Accidentally Melbourne Tea Week

Over 8-14 September, Melbourne accidentally on purpose became the city of choice for a dozen tea-related events.

Melbourne Tea Week! Where to begin? Well for starters being forced to endure a tea week is always better than being forced to endure a weak tea and if you hate tea puns, you should exit this page right now.

To be clear, Melbourne Tea Week was not a co-ordinated affair, at least not like Melbourne Fashion Week or the Melbourne Fringe Festival – two events it was sandwiched between – but Fine Food was the sun that helped the good tea-ple of Melbourne find an orbit. Fine Food, as well as hosting the World Tea Brewers Championship for the third year running, also attracted the Australian International Tea Expo and the Tea Masters Cup as part of its Drinks Collective side event.

Last year, the Australian Tea Cultural Seminar members voted Melbourne the host city for 2018 and September the best month so picking a weekend that would dodge two footy codes’ grand final weekends and leading into Fine Food made sense. In view of these three anchor points, the fringe grew.

Annemieke Mulders

Sky themed cup by Annemieke Mulders | Photo via Instagram

8-9 September: Australian Tea Cultural Seminar

Because I’m an AUSTCS co-director, many people ask me what it is. It’s really quite hard to describe until you’ve been to one. Primarily, it’s a forum for the tea community – comprised of both industry and the tea-loving public – to band together and develop a tea-drinking culture. But on a secondary note, it’s couched in tea appreciation and a respect for affiliated  areas, both cultural activities outside of tea and tea cultures from outside Australia.

The second inaugural seminar began with a day of presentations and our customary ritual ‘Welcome by Tea’, where the host of each table serves their choice of tea. This year our three guest speakers were ceramicist Annemieke Mulders, who won the 2018 AUSTCS Ceramic Cup Competition (supplying us with the official seminar tasting cups), tea professional Jeni Dodd, who spoke on how to pair art and tea through our feelings and appreciation of both, and China International Tea Culture Institute’s Chloe Liang, who spoke on how China is re-embracing tea culture following the Cultural Revolution.

Day two was for workshops, which is where the forum kicks in: members have their say and form a strategy and some goals to work on throughout the year. These are split into three streams: education, culture and health & wellbeing. I facilitated the culture workshop and I must admit I held back this year compared to 2017. We had a great group last year and some lofty ambitions and then all but one member dropped out: lofty = too hard.

This year I shaped some smaller goals like bonsai but made sure everyone contributed their experience so we could take into account different perspectives. I am interested in the tipping point of what makes a habitual tea drinker an aficionado – or not, in other cases – and it was good to hear everyone’s stories about what tipped them in and what they thought has kept other people out.

The other thing I wanted to avoid was just making our goals about ‘awareness raising’ (blergh! next to useless!) re: finding and drinking quality tea, I was super keen to get some practical follow-up so that those looking to level up could do so rather than just wallowing in all the 101 stuff that litters almost all the info we get about tea.

There’ll be an official report for the AUSTCS website on this and the other groups’ goals and I’ll link to them all when those docs are ready.

Audience for The Tea Explorer documentary

Our audience for The Tea Explorer documentary

8 September: The Tea Explorer (2017) screening

Organised for AUSTCS delegates, this special screening of Jeff Fuchs’ documentary The Tea Explorer, about travelling along the ancient Tea Horse Road, was preceded by a wander through some of Melbourne’s most iconic laneways (Hosier Lane for the art, Central Place for the foodie stops). Libertea and Tuocha sponsored the screening and their tea flowed freely. Host Tania Stacey invited them up to have a chat about their tea journeys, which was a nice way to introduce them to the tea community.

I personally felt the doco needed more on the journey and the people along it than the beginner’s tea lesson that took up the first third, but also understood why they needed to include those segments for a non-tea-drinking audience. I hope all those interviews Fuchs did with old-timers on his travels are one day pushed out as mini-docos as part of a TV series or similar. It would be a waste not to share them with the world, particularly as they are at a risk of being lost.

BRB, trying to hunt down a copy of his book.

*** more to come ***

10 September: Flag & Spear tea and cheese pairing

10-12 September: Fine Food Australia

10-11 September: World Tea Brewers Championship

10-12 September: Australian International Tea Expo

10-11 September: Tea Masters Cup Australia/New Zealand

10 September: Golden Leaf Awards judging

11 September: Dinner at Vue de Monde

12 September: Your favourite tea at Kuura Tea Studio

12 September: Introduction to Yunnan teas at Kuura Tea Studio

13 September: Freestyle Ochazuke Party