A unique international competition among tea professionals, the Tea Masters Cup™ (TMC), was held at the beginning of September in Turkey, at World Food Istanbul, one of the largest and most successful food and beverage exhibitions of this region.
A large international group of tea experts from different countries (Belarus, China (Hong Kong), Czech Republic, Georgia, Italy, Korea, Latvia, Russia, Sri Lanka, Turkey, Ukraine and Vietnam) visited Istanbul on September 3-5 to take part in the final round of the Tea Masters Cup International 2015.
Prior to the world championship, the participant countries held national qualifying competitions in three categories: Tea Preparation (where masters have to demonstrate the skill of tea preparation by brewing and presenting several beverages), Tea Paring (where masters have to demonstrate the skill of presenting tea in combination with a light food/snack) and Tea Tasting (where masters have to demonstrate the skill of tea degustation by identifying beverage samples of single varieties of teas). The winners of national competitions earned the right to represent their countries at the world championship and to spend three days demonstrating their skills in working with tea in an attempt to win the world title. Thousands of World Food guests who attended the competition in person and many fans all over the world who watched live internet broadcasts witnessed impressive displays of the art of tea preparation.
After three days of intense but fair competition, the judges selected a winner in each of the three categories. Natalia Loma’eva (Ekaterinburg, Russia) became the champion in the Tea Preparation category. Her performance was set apart not only by her exquisite skills in working with tea but also by the level of attention to other details, such as presentation and showmanship. In the Tea Pairing category, two people shared the world title: Anastasia Shif (Minsk, Belarus) and Daria Mikhe’eva (Ekaterinburg, Russia). The judges simply could not decide whether to award the title to the Darjeeling tea with almond crackers and Parmesan cheese served by Anastasia or to the Chinese tea with a fruit medley prepared by Daria. Finally, in the Tea Tasting category the undisputed winner was Anna Pleshakova (Perm, Russia), who confidently and correctly identified all presented samples.
The fact that all three top titles were awarded to tea masters from Russia is probably not an accident: the Tea Masters Cup competition got its start in Russia three years ago, and for the last two years, regional qualifying competitions as well as national ones have been held, with more than 70 masters taking part. Clearly, the experience of these professionals in competing at this level has been a factor in their success.
But the highly esteemed judges agreed unanimously: all competition participants exhibited the highest level of professionalism and competence. Each of the masters made his or her performance memorable not only by preparing highest quality tea but by showing a unique personal style. Aleksandr Kupriakov (Brest, Belarus) gave a disciplined and serious performance, but, when not in front of the judges, he played musical instruments and cheered everyone up with his singing; Olga Slizanova (Minsk, Belarus) was very calm and confident and always supported other competitors during their performances. Andrei Ivanov (Riga, Latvia), a professional musician, wore rap-style clothes and performed as if he was singing a slow, rhythmical song; Vladislav Lebedev (Tomsk, Russia), on the other hand, was very energized, shared many interesting stories about preparing for the competition and stole the show with his jam made from pine cones. Diana Garipova (Kiev, Ukraine) made simplicity and harmony the focus of her performance; she looked like a fairy in her elegant blue dress. Anna Kisel (Dnepropetrovsk, Ukraine) was friendly and cheerful, and her kindness won everyone’s praises. A special mention must be made of the representatives of the host country, Nurcan Kocali and Zeynep Erkan: these wonderful, memorable, cheerful young ladies prepared wonderful Turkish tea and sang and danced Turkish folk dances. Everyone felt like an important, long-awaited guest in their presence.
A big contribution to the success and the unique atmosphere of the competition came from fans who arrived to Turkey to support their national champions. One of the most memorable faces in this category must be Yuri Podusov (Riga, Latvia): he brewed excellent tea and served it expertly to all the participants and guests of the event. One could enjoy Yuri’s tea during breaks, after the performances, aboard a ship sailing across the Bosporus, at Zilkale castle, by a waterfall, in the hotel, in the morning, afternoon or at night. Thanks to Yuri, the competitors and judges always felt relaxed and comfortable. A trusted helper always at Yuri’s side was Jiri Altior (Prague, Czech Republic).
Impeccable work was done by Alena Velichko (Belarus), who was a speaker of the championshp. She not only brilliantly coped with her role but also created a holiday atmosphere and cheer everybody up. Her perfect pair of competition was Hasan Onder (Turkey) — presenter, guide and translator in one person he has become sole of this tea event. Their remarkable duo has earned the respect and praise from all spectators and participants of competition.
The competition was judged by an expert international panel of judges, including: Mr. Mustafa Akbulut, Associate Professor, Dean, Chair of the Department of Agriculture and Natural Sciences (Recep Tayyip Erdogan University, Turkey); Mr. Bryan Baptist, professional tea taster (Sri-Lanka); Mr. David Chanturiya, Head of the Tea School, author of the “Tea Taster’s Choice” column in the Coffee & Tea International trade magazine (Georgia); Mrs. Gabriella Lombardi, owner of the Cha Tea Atelier boutique, the author of “Tea Sommelier” (Italy); Mrs. Hong Anh Nguyen, Vice Chairwoman, the Vietnam Tea Association (Vietnam); Mr. Denis Shumakov, Head Judge of the Tea Masters Cup (TMC), Chairman of the Advisory Board of TMC, Advertising Director for Turquoise Tea (Russia), voted “Person of the Year in the Russian Tea Industry” in 2013 (Russia); Mr. Alexander Wagner, Head of the Tea Culture Club “Cha-I” (Russia); Mr. William Lee, Executive Director, Korean Tea Board, CEO of Shinda Wooloo Group (South Korea).
Turkey was deliberately chosen as the venue for the world competition. As a country with a long and rich tea culture, the third largest tea market in the world and the undisputed world leader in terms of per capita tea consumption (3,5 kilograms of tea annually), Turkey is still not too well-known to most tea experts. Since the purpose of the Tea Masters Cup is not only to identify the best of the best among tea masters, but also to expand the knowledge about tea, to discover new opportunities, and to establish professional contacts, this event certainly made Turkey better known in the world of tea.
After the end of the competition, all participants took a two-day trip to visit some of the best tea plantations and factories in Turkey, located in the north of the country, near the town of Rize, the birthplace of Turkish tea. This trip was not only memorable — participants enjoyed rafting, excursions to mountain villages and a climb to a waterfall — but it also helped establish friendships among tea professionals from many different countries.
The competition in Turkey was organized by the Tea Masters Cup (Hong Kong) in cooperation with Rize Commodity Exchange (Turkey). The General sponsor of this international competition was Çaykur, one of the largest tea companies in the world, the leader of the Turkish tea industry. The official partners were The Turkish Tea Association and the Rize Commodity Exchange.
According to Mr. Ramaz Chanturiya, the Chairman of the Tea Masters Cup, “The aim of the Tea Masters Cup project is to foster the development of high cultural traditions involving tea consumption and raise the status of tea culture among consumers. It also helps to identify promising tea industry professionals, aid their career growth, foster professional development and exchange of ideas among specialists in the tea business, including the hospitality and the specialized retail/wholesale industry. The Tea Masters Cup definitely creates a completely new attitude towards unique and premium tea categories, which have a great potential for development in the near future. I am confident that this competition and the Rize trip that followed have made a great contribution to the development of tea culture, to the formation of many strong friendships among the tea professionals from many countries and to the personal and professional growth of each participant and guest.”
In the words of Mr. Imdat Sutluoglu, General Director, Caykur, “We are delighted to see representatives of the world tea industry elite in Turkey. Tea Masters Cup competition is a significant event for our country as well as for the world of tea as a whole. Turkish people love tea, they drink it from morning till night, with family members and with friends, in times of leisure and during business meetings. We are undisputed world leaders in terms of per capita consumption. For many years, our tea culture was not very well known beyond our country’s borders. But the time has come to change this: we have a deep understanding of tea, we know how to brew it well and we are eager to share our knowledge with the rest of the world! We are proud that tea industry professionals from so many countries have visited Turkey. We are delighted that the Tea Masters Cup has given us such a wonderful opportunity to show the world our country’s tea culture.”
Mr. Mehmet Erdogan, Chairman of the Rize Commodities Exchange, says: “I am delighted that after finishing the competition this esteemed international delegation has visited the birthplace of Turkish tea, our beloved city of Rize and the surrounding region! That region is the place where all Turkish tea is grown. Today tea production in Turkey is 240 thousand tons annually, and almost all that tea is sold on the domestic market. During their visit, tea professionals from many countries were able to see every aspect of the production process, from the plantation to the factory, to visit a scientific research laboratory devoted to tea and, of course, to enjoy breathtaking natural beauty of northern Turkey.”