Thursday, January 23, 2020

5th Annual Colloquium of The Global Tea Initiative at UC Davis

Such fun at the 5th Annual Colloquium of the Global Tea Initiative—“Tea & Wine - The Great Debate”—at UC Davis under the leadership of Katharine Burnett!

Some highlights:
  • People who know me know that I am not really fond of puer…but I was entranced by the dialog between Roy Fong of The Imperial Tea Court in San Francisco (, and James Norwood Pratt, tea writer and connoisseur ( Norwood asked the questions and Roy answered, all about how Roy produces his puers in his warehouse in San Francisco. He imports his raw maocha from China, then with a practiced eye for temperature and humidity at different levels in his warehouse, he moves his bings around to perfect them, for years and more years. It was an extraordinarily warm and friendly conversation that highlighted the cordiality that I find so refreshing in “tea people.” Am looking forward to a possible video of another dialog between these two, that my friend Marzi Pecen hopes to get off the ground.

  • One persistent theme of the Colloquium was climate change and its effects on both wine and tea. The point about tea was forcefully brought out by Fitrio Ashardiono, Ph.D., Senior Researcher, Asia- Japan Research Institute, Ritsumeikan University, and UCD Visiting Scholar. His talk was entitled Tea Cultivation and Terroir Framework: Developing the Terroir Concept for the Tea Industry, but really focussed on how climate change would affect tea growing in Uji Japan—the home of exquisite matcha—and what structural issues would affect the growers’ responses.  It’s clear that the problems will be difficult to solve, but equally clear that we must solve them. (It was in the 70’s in Boston in January, only a few days earlier!)
Fitrio displayed a picture similar to this one, showing that tea growing in Uji occurs in the middle  of an urban environment, complicating the conditions for growing tea.
Photo by Arboramo, Wikipedia CC BY-SA 4.0.
  • Of course, UC Davis is famed for its Viticulture & Enology Program, so we were guaranteed some super interesting information about wines. In particular, learned from Ron Runnebaum, Assistant Professor, Viticulture and Enology, UC Davis, about one of my favorite wines, Pinot Noir, and the effects of growing the wine in different places on the West Coast. Thoroughly nerded out on all the graphs and Principle Component Analyses—when I was at Cornell, had huge discussions with my graduate students about how to analyze our data—do you use Principle Component Analysis or Factor Analysis or neither? And how do you interpret the results?  Was thrilled to see some of my favorite tea scents mentioned on the graphs—scents that I used in my talk.

Day 2 was Sensory Day, introduced by Andrew L. Waterhouse, Director of the Robert Mondavi Institute of Wine and Food Science. Was especially glad to have met him—so very much appreciated his kindness as well as his knowledge.  
  • Al Robbat, Director/Professor Chemistry Department Sensory and Science Center and Center for Field Analytical Studies & Technology at Tufts, and inventor of the most complex and effective systems for analyzing aroma chemicals ever, again brought home the effects of climate change on tea and tea quality. With his systems, you can clearly see what changes in monsoon patterns, for example, cause in tea chemistry. Have to look more deeply into this question for another blog post!

  • So grateful to Sue Ebeler, Professor, Viticulture and Enology and Associate Dean, Undergraduate Academic Programs, College of Agricultural and Environmental Science at UC Davis, who provided a superb introduction for my experiential adventure that was to come later in the afternoon—she described many of the aromas I was planning to provide, and where they come from in wine and tea. 
  • Nikolai Kuhnert, Professor Analytical Chemistry Jacobs University Bremen, Germany also had me nerding out with his talk about tannins entitled High Resolution Analysis of Black Tea and Wine. Nikolai was another of the kind thoughtful people I met at the conference—I can’t say it enough, the people at the Colloquium were people I am proud to be among.
  • And Jonathan Cave, Treasury Wine Estates (, who talked about tannins in wine, and reminded me of how anthocyanins alter the flavor profile of wines enough so that when added to white wine, people may become confused and think it might be red.
  • Then it was my turn. I was fortunate to be able to give my talk at the Robert Mondavi Institute Sensory Theater, where people sat at desks in an amphitheater, with wines and teas arrayed in front of them. Rona Tison of Ito-En ( provided three ready-to-drink teas, green, oolong, and black, and Mondavi provided a Chardonnay, a Pinot Noir, and a Cabernet. With the expert assistance of my friend Marzi Pecen (she is not only a tea specialist, but a parfumeuse) we handed out paddles/touches with scents on them, and had fun making the aromas of the teas and wines disappear and reappear. More about how this works in my next blogpost.
  • Finally, after me came Andrew Waterhouse, with three Cabernet Sauvignons that were so different it boggled the mind. Three different ages, three completely different flavor profiles. Andy talked about what aging does to wine profiles, and neatly summed up what we had heard throughout the colloquium: sensory matters!
One more experience, so exquisite!  Susumu Yotsukawa, designer,, brought a collection of wine/sake and tea items to savor with our eyes. Here's one:

sake cup designed by Susumu Yotsukawa
A sake cup designed by Susumu Yotsukawa, made of Japanese cherry birch and brass,​ available at

Go to the Kisendo website——for more on which to feast your eyes!

==>> Available on Amazon in paperback, my latest book, "Tea: a Nerd's Eye View."

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