Last month my company represented independent tea growers in the North American Tea Conference Gold Cup Competition in Niagara Falls, Canada. With great excitement and honor, I accepted 1st place awards for the Kurihara family of Yame, Kyushu, Japan for their Gyokuro, winning best of Japan; and Bob Jacobson of Kurtistown, Hawaii for his Hawaii Spring White winning best of United States.  Both these teas are beautiful; and are some of the best-selling in our wholesale program;  and, my personal favorites. This is validation that small tea producers on Tealet’s network can and do produce some of the best tea in their region. Although there are no international quality standards for why these teas are the best, there are a few overarching quality characteristics that are associated with teas produced by small farmers.

elyse best tea

Throughout my travels to tea regions around the world and my limited experience (about 5 years) with tea quality evaluation I have seen that the responsibility for tea quality is on the producer to select the correct cultivar, agricultural techniques, and processing techniques. There are thousands of combinations that a producer must navigate to find the perfectly crafted tea for their farm. For a small farmer, managing less than 10 hectares of land, this process is a large task, but the farmer has more flexibility with experimenting with small batches. Large plantations that are catering to the commodity market do not have this opportunity, or the incentive to do so because the commodity buyer does not reward them with a higher price if the quality is significantly better. Bob Jacobson and the Kurihara family are focused on producing a tea that accentuates its terroir, the geography, geology, and climate of the land where the tea is grown.

Quality of teas from China, Taiwan, and Japan is quite established and the small tea farmer/producer model is the mainstay while each producer is rewarded for high quality with higher prices. In places like Sri Lanka and India, small producers are not common as the industry was built upon the plantation system. Over time, some plantations found it difficult to survive in the commodity market and had to shut down, awakening a movement of small farmers. I have consulted with many of these growers who are interested in telling their story and selling their teas on the Tealet platform. A consistent theme I speak upon is the importance of intention. Some of the finest quality teas are ones produced by farmers who regularly interact with each leaf of their tea trees and watch every minute detail during processing. Their intention is 100% pure at all points of production. With this comes pride and awareness of how your tea is reacting to its terroir. Look at the intention that Bob Jacobson puts into his tea.

There are no internationally recognized quality standards for tea; what I have said in this post is based on observations I have made throughout the years. I look forward to the tea world embracing some kind of quality standard, similar to what has happened with specialty coffee. Until that standard is reality, I will do all I can to empower small tea growers to continue to learn and experiment so they can pave a path for these quality standards as they transcend to produce high quality teas from all origins of the world.

 Loading and Image 1 provided by Elyse Petersen.