country where I have ready access to teas from all over the world . . . and how unfortunate that I may never truly understand the real tea culture that permeates life in many of those countries of origin. It reminded me of the fact that tea truly offers the opportunity to taste a â€œculture in a cupâ€.**
* STI Seminars , the vast amount of information on the internet, excellent tea schools, teahouses staffed with knowledge-laden personnel, an ever growing number of fine books on teas and much of the premium tea packaging all help to ease the pain and quicken the pace of learning about teas.
** a quote from Donna Fellman, Chairman, STI Certification Committee.