Tea is the oriental beverage par excellence, but who says tea can not also be Made in Italy?
We are in Piedmont region in the province of Verbania, situated in the north-west of Italy, on the border with Switzerland, at the foot of the Alps, an area renowned for its superb camellias, because the tea plant is also Camellia, namely the "sinensis" species. It is here where, for seven years, experiments have been carried out on the cultivation of tea that is fully Italian, organic and 100% local.
That is the length of time that has lapsed since Marco Bertona (a top Italian tea expert) and a local flower-growing expert, launched their innovative project, namely to start a large-scale experimental tea plantation in an area of land that forms part of the Val Grande national park, 15 km from the Piedmont shore of Lake Maggiore.
As of today over 24,000 seedlings have been planted in an open-field system making the Verbania tea garden the biggest tea plantation in Europe after the plantation of the Azores. And additionally after a long three year wait, the first harvest was reaped in May 2019.
The biggest tea plantation in Europe, the second in Europe
Very high quality harvest standard
Only selective harvesting by hand
But, as the expert grower says:
"tea is like wine: it is one thing to produce good grapes, another is making a good wine"
Of the same opinion is Marco Bertona, technical partner of the Italian experimental tea garden. In this regard, the professor explains that «the mere fact of having tea plants does not mean you already have Tea. Once harvested, the tender buds are the part used to produce the tea. The finished product, in other words the dried leaves that we call “tea” is, in fact, the result of a long and complex work processing».
Marco Bertona is a professional tea taster who graduated in China at the Tea Research Institute of the Guangdong Academy of Agriculture Sciences of Guangzhou (Canton), and is director of Italy Tea and Infusions Association (ITA.Tea), and the Italian Delegate at the FAO Intergovernmental Group on Tea (IGG/Tea).
He is the alchemist of Italian tea.
«Unlike all other medicinal plants and herbs, of which the parts used are merely dried after harvesting, the leaves of the tea plant have to undergo several processes before they are ready for use. Depending on the kind of tea, these can take from at least two days up to several months for certain types of fermented teas.
The secret of a good Tea lies, in fact, in the processing
«Naturally», adds professor Bertona, «the botanical variety used, the growing techniques adopted, and the environment as well as the micro-climate, are all crucial for determining the quality of the green leaves. It is not until after the processing, however, that the primary aromas start to unfold and, together with the secondary aromas that then develop as a result of the different processes involved, these make that certain type of Tea so special and unique».
The alchemy of processing
During the processing of the green tea leaves, a real alchemy occurs, and master Bertona seems to be a true expert in this field.
Indeed, he used the leaves harvested in Val D’Ossola, following very specific and highly technical procedures, to produce three different kinds of tea: a white tea, a green tea and a black tea. All three kinds of tea were prepared by hand using traditional Chinese methods, also with the aid of special equipment for the hand processing of tea that was brought in specially from China.
In October, however, something totally unexpected happened. After a strict selection procedure, the Verbano Black Tea (also referred to as “red tea” in accordance with the Chinese naming system), was eligible to take part in an international contest of black teas in China, the homeland of tea. The “2019 International Black Tea Tasting Competition”.
«The fact of passing the selection for admission to the contest was not only a great honour for us, but was more than we could have ever hoped for. It was already a victory for us», says Bertona who decided to participate without being intimidated in the slightest by the competition of the other Countries participating.
The contest, which is organised by the Tea Industry Committee of China (an organisation linked with the Chinese Ministry of Agriculture) and in which only producers may take part, was open to companies from the world’s major tea-producing Countries, totalling 104 competing teas, of which 72 from China and 32 from other Countries.
Preliminary Judges Meeting
Evaluation of dry leaves
The liquor preparation
An international panel of experts
A trained panel of 15 international tea experts from both producing and consumers Countries, such as China, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Korea, Malaysia, Nepal, Vietnam, Kenya, the USA, Denmark, Australia, and Russia, was employed for sensory evaluation of tea samples. Before start of the evaluation a training session of 15 minutes was conducted with the judges.
Following a long, exhausting day's work, which included tasting sessions, organoleptic evaluation and analysing thousands of figures collected from records made by the judges, it was at last time for the much-awaited final result. The total of points awarded by the international jury of experts left no doubts. The Verbano Black Tea won the Gold Award, the most coveted in its category, surpassing about a hundred candidates from the world’s greatest tea-producing Countries, including China, Nepal, Kenya, Vietnam, Malaysia, Korea, Thailand, and Turkey.
The triumph of the Italian Tea in China
This prestigious and unexpected acknowledgement is yet further confirmation of Italy’s ability to produce excellent, innovative product also in new market sectors, and master Bertona, who now rightfully deserves to be considered the Alchemist of Italian Tea, has opened the path towards a new beginning and a potential supply chain for Tea Made in Italy.
This beverage has numerous beneficial properties and is now acknowledged and accredited also at international level, and ready to become an icon of Italian beverages. It is constantly gaining approval among tea lovers and professionals in the sector such as the Tea Sommeliers certified by the Italy Tea & Infusions Association (ITA.Tea & Infusions), the first and oldest tea association in Italy and now the only Italian tea trade and tea professional association.
The only westerner on the podium
The joy for an unexpected win
Bertona, still incredulous, with the award plate