The Tea Masters Cup’s United States competition took place at the World Tea Expo June 11 and 12. Tea aficionados competed in two categories: tea brewing and tea mixology. Tony Gebely, Executive Director of American Specialty Tea Alliance and Founder of Tea Epicure, was the master of ceremonies and Denis Shumakov, the Tea Masters Cup regulation judge, oversaw the event.
The Tea Brewing competition took place on the first day and had seven competitors: Adrienne Etkin Nascimento, Michael Ortiz, Alexander Ahearn, Adam Sachs, Mervyn Clarke, Rie Tulali, and Walter Weller. The brewing competition involved the preparation of tea that was not a blend. Competitors chose their favorite teas and brewed them in their chosen methods for the judges. Then, the judges supplied the competitors with five different teas, from which they chose one and prepared it with the judges’ teaware.
The judges for the Tea Brewing Competition were: Sharyn Johnston (Head TMC Judge / Australian Tea Masters), Suzette Hammond (Being Tea / ASTA), Stephen Thomas (Rishi Tea), Mo Sardella (G.S. Haly), and Nicole Wilson (Tea for Me Please).
Winner Michael Ortiz, who owns JoJo Tea in Miami, Florida, chose to brew one of his own top shelf oolongs, a high mountain Taiwanese oolong, which was harvested this spring. Ortiz brewed the Jade Mountain Oolong in a gong fu style.
He then chose Ruby 18 to pair with it and brewed it in a glass pot “somewhat clumsily, and kind of grandpa style” Ortiz said. He put a handful of the tea in the pot, poured in water and let it steep until the liquor was “nice and dark looking” and strained it. He then explained to the judges why Ruby 18 is such an interesting cultivar. “Instead of being baked to finish the oxidation, the tea is dehydrated at a much lower temperature, so you don’t get the same carmelization of the sugar, you don’t get the same thick mouthfeel. It’s a like a black tea profile with a peppermint mouthfeel.” He thought its flavor profile would be a good successor to the oolong tea.
Ortiz, who was formerly a yoga teacher, learned how to brew tea while volunteering at a Buddhist temple for three years.” He was trying to learn and teach meditation and a teacher said to him, “If you want to learn to teach meditation, just start making tea.” She taught Ortiz to brew tea by counting his breaths and he has been brewing tea this way in the ten years since.
He believes tea is a moment of peace, awakening and connection. “As long as every time that I do it, I just try to reaffirm that intention, I find that we can stay true to the parameters of each particular context of that tea service in the best way,” said Ortiz. “So I had no preparation,” he added with a chuckle. “It was very spontaneous.”
Rie Tulali placed second and Adrienne Etkin Nascimento placed third.
The Mixology Competition took place on the second day and six people participated: Walter Weller, Rie Tulali, Adam Sachs, Michael Ortiz, Adrienne Etkin Nascimento and Christine Steiner. Each competitor prepared two tea concoctions, many of which included fruit and alcohol.
The Tea Mixology Judges were: Sharyn Johnston, Stephen Thomas, Mo Sardella, and Nicole Wilson.
Adrienne Etkin Nascimento, co-founder and CEO of Miami, Florida-based Admari Tea, won first place after incorporating blueberries, strawberries, cilantro, sugar, gyukuro and more into her tea beverages.
“This has been the most amazing experience of my life,” said Etkin Nascimento. “I get to hang out with other tea geeks like me and play with tea ingredients and explore and expand. I feel super honored and blessed that I’m here with the best talent in the country. I’m really happy; this has been an amazing experience,” added Etkin Nascimento, who spent a month and a-half preparing for the competition. She said being with the other competitors was like being with best friends whom she’d never met before, and described the Tea Masters Cup as a cultural exchange that represents “the evolution of American tea culture.”
Christine Steiner placed second and Michael Ortiz placed third.
The first place winners in each category are eligible to compete in the international competition in November with competitors from 22 other countries.