Tea is quickly becoming the hip connoisseur product, following a path that is very similar to that blazed in the wine and coffee industries decades ago. With a growing demand for high-quality teas, it is difficult to understand, as a buyer, how to determine which teas possess desirable qualities and, as a seller, how each tea will perform in the market. As Tealet has evolved into a wholesale auction for growers to submit their most prized lots for sale direct to retailers and other larger buyers, we have begun researching the success of high-end wine and coffee. Although wine connoisseurs may prefer to make their own judgment on the quality of wine, they can trust the credibility of standardized scoring systems, such as the 50-100 point quality scale developed by Robert Parker. In the coffee industry, the most reputable scoring and auction system is the Cup of Excellence, which uses the cupping standards proposed by the Specialty Coffee Association of America. Through a local and international judging process that uses these standards, the organization is able to bring the highest quality coffee beans to the market at a fair price.
Unfortunately for the tea world, there are no internationally recognized standards. Grading systems have been used for ages for grading the leaf quality of tea from various growing regions, but these don’t take into account flavor, aroma, and processing skill. Tea importers must to do their own vetting on the quality of tea, most utilizing the cupping procedures established by ISO-3103. They must cup hundreds of teas and evaluations are documented offline and are highly qualitative. As more transparency and technology characterize the distribution of tea, it becomes more possible for everyone from tea lovers to high-end tea retailers to get access to high-quality tea. How can buyers identify a good-quality tea and what should its market price be?
On Tealet’s new wholesale platform, growers can submit their most prized tea lots (average 20 pounds) so that potential buyers and enthusiasts can order samples and participate in the evaluation or “cupping” of each tea that goes up for auction. We collaborated with Tony Gebely of The World of Tea to develop the standards, procedures, and tasting notes that would be adopted for the evaluation. With the help of Jason Walker and our celebrity tea friend, Kevin Rose, Tealet is building a technology interface that can make these evaluations more quantitative, similar to the ones used in international competitions in the wine and coffee industries. Through an online evaluation form, tasters can submit the conditions of the evaluation (trial by fire or standard preparation) and tasting notes. Submissions are aggregated to give a more concise evaluation of the teas. Buyers can now make more conscious decisions.
Tealet is very much in startup-hustle phase, so we appreciate all the feedback we can get. Tony’s standards and our platform are living documents that rely on the input of everyone. Take a look at our current evaluation form and let us know what you think by emailing us at [email protected] You can order samples, do real evaluations, and place bids at wholesale.tealet.com.