The Italian Tea Festival 2019 was honored to host Jeff Fuchs, explorer, author and tea enthusiast. He is the first documented westerner to travel the Ancient Tea Horse Road.
The festival visitors could see his photographs and listen to two speeches about Jeff’s tea experiences.
What did you expect from the Italian tea landscape before the festival?
When I first heard about the Italian Tea Festival in Bologna, I thought, “in one of the bastions of great food experiences and the famed ‘Bolognaise’ (which was one of the sauces my father has prepared for decades), the leaf has arrived… let’s see what will happen”. Expectations are always a little dangerous so I tried to stay open and keep the senses aware and see where this Italian Tea Festival experience would go. I knew of the culture and food of the region so some part of me felt that there must be a good energy here because there is respect and even reverence for food and wine. Part of me wondered if there would be room for tea in this world of coffee but again, I was hopeful because of an already deeply ingrained sense of reverence for food. I think that a culture that revers food history, wine, and eating local foods, must already have some curiosity to give tea a chance. Tea, good tea, taken with others, has the ability to transform a bit of the psyche and self so I was curious to share tea, time, and tales with others.
Did the event confirm your expectations? Did you have any surprises?
Surprise that Puerh was well received. I’m always slightly surprised that Puerh has managed to gain a following – for years it was the ‘auntie of teas’ known to a few and the ones that knew of it, knew of it in some pretty dismal forms. Now there is a much greater knowledge of Puerh and what constitutes a good Puerh. Also confirmed that when there is energy and a will to share – really share not simply looking at the financial side – there is a possibility of something warm and wonderful happening. That happened!!
During the festival I was happily shocked to see how many people wanted to sit down and just share tea stories or shared connections relating to the leaves. The tea world is generally one of generosity and openness and this was strongly reflected at the event.
According to your experience, what is the strong point of the festival?
Staging a tea festival (or any festival) inside of a centuries’ old historic building, and adding some life into existing structures with history is a way of giving or infusing some life into the space. The festival did that… it infused life and energy into a space and introduced an old leaf from the east into a cultural space of the west. And of course, there is a wonderful Italian passion thrown into the festival by the organizers; a desire that others might share in their own love of the leaf. Energy is a component that is vital and it is created through passion and desire. Energy inundated festival and there was a desire and openness to both share and learn from everyone. Attendees, organizers, presenters were all open and eager to participate and share and this is one of the magic ingredients I feel one of the magic ingredients that an ‘event’ or collaboration needs that cannot be forced or created. Intention to bring an experience and an energy to make it happen… this was present at the festival.
There was a lot of youth energy and participation at the Tea Festival as well and I think that bodes well for the future of not only tea but the interest in learning about tea.
You wrote “Puerh tea went down well with Parmigiano and Sangiovese grape ‘juice’ as well. In the heart of food… the leaf can reign”. Thus, do you think the tea market and the culture in Italy could increase in the next few years?
I do feel that the tea market can and will increase in Italy particularly once good simply made teas start to make it into the mainstream. There is much about tea and Italy that seem to blend together well. The whole sourcing story of where the tea is from and the conditions of the soil. Who makes the leaves and how the leaves have been made gel beautifully with the sense of providence and history in Italy. Even if tea takes time and the market doesn’t explode, it is fine. As long as some good teas become the norm, I can imagine the leaves settling in Italy easily. What tea has so much of already is diversity. Perhaps the tea model moving forward is based on offering a variety of small batches of well made traceable teas to see which find an audience. Again, a culture as richly tied to food and wine with such a wish for culinary and palate experiences, will surely just continue to evolve.
Special thanks to Anna Poian
Foto: M. Puicher for Italian Tea Festival