Friday, June 22, 2012

Rare Tea Republic Tea Tasting at the Summer Fancy Food Show

I know the usual protocol after not posting on one's blog for a couple of weeks is to apologize profusely, make obsequious pronouncements as to one's unworthiness, and swear to never, ever stay away so long again. Well, the truth is: 1.) I am not so egotistical as to suppose that you have been pining away for me, 2.) I can't promise never to do it again, and 3.) I am not sorry.

Don't take that the wrong way - I have simply been having too much fun to feel regret. Case in point: The Summer Fancy Foods Show in DC. Unlike the previous year, when I went solo, this year Poppa Trix got press credentials and came along as my photographer (so all of the photos you see are his). As for me, I was in journalist mode - taking notes and eating lots of goodies. For research, you understand

One of the highlights of the show (there were many, as I'll discuss in future posts) was an invitation-only tea tasting hosted by Rare Tea Republic. Just a year old, the company curates rare tea varietals from tea gardens around the world. Tea buyer Sarah Scarborough, who led the guided tasting, travels around the world scoping out the best teas. 
Tea buyer Sarah Scarborough (front); media liaison Eva Wong (rear) 
Here's a shot from a tea buying trip to Darjeeling. What a horrid job - don't you feel sorry for her?
courtesy Rare Tea Republic
I must admit that going into the tasting I didn't know much about the finer points of tea. Sure, I enjoy a nice cup of loose leaf tea from time to time, but I never applied the same criteria to a glass of tea that I do to, say, wine or Scotch. But as I learned at the tasting, good tea is every bit as complex and varied as any other fine potable. 

The tasting couldn't have come at a better time in the show - Poppa Trix and I had been running ourselves ragged over the two huge convention floors, and we had eaten an absurd array of things - meat, cheese, booze, hot sauce, pizza, crackers - that just weren't meant to go together in one's tummy. The tea tasting was a welcome and refreshing respite from all of the noise and hubbub.

We were guided through eight teas from six regions. Before sipping the tea we were offered both the dry and the wet tea leaves to smell:
We were instructed to slurp our tea, as that atomizes it and properly disperses it onto your palate.

First we tried three teas from Darjeeling: a Sungma Turzum first flush Oolong 2012, a Tumsong second flush 2012, and a Castleton autumn Oolong from 2011. First flush tea consists of only the top two leaves and a bud from the tea plant, and it must be hand picked. According to Scarborough, it pays to pay the tea pickers well, not only from an ethical standpoint, but also because better paid workers will be more careful and do a better job. In fact, a number of the Rare Tea Republic's teas are Fair Trade certified.

Jungpana Estate teal pluckers, courtesy Rare Tea Republic
Kangaita (Kenya) tea pluckers, courtesy Rare Tea Republic
What became clear as the tasting progressed are the incredible differences and depth of flavors among the teas. The Darjeeling teas, respectively, tasted of nectarine and rose (Sungma); jam and dried plum (Tumsong); and chestnut and parsnips (Castleton). Scarborough correctly pointed out that each tea tasted of its terroir and the season in which it was plucked.

We subsequently tasted teas from Sikkim, Kangra, Nepal, Assam, and Kenya. The most surprising sip to me was the Kenyan tea, a Kangaita White Needles 2011 - creamy and full, it was reminiscent of custard and shortbread.

Even the best tea, though, can be ruined by improper steeping, and to help you not muck it up,  each bag of Rare Tea Republic Tea tells you not only how much tea to use per cup and how long to steep it, but also the proper water temperature:

Yes, those are two bags of tea from the gift bag we received at the end of the tasting. Were you waiting for a giveaway? Sorry, kids, this stuff is too good - I'm keeping it all for myself. But if you are a tea connoisseur - or if you're looking to become one - you can order Rare Tea Republic teas on their Web site. They're actually not as expensive as you might think.

In the meantime ... happy sipping!


  1. Ohh - total jealousy.
    When I was in China, one of my colleagues gifted me with a most lovely box of loose green tea. I hoarded that stuff for a veeerrry long time (no sharing). I only wish I had been astute enough at the time to figure out exactly what I was drinking :-)

  2. I think you are right not to apologize. I detest cheap sentiment. I have been to a tea tasting before and like most things, with a little instruction on the finer points you can develop a real appreciation. Kudos to Pappa for his fine photos! (Welcome back. I, in fact, missed you.)

  3. I just recently got into drinking lots of teas so this certainly caught my eye. Love these photo's Great job!I really love tea now and so does my husband.. great read here hope your both well.. missed ya!

  4. Trixie! I am sipping my daily afternoon tea from dried lavender RIGHT this moment! Tea fascinates me--and overwhelms me (especially some of those Celestial Seasonings displays where there are a fifty choices?! I think of the teas you mentioned, the one I'd like the most was the Kenyan--custard and shortbread! Who wouldn't love that?

  5. When you're not around for a while, I just know you're on some marvelous adventure and you'll be back to share it with us eventually :) I'm sipping a cup of hot tea right now, so I must check out the Rare Republic Tea site~

  6. Awesome post! And how did I miss this food orgy?! ack. I also love that you aren't apologizing. Sometimes, I get so annoyed by bloggers who feel the need to post every damn day... hour after hour... It just not possible for me, and I'm not ashamed of it... and I won't be apologizing any time soon ;)

  7. No need for apologies, specially when you've been having fun:) I wish I could have tagged along. Great photos and post. I'm going to check the website out.