tea tastingOne of the best times for those of us in the tea world is when shipments of the new season’s test samples arrive. Opening the packages (and inhaling the fresh aroma) is like opening a birthday present. The first sips of the flavorful leaves are as exciting as New Year’s Eve. I get to experience these pleasures as a tea importer and wholesaler but, to some degree, everyone in the life-line of tea, from farmer to the end consumer, is thrilled by the same thing – New Tea!

Few get to sample a broad selection of these newly made treasures. However, with the much-anticipated launch of the International Tea Cuppers Club, this special experience is now available to anyone, anywhere! An online tea community, comprised of tea people from all levels and from all around the world, can gain access to the pride of several tea gardens or estates, often before the teas even reach the export markets. Innovative “Cupping Events” focus on specific growing areas and specific teas, such as the famous Dragon Well (a.k.a. Long Jing, Lung Ching) green tea from China. Members are tea producers, distributors, dealers, tea room owners, students, educators, organizations, tea professionals, and tea lovers of all kinds from across the globe.

ITCCThe inaugural Cupping Event focuses on Darjeeling First Flush teas from 10 different estates. Besides the 10 two-ounce packages of tea, cuppers (the first 16 members to register for a Cupping Event) receive a complete cupping kit, including a professional tea cupping set, a scale, cupping logs, a thermometer, water pH test strips, a tea-tasting terminology chart, and extremely detailed information on the teas and infusion procedures. Both experienced and novice cuppers alike offer their comments, resulting in a subjective yet unbiased perspective.

A two-way benefit – after the cuppers have evaluated the samples and submitted their comments – of the Club is that the information is shared with the entire membership and given to the gardens or producers so that they may improve or modify their methods, thus contributing directly to the evolution of the tea industry. The top-three-ranking teas are made available (while supplies last) on the ITCC website.

tea tastingOne of the best resources of the ITCC is the Community Board, where members can freely communicate with one another via a variety of blogs, posting information, questions, comments, member events, charitable activities, industry news, and the like. Imagine a tea lover being able to converse with the tea maker directly! Members are encouraged to announce events they are hosting or in which they are participating.

Teas to be included in future Cupping Events include Pre-Qing Ming (top grade) Dragon Well, Pre Qing Ming Bi Luo Chun (aka Pi Lo Chun, Green Snail Spring), Assam Second Flush, Pu Er, Shin (new) Cha, Sen Cha and Mat Cha from Japan, teas from South Korea and Taiwan, and Wuyi Mt. and Tie Guan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy) oolongs from China.

I’m sure that the ITCC will serve to promote a greater understanding and appreciation of our favorite leaf. And with the exchange of more and better information, the world may be on the verge of a whole new way to tea!