“I have never before seen so much tea talent assembled in one room,” said one of the Global Tea Initiative Colloquium participants to UC Davis Prof. Katharine Burnett, organizer of the Global Tea Initiative at the university world famous for its department of viticulture and enology. With the Second Annual Colloquium, Burnett and Assistant Dean Charlene Mattison are laying the groundwork for what will eventually become an interdisciplinary degree program at the school. Tea professionals from New York, Philadelphia, Denver, Dallas, Minnesota, and the entire West Coast were in attendance for the day-long event.
Burnett said UC Davis launched the initiative to promote research in new areas and “advance new bodies of knowledge more quickly on the multiple facets of human well-being touched by tea.
“Physicians will share their research on tea’s benefits for health; scholars will study the cultural significance of teaware, and related arts from around the world will be exhibited and explained; and the agricultural prowess of UC Davis will be used to improve many traits in tea cultivars,” said Burnett.
The day began with a comparative tea tasting led by Wing-chi Ip, proprietor of Hong Kong’s iconic Lock-Cha Tea House and of the Tea Museum at Flagstaff House atop HK’s tallest peak. Among other achievements, Ip is credited with igniting interest in Yixing Purple Clay teapots. He led attendees through various green and wulong teas like a priest reciting a creed, with illuminating casual observations and asides. One tea industry veteran of 52 years commented on the fresh realization he’d just received, and he was one of many. The two-hour tasting left many still thirsty for more, and everyone felt truly enlightened by the presence of a genuine tea master.
The afternoon session began with the renowned sinologist Victor Mair presenting his argument that tea has no 5,000-year history, and was hardly known in most of China until after Lu Yu’s day, circa 800 CE. Even the unconvinced were thrilled by Prof. Mair’s slides of the many tea-related discoveries. The same can be said of Prof. Selena Ahmed’s photo-documented presentation on climate change and tea in the very cradle of C. sinensis, Yunnan, home to more than 50 ethnic groups that embrace sustainable styles of tea harvesting and production.
A short break for tea supplied by Q-Trade Teas & Herbs, one of the GTI’s corporate partners, was followed by further brilliant addresses. Dr. Kai-Hsien Chen thoroughly revised what almost everyone thought he knew about Taiwan’s history and its wulongs. Dr. Mythric Jagathesan, a Santa Clara University anthropologist, took attendees via recordings and photos into the lives and homes of Sri Lanka’s Tamil tea workers. Each speaker was bombarded with questions during the evening reception.
Peter Goggi, president of the Tea Association of the U.S.A., spoke for all when he expressed excitement over the prospect of tea businesses worldwide benefitting from the academic research the UC Davis faculty intends to focus on tea in all its aspects.
James Norwood Pratt is an authority on tea and tea lore, an educator, author, and frequent commentator on the global tea industry.