The world’s best cup of tea — if there was ever a phrase to make tea lovers leap from their chairs and take notice, this has got to be the one. It’s also mighty high praise for a mere cup of tea, and one might wonder who’s to decide when it comes to awarding such a distinction.
It all took place in Las Vegas last month at the World Tea Expo, an event which — unless there’s one I’m overlooking — has become the tea industry event of the year. The winner of the Top Tea Infusionist Competition at this year’s event, as reported all the way across the pond, in London’s Independent, was one Steven Downer. He hails from Sipping Streams Tea Company, located in the chilly environs of Fairbanks, Alaska.
As noted at the Sipping Streams site, “contestants had 15 minutes to prepare, steep and present 4 difficult teas to 4 international judges. They were judged on quality of steeped tea, technical skill, and tea knowledge. Contenders were able to bring what ever they wanted to prepare and present their teas, but only had a 4 foot space to do so.”
The teas featured, according to World Tea Expo, were Darjeeling, matcha (a powdered Japanese green tea), oolong, and puerh. Qualities that contestants were rated on included “quality of infusion, such as color, taste, smell and leaf agony; technical skills, such as timing, volume and overall presentation; and tea knowledge.”
Whether or not Downer created “the best cuppa in the world,” as the Independent put it, is a matter for debate. As noted in a pair of articles that I wrote here in recent weeks, “perfect” tea is no easy feat, but you might succeed in getting close, assuming you start with good tea and keep control over a number of important variables.
The most critical of these variables are the amount of time you steep the leaves, which tends to be less for lighter, more delicate teas such as white, green, and yellow, and more for black, puerh, and most robust oolongs. The same breakdown will tend to apply to the other most critical variable, which is water temperature. The more robust teas will tend to require hotter water while we should go a little easier on the more delicate ones.
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