On 21 and 22 March I was thrilled to find myself in Cardiff taking part in the inaugural UK Tea Brewers Cup. The competition ran alongside the established UK Coffee Brewers Cup and is designed to bring more prominence to speciality tea.
On Saturday 21 March, 12 contestants from all over the UK and even Dublin and Amsterdam (making the first competition international!) gathered for the heats which took the format of a blind brewing round. For this, contestants are given 30 minutes to brew 3 different teas that are given to them at the start of their set in sealed bags. Contestants open the bags, look at and smell the leaves to decide which of thousands of teas they have been given, and decide how to brew them in terms of dry leaf dose, water temperature, amount of water and infusion time. These brews are then sent to the judges in another room who judge all the brews blind. Criteria are appearance, temperature, aroma, flavour and harmony.
From this round, the 6 contestants who made the best brews of the mystery teas gathered again on Sunday 22 March for the finals, which took the form of a 15 minute presentation on a theme of your choice, including brewing 2 teas of your choice that link with your theme. This happens in front of two judges and a live audience, and as the tea and coffee competitions were amalgamated for finals day, there was quite a crowd!
I took as my theme a visit I had made years ago to a teahouse in the tea growing province of Fujian in China whilst on a trip to study with Kung Fu masters. My presentation centred on themes of ceremony and discovery, and bringing these aspects to our customers at Bean & Bud in the way we choose and present our teas. To illustrate my points I brewed two Fujian oolong teas, Ti Guan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy) and Rou Gui (also known as Cassia, which means cinnamon, due to the aroma of the leaves). I explained to the judges how I was brewing the teas and what aroma and flavour notes they could expect to experience.
Announcement time of the winners was nail-biting and I couldn’t have been happier when I was announced as the third place winner, as the general standard was so high, and all the presentations were fantastic. The first and second place winners were also very experienced in competition on the coffee side, so I felt really pleased to be on the podium!
Overall it was a great experience to meet like-minded people from the world of tea, and to find out that there are so many people around the country in great shops who are trying to expand the tea drinking experience of customers. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.