The Informal Tea Ceremony

The ceremonies for tea around the globe are vast. They range from the highly choreographed GongFu ceremony from China, to the serene simplicity of Chanoyu from Japan. Throughout my travels, encounters and many tea sessions, I've learned that for as beautiful as these ceremonies are, tea can be presented in a most casual manner among great company, and it takes on a ceremonial quality of its own.

One of the most important lessons I learned while backpacking in Taiwan was that it is not the quality of the tea, the verbal communication, or the physical setting that gives tea its unique way for cultures to connect.

What I learned was that it is the generosity, the warmth and the genuine attitudes that tea seems to elevate in people that makes it special. Some of the most treasured moments I had in Taiwan were over tea, but not the best quality tea, not in the most beautiful setting, and sometimes we didn't even understand the conversation.

The video below is a perfect representation of the raw and sometimes rugged beauty of tea that draws people together from all the corners of the globe and makes human connection a little easier.

From Bangladesh With Love

Bangladesh is one of those countries that people hear about, but don't quite know too much about. The most famous icon associated with the country is the Bengal Tiger, which resides in the world's largest mangrove forest within the country. But other than that, what is there to know?

The country is nestled between the Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal, nearly surrounded by India.

The country is nestled between the Himalayas and the Bay of Bengal, nearly surrounded by India.

If you really want to get to know more about Bangladesh: Wiki. Or better yet, find a good backpacker's travel blog about the place. This blog post has a specific purpose.

Sylhet is the region on the northeast side of the country that is most associated with tea production. The area of Panchagarh on the northern tip of Bangladesh has seen promising tea development in the last decade though, because the climate is favorable for tea growth, especially for orthodox tea production. On the map above, the Panchagarh region is right below Sikkim, near the border of Nepal.

I was lucky enough to acquire some samples of tea grown and processed in the Panchagarh region. I have black, green, white & oolong tea, and my goal was to see what similarities I could find in each of the teas to trace them back to this specific terroir.

The only proper way to discover these teas was through a comparative cupping.

Left to right: oolong, white, green, black.

Left to right: oolong, white, green, black.

All the teas came packaged in pyramid bags, so I emptied the content of each into a cupping set (approx. 6oz capacity), used water just under the boil, and steeped for 4 minutes. I tasted lightest to darkest first, and then randomized my tasting order.

Overall, what I noticed is that these teas do not taste mature. The teas don't seem like they have reached their full potential of showcasing the unique flavors of their terroir. They were not bad! Don't confuse my statement with low-quality or lack of good taste. The teas were, more or less, very drinkable and in some cases very enjoyable. The dominant trait I found characteristic in each of the teas' flavor was a sharp, herbal intensity, usually most prominent in the middle flavors (after the liquid enters the mouth but before it goes down the hatch). The green and oolong tea displayed this quality much more than the black or white tea, but each tea had its own way of showing it.

Left: oolong. Right: white.

Left: oolong. Right: white.

Left: green. Right: black.

Left: green. Right: black.

Each tea also shared some characteristics of flavor with one or more of its counterparts.

The green and black tea seemed to both have a slight sourness and some of that herbal sharpness I described before.

Green and oolong shared an overcooked vegetable flavor and were both quite brisk on the tongue.

Oolong and white both had a soft malic acid flavor resembling apples, but the oolong was a bit sharper.

Black and white had a wonderful honey sweetness and were both balanced and round in their flavor profiles. Out of all the teas, the black and white seemed to be processed the best, or at least the way they were processed really brought out some of the superb flavors that Bangladesh has to offer!

Left: green. Right: black.

Left: green. Right: black.

Left: oolong. Right: white.

Left: oolong. Right: white.

Bangladesh will have to go through a maturity stage before they start producing globally competitive orthodox teas, but the raw ingredients are surely present! The southern Himalayan region is known to produce exceptional teas. Nepal went through a similar maturity phase and the orthodox teas being produced there currently are of excellent quality and really compete on the global market. Bangladesh will have a similar breakthrough as long as they receive some investment dollars for their tea industry and a few large importers willing to take a chance on their orthodox tea products.

Can Tea Replace Soda?

Its no surprise that consumers are looking for alternatives for the sweetly saturated sodas of the past, but what is going to replace that in their every day lives?

For most of the world's beverage consuming humans, tea has been the top pick and most preferred drink. But why has the US craved soda over most other liquid pleasures? Fortunately for the tea companies and tea advocates in the states, that trend is declining, according to Beverage Daily. It is up to the tea industry as a whole to market tea as the new beverage of choice. There are some factors mentioned in the report that will make this task quite simple.

1. Consumers leaning towards healthy options

Tea obviously fits into this category and the health benefits have been leveraged in marketing in the recent past. If this trend continues, tea will be able to rise to true beverage stardom!

2. Consumers will start to crave less sweet beverages 

Tea has no sugar unless added, but can have inherently sweet flavor characteristics that are gained through certain processing techniques. Drinking a grassy green tea is much different than drinking a roasted TieGuanYin oolong, where the dominant flavors are brown, sweet, caramelized notes that people associate more with sweet flavors. Tea companies should take advantage of this by streamlining their offerings to focus on teas in this category. Strongly flavored teas would also be a part of this, as fruit flavoring often gives teas a natural sweetness as well. While its true that consumers want less sweet drinks, it is not true that they are willing to move to naturally bitter products right away.

3. Consumers want to see transparency in the products they purchase

Tea is a product well suited for being totally transparent. It is an agricultural product and it would be simple for a company to label its origins. Consumers want to know where their money is going and what flavors they can identify with countries. The more one knows, the more one buys.