black&white #39: Introducing ‘The Leafies’, the International Tea Academy Awards

black&white #39: Introducing ‘The Leafies’, the International Tea Academy Awards

4 min steep

This week I want to talk to you about an exciting new development in the tea industry. As many of you might know, I also run Canton’s sister company, the UK Tea Academy. The UKTA is an organisation dedicated to providing an outstanding education for tea professionals and enthusiasts around the world – and also to raise the standards of tea service in hospitality. For too long, people working in the best hotels, restaurants and cafes could make an excellent cup of coffee, but had no idea how to serve their high grade leaves! The UKTA offers professional qualifications – ranging from Tea Champion to Tea Sommelier – as well as a number of masterclasses, events and tastings to help people around the world learn more about this fabulous drink and connect with fellow tea lovers.

But we realised that although fine tea was starting to get the attention it deserved in the UK, there was still no official UK-based initiative to celebrate the best teas in the world – unlike coffee, alcohol and other types of food. So, we began work to launch the International Tea Academy Awards, or ‘The Leafies’, the first dedicated UK tea awards designed to celebrate the extraordinary diversity of the world’s finest loose leaf teas. And once we’d secured the support of our fabulous partner, Fortnum & Mason, and our two brilliant sponsors, Brita UK and Marco Beverage Systems, we were off.

Rare Tea Counter Fortnum and Mason Piccadilly

The Rare Tea Counter at Fortnum & Mason Piccadilly. Photograph by Fortnum & Mason.

Unlike other industry food awards, The Leafies is targeted at small farmers, producers, suppliers and retailers – though anyone handling beautiful teas can apply if they want to. We want to champion teas produced by small family-run tea gardens or co-operatives, who so often respect the land on which they farm and the people whom they employ – and offer a real alternative to the vast monocultures of the tea corporations. Crucially at The Leafies, ​judging criteria will consider the stories and the people behind the gardens, as well as the farming and processing of the teas. And the winners will get the chance to have their teas sold at Fortnum & Mason’s internationally renowned Rare Tea Counter. Are Canton entering The Leafies? In the interests of impartiality, we decided not to – even though I’m not actually on the judging panel.

But awards can be tricky to get right. So often food, drink and farming awards privilege a certain type of taste or culture. Can western palates, for example, truly appreciate the mouthfeel of a Chinese delicacy? That’s why our judges come from all over the world, each specialising in a different tea type or region. As well as our founder Jane Pettigrew and other tea heavyweights from The Ritz, Fortnum & Mason and Postcard Teas, we’re welcoming judges with particular expertise in teas from Sri Lanka, Japan, China and Taiwan. 

Jane Petigrew

Jane Pettigrew, UKTA Director of Studies.

We will also assess each tea on its own merit, rather than taking a comparative approach. One Gold will be up for grabs in each category, with Highly Commendeds awarded at the judges’ discretion. These categories range from all the usual tea types (white, green, dark, oolong, jasmine, matcha) to Special Awards that recognise those effecting positive change for the environment, the industry and their community. The Gaia Award, for example, celebrates farms, estates and gardens demonstrating outstanding environmental stewardship. The Maverick award, on the other hand, is for the bold, brave, creative tea producers developing successful experimental teas that don’t fall neatly into any other category. 

For these special awards, anyone can nominate a particular tea producer for free through the UKTA website – all you need to do is write a short explanation of why you think they should receive the award. So, if you do want to see one of Canton’s extraordinary producers recognised for the incredible work they do – or any other tea garden, estate or farm that you admire – you can nominate them here

The judging will take place in October, and the awards ceremony is taking place at Fortnum & Mason, Piccadilly, London on Wednesday 26 October 2022 from 2pm-6pm. Tickets cost £125 and if you’d like to join us at the first ever Leafies, book your place here. It’ll be attended by judges and tea professionals from around the globe – and is a great chance to mingle with experts and other like-minded tea enthusiasts!

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