With over 360 attendees spanning 29 countries throughout the world, I, along with many friends within the community, witnessed four leaders within the industry give their take on the current state of affairs. In wonderful expression, the panel was hosted by Khrys Vaughan of In Her Company, featured Rui Liu of GrassPeopleTree, Elyse Petersen of Tealet, Linda Louie of Bana Tea Company, and American writer and novelist Lisa See. My hope with this brief reflection is to present some of the ideas from each participant that stood out to me and invite you to explore these topics personally through discussion and choices within the community. I eagerly await the potential for part 2 of this discussion!
The trend has altered as many drinkers turn to specialty tea. The story behind it, the terroir, what it does for us, and the environment is being widely explored and asked for by consumers.
Regarding the health benefits of tea: Tea has over 500 compounds but is distributed unevenly based on growing conditions and care to the cultivation of the tree. High elevation vs low elevation. Tea plants from seeds and in biodiverse settings induce resilience and a wide spectrum of benefits, compared to plants from cuttings; which are more pampered and need human intervention to sustainably survive.
With her focus on the Akha and indigenous peoples within her book, The Tea Girl of Hummingbird Lane, it is evident that tea’s cultural importance is deep and rooted within each group’s traditions. Lisa presented similarities to the coffee industry and the comparison of specialty coffee to commercial chains.
It is when we begin looking for more answers that we find solutions through specialty tea. Furthermore, tea is unique in that, every leaf has been touched by human hands, and it is that aspect that begs us to implore further with questions and inquiries.
Having a deeper understanding of tea means that we must unlearn the standards in tea, including classifications, standards the industry has held, and even what constitutes a tea. Rui invited a focused perspective of hou cha, the tea that is alive, the living tea. It is an ancient way of understanding tea and recognizes that humans and tea are nature. From and attunement to nature that leads the people of Guizhou to discover tea trees in the forest, to plucking tea as we recognize a human; the bud as the head, the first two leaves as the arms, and the third and fourth as the legs, and the stem as the body. In its entirety, it holds liveliness and energy to its fullest.
The transformation of the leaf can take anywhere between 5-60 days of solar withering, and it is only after then that the leaf’s nature is established and can continue being crafted into the tea it is meant to be.
Rui’s call to listen and dive deep asks us to question how well we know our teas in the cupboard and that the best compass of a tea’s quality and comfortability is from within. Good tea is one that works best with you, your nature.
Specialty tea is positive economically and socially for the people producing tea, yet there is a long way to go in converting commercial plantation and the slave system into something that properly benefits humans and their rights. In the market, we see a plethora of co-opted, feel-good terms, and we have to ask ourselves – does this benefit tea quality and the lives of those behind the tea?
Elyse has spent hundreds upon hundreds of hours at sources, pooling stories, lessons, and has gained deep insight into the perspectives and lives in tea growing regions. While tea is ancient and trees have descended through the ages, the business opportunities are new to the times. Echoing Rui, until you listen to your tea you miss the spirit and nature of the leaf. Cultural identity is key in preserving and allowing the tea to thoughtfully continue in the years to come.
TEA FOR THOUGHT
– Who are the people that write the label of our teas and who are they to dictate anticipated feelings or experiences?
– Tea has been historically used as a medicine, physically and mentally. It also provides a social adhesive, bringing people together. What else can tea provide other than just a beverage to enjoy?
– Capitalism and colonialism pervade the industry on many levels. How do we begin to challenge these tiers of ignorance?
I hope this provides a snapshot into the depth and intrigue this panel discussion encouraged and would love to hear your input! I big thank you to Khrys of In Her Company and all panelists for their powerful words!