Falling short of expectations

I recently attended the Global Tea Initiative’s 5th Annual Tea Colloquium at the University of California (UC) at Davis. This year’s theme was The Great Debate: Discussions on Tea and Wine. It was co-organized with UC Davis’s Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science. It was my second time attending the colloquium, which differs greatly from the typical tea events I attend annually as it is much more academic in nature (not surprising given where it’s held). The speakers are scholars, professors, scientists, and researchers from universities around the world.

I found last year’s Tea Colloquium highly educational as it offered interesting perspectives on current tea research, tea culture and the overall tea industry. During the welcome remarks this year, “Tea is the new wine” was touted and I immediately felt this would be an entertaining and innovative event. I was looking forward to this year’s event given the subject matter and thought there would be intriguing comparisons between tea and wine, as well as lively discussions. I was particularly eager to participate in the tea and wine tasting/sensory analysis. I do not typically use this space to critique events, but I was disappointed by this year’s colloquium. For example, while there were exhibitors/sponsors such as Bitaco, Finlays, Harney & Sons, ITI, ITO EN, Mighty Leaf, Q Trade, Rishi and Sugimoto, which offered tea samples at their tables, there was no official tea and wine pairing or sensory analysis. Apparently, that session was offered to a select few only at the conclusion of the event.

While the speakers were all experts in their fields, who offered high quality presentations, many were confusing — that is, most presentations were entirely too scientific yet it was a “lay” audience for the most part (tea industry people were present but there were very few with science backgrounds, food or otherwise). Several reminded me of the biennial ASIC (Association for Science and Information on Coffee) Conference presentations, the difference being that its audience members are actual scientists and researchers. (None of the UC Davis students attending with whom I spoke were studying tea agronomy or planning to be tea growers.)

The colloquium was broken into segments such as Aesthetics and Collecting; Site, Terroir and Appelations; Sensory Aspects: Aroma; Sensory Aspects: Flavor; and Growing a Market. Within each segment there was a wine expert and a tea expert who presented separately. Except for one panel discussion (New Products and Trends — a good session) on the final day, there were no panel discussions or open conversations within the segments, just Q&As following each presentation.

Several attendees expressed disappointment as they were hoping for more overlap or comparison between wine and tea. “While the presentations were interesting, there was very little usable takeaway,” said one attendee, adding that the wine presentations were really geared towards winemakers. A lengthy presentation on Wine in China (70 years in the wine industry) confounded many attendees — I’m still not sure who was the target audience for it was.

There were some highlights including a fascinating presentation on Tea in North America from a historical perspective (I will elaborate on this in a later blog), and for wine lovers, Jim Gordon, editor at large, Wine Business Monthly and contributing editor, Wine Enthusiast, offered advice on wine collecting and storing wine. Another interesting presentation was Fitrio Ashardiono’s, from the Asia-Japan Research Institute, Ritsumeikan University and visiting scholar at UC Davis, who discussed tea growing specifically in Uji City, Kyoto Prefecture and the effects of climate change on tea cultivation.

The one presentation that truly compared tea to wine and had applicable information was, “Relationships Between the Aroma Chemistry of Tea and Wine,” by Susan E Ebeler, PhD, Dept of Viticulture & Enology, UC Davis. She explained the differences between aroma and flavour, the complexities of each, and how tea and wine aromas are similar.

The 6th Annual Tea Colloquium is scheduled for 28-29 January 2021 at UC Davis. The theme is, The Stories We Tell: Legends, Myths and Anecdotes About Tea.

The Tea Colloquium has the potential to be a strong industry event – different from that of the North American Tea Conference, World Tea Expo, FAO IGG Tea events, and the multitudes of tea festivals that take place around the world annually – yet worthwhile, but organizers must decide what it wants the colloquium to be and who its audience is.

  • Vanessa L. Facenda, editor Tea & Coffee Trade Journal. She may be contacted via [email protected]

Image courtesy of Pixaby.

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