Tuesday, July 18, 2017

THE TEA EXPLORER, Interviews with Jeff Fuchs & Andrew Gregg

In case you haven't heard elsewhere, there is a new feature length documentary film called The Tea Explorer! It debuts on the CBC Documentary Channel, Sunday July 23, 2017 at 9 PM. EST. 

Here is the trailer 

And guess who had the chance to interview not only the writer-producer-director Andrew Gregg, but the star of the doc himself, Jeff Fuchs!? Noted Canadian writer, photographer, explorer, and tea merchant.  

I first met Jeff Fuchs in November 2009 at a tea event presented by the Tea Association of Canada (now Tea and Herbal Association of Canada) to celebrate Canada's first 12 Certified Tea Sommeliers from George Brown College, Centre for Hospitality and Culinary Arts.  By now you don't need to guess who was one of the first 12... Yup, me!

The media event featured Jeff in his role as writer of the then new book The Ancient Tea Horse Road.  Naturally, I got my signed copy there.

Fast forward to present day and the film's publicist contacted me here and asked if I'd like to help launch the film. Hmm...Tea, Film, and Jeff Fuchs?  I'm in!

You're already familiar with my fascination with tea. As a major film buff in my pre-kid days, I used to attend TIFF (Toronto International Film Festival) religiously for over 10 years.  Long waits in line ups waiting for the box office to open (pre-online ticket sales days), lines at Rush Screenings for sold out performances, did I mention long lineups..? All worth being jostled in a mosh pit of crowds cramming for a glimpse of our favourite movie star or director, along with staying afterwards for the Q.&A.'s.... I was thrilled to be a part of a World Premiere as one of the lucky few who got to see a winner of the people's choice awards, and then see the same film conquer the world and go on to win an Oscar!  Whew, exciting stuff.  I need a cup of tea to calm down.  Perhaps some raw puerh...that was what Andrew Gregg was drinking when I interviewed him!

...ahhh, now where was I?  Oh yes, would I like to help promote the new tea doc starring Jeff Fuchs...? Heck yeah!  I was thrilled when I was able to arrange interviews with the filmmaker and the star, you can read my exclusive Tea Journey Magazine write-up here.

Even better were the interviews themselves.  Andrew Gregg was amazingly enthusiastic about the film, saying it was a high point among adventure films that he had made.  Although he'd been in the Himalayas before, it took this film and Jeff Fuchs to convert him from a coffee drinker to a hard won tea aficionado!  He shot this documentary with one other person (besides Jeff and the locals who guided them), sound man Michael Josselyn.

When asked about low points he said, "We encountered a few snags.... we really wanted to end the film in Darjeeling but we couldn't get film permits, and we couldn't get into Tibet to film." 

As for what was most challenging? "Going up the Sho La Pass.... Somebody like Jeff, half mountain goat, nothing new to him.  No big deal -- Doing the trek up the Sho La was the hardest by far, the most physically demanding.

For a shoot like this, it sounds so trite, but it's hard to know what to pack.  You're in the subtropics in Yunnan, then you're in the snow storms up in Sho La, then in Kathmandu you're sort of in full rainy season, but then up in Mustang you're in dust storms.  It was everything.  It was a true adventure, and other than the true exertion travelling up the pass, it was a pleasure."
Andrew Gregg 

Pinning down Jeff for the interview took a bit of logistical gymnastics but we made it work.  I spoke to him in his home on the Big Island of Hawaii.  He was relaxed and open, just back from a trek up the upper Mustang, some of the new (to him), segment of the Ancient Tea Horse Road he traveled in the film.
Jeff Fuchs
When asked what the mountains mean to him, Jeff Fuchs said when his grandmother took him into the mountains when young he recalls thinking "I gotta be up here, cause I feel differently, I breathe differently. The Chinese have a saying where you are either a water person or a mountain person. I am a mountain person.... Mountains are nature's editors, and in order to be in the mountains or travel in them, you absolutely have to be physically and tangibly in the moment. You can't be theoretical in the mountains."

In  the film, Jeff brings us along to a segment of the Tea Horse Road that's he's travelled and documented in his book and a segment he had not traveled previously, which I noted in my Tea Journey Magazine review article. "Coming back to the same segment, it's remarkable how comforting it is to see, it's like an old shoe that you love to wear. You see it develop and you see it age, and see it get a little more sure of itself....

New segments are extraordinary....  The tea horse road was like a 'do everything' pipeline of trade goods, information, DNA, linguistics, and for me it was a reminder of how this road, we call it a road, the Cha Ma Gu Dao was so vital in opening up and feeding some of these really remote communities.  And a lot of the new segments that I've done in the last three-four years, they do the same thing, remind me that it's the same narrative again and again... opening up the world of remote peoples.  
It feels like home, it's very familiar but it's a place I've never been before.  But the narrative and the story is the same."

Rita: And what does tea mean to you? "Tea is very simple, it's a simple fuel that I physically need....It's a sort of slightly unpredictable friend that I always enjoy the company of.... Japanese teas are so consistent, so perfectly made, even if the weather is off, they can [fix it]...what I love about puerh is that it's a bit of a cowboy tea, even if you know the grower, even if you know the harvest season, everything is slightly different every year and I love that.  So it's a little unpredictable but I'm good with that.... I want to feel the grower's [and] producer's personality in the teas."

Rita: Why do you feel like you need to tell their story?  "I feel like I owe them. A sense of responsibility to not just tell the story but to open the story up so that people understand a little bit more about how tea travelled and how much tea is more than just a luxury 4 O'clock high tea in London type of thing but how it's something... intricate, [a] part of these people's lives. Responsibility because the story has never been written down properly. [The] tea horse road feels like this amazing adventure journey pipeline that's never really been fully investigated and respected for what it did.

I believe tea is something very simple. It should be something simple."

So, what's in the works next for Jeff Fuchs? "More trade routes, but details are secret at this time. Building a permaculture school in Hawaii.  Permaculture is all about growing things without using pesticides and using plants to take care of other plants and building soil. I'm experimenting with tea which is going well. Experimenting on growing tea on the dry side of the island not the typical wetter east side of Big Island where most of the tea farms are. Everyone knows tea loves humidity and rain but everything is changing, you know, climate change and everything. "

In my film buff days, I would have loved to interview Brad Pitt or Steven Spielberg, but as a tea person this project has been the closest thing to it. 

I've seen the film (in the privacy of my own home), and really enjoyed it. It moved me so much that I found myself consulting my pal Google to find out more about the Himalayas, Upper Mustang, Lo Manthang.

Overall it was a beautiful story of humanity.  Covering the origin of tea, adventures in the high mountains with a photogenic, charismatic and tea-obsessed host.

You can read my Tea Journey Magazine article here.

This reviewer gives this film 5 Puerh cakes out of 5.

Thank you Jeff Fuchs, Andrew Gregg, David McCaughna, Publicist for the Rick Mercer Report (for contacting me and providing the photos for use),  90th Parallel Productions and CBC Documentary Channel for making all this happen!

You can follow Jeff's adventures on Jeff Fuchs' Tea and Mountain Journals

The Tea Explorer Facebook page is here to keep updated on the latest.

Don't forget, The Tea Explorer debuts on the CBC Documentary Channel this Sunday, July 23, 2017 at 9 PM EST. 

Friday, June 30, 2017

World Tea Expo SURVIVOR - Part 2 (Canadians at the World Tea Awards)

July 1st is Canada Day! Happy 150th Birthday Canada! #Canada150
So, what better way to celebrate than commemorate the Canadian wins at the World Tea Expo?

The World Tea Awards took place on the evening of June 14th, Day 2. The room was buzzing with people enjoying canap├ęs, cocktails, and chatting away while waiting for the awards ceremony to start.
Canadians fared well at the World Tea Awards! Here are some highlights from the evening:

Congratulations Camellia Sinensis! Two awards!
Congratulations Dan Bolton! (Tea Journey Magazine)  I was at their table covering the event
 and the excitement was awesome!  Proud to be a contributor and a team member of Tea Journey.

Congratulations to my friend and fellow Canadian Certified Tea Sommelier,
The Tea Stylist, Linda Gaylard!

Linda, Kevin Gascoyne (Camellia Sinsensis), Tracy Bell of MillenniaTEA and Louise Roberge, the President of the Tea and Herbal Association of Canada
Pretty award, eh?

Vancouver based farmer direct JusTea
Purple tea was all the rage at the Expo. They recently created three purple tea blends
 (Purple Mint, Purple Jasmine and Purple Rain, cool name or what?) 
I've seen them on social media so was curious to try them.
Purple Jasmine was very nice. Purple Rain would make a great iced tea.
 Boaz Katah (Kenyan tea farmer) and his wife Jamilla with Paul Bain of JusTea
sharing the #purpleteaexperience 
An innovative startup from New Brunswick, MillenniaTEA 
It's a interesting product. Freshly picked leaves, patent pending flash freezing process keeps the leaves as biochemically alive as possible to deliver the highest levels of EGCG and other tea goodness to the consumer. 
CEO, Tracy Bell
Fresh-leaf teas. So fresh! Picked June 4th!
Congrats on your New Products Innovation Award win, MillenniaTEA!
Frozen fresh tea leaves from the The Great Mississippi Tea Company 
These are the tea farmers from The Great Mississippi Tea Company,  Jason MacDonald and Timothy Gipson.
Frozen fresh tea leaves from Hangzhou.
Mmm, of course, I had to taste them. Both were great, fresh and refreshing, not bitter at all.
I particularly liked the one from Mississippi. The leaves were picked just before the Expo. I could sure taste it!

As I was sipping away, the JusTea crew came over to discuss potential partnership. MillenniaTEA needs fresh leaves,
we've got a Kenyan purple tea farmer here, hmm, some exciting things could be in the works as you read this....
MillenniaTEA was on CBC's Dragon's Den to pitch their business idea in front of a panel of Canadian business moguls for funding. If you're curious, check it out this fall when the episode airs.  And no, I was not paid in any form to mention this. Although if the CBC, MillenniaTEA or any tea companies are reading this... I am a freelance Certified Tea Sommelier... open for potential collaborations... Call me!

Monday, June 26, 2017

World Tea Expo 2017 SURVIVOR - Part 1

The days and weeks after coming back from the World Tea Expo are filled with sorting all the photos, tea samples, and business cards that I received. Wow! What a great time! Apparently, I'm getting to be quite well known in the tea world. The days flew by, meeting up with vendors I knew,  and while I was there to support Tea Journey Magazine, I also wanted to check out other vendors and some courses but I just ran out of time!  It didn't help that one Toronto business who I've worked with closely suddenly noticed I was at the WTE and decided to give me lists of businesses they wanted me to check out on their behalf.

It's been five years since I've been to WTE and while the last time started as a romantic meet up with my husband, this time he stayed home with our boy, which marked the first time I've been separated from my child longer than a day since he was born.  Fortunately, I love to meet new people and it certainly kept me busy!
Bumped into TJ Williamson of World Tea Podcast at the conferences.
We were both on the panel of this year's Tea Bloggers Round Table.
Purple Tea was all the rage this year! Here with JusTea's Paul Bain and their Kenyan Team Leader, Boaz and wife, Jamilla. JusTea is doing some awesome stuff by creating sustainable enterprises and helping Kenyan tea farmers.
I've done demos of their teas in retail stores to raise awareness of their brand.
Tea Journey's Dan Bolton and John Lawo at work.
Tea Sommelier and budding tea entrepreneur, Claire Schlumberger
A true gentleman, famous author, James Norwood Pratt. He was in Toronto a few years ago for a tea event,
hope he'll be back again soon...maybe for the Toronto Tea Festival? 
Checking out the tea menu at the Lucky Dragon Casino & Hotel's Cha Garden 
Look who I ran into at the Lucky Dragon! More Tea Journey team members:
Nan Cui, Dan B., Patty Murray and Janis Grover

Hit the Strip and this is what happens...boy, folks sure are friendly in Vegas...
Tea Bloggers Round Table: World Tea Podcast, The Tea & Hat Lady, me! Oolong Owl,  Dharlene Marie Fahl,
 Five O'Clock Tea and moderator, Naomi Rosen (Joy's Teaspoon)
Elyse Petersen of Tealet
Phil and Constance of Zhen Tea, based in Ottawa. They're a popular exhibitor at the Toronto Tea Festival.
Susan Bolton, Tea Journey booth Captain 
Showing off my Tea Journey article on Canada's First Tea Farm, Westholme Tea Company.  
More to come in Part 2!

Thursday, June 8, 2017

World Tea Expo, here I come again!

Has it been five years already? 

I’ll be off to Las Vegas next week for the World Tea Expo (June 13-15).  It’s gonna be tea, tea, and MORE TEA for three days straight!  Woohoo!  Or even more if you’re going to attend the pre-conferences programs such as the Tea Business Boot Camp.  I can't this year.

The World Tea Expo is an industry only B2B (business to business) conference. It's comprised of Core Conference Seminars, Skill Building Sessions, Focused Tasting and Workshops in expertise levels from beginners to advanced. 
The last time I went was five years ago! I look forward to checking new products, making new contacts, seeing old friends, and meeting new tea friends while I'm learning more about tea!
Still working on my agenda but here is a sampling of sessions and activities that I am looking forward to so far:

Dan Bolton’s What Moves the Needle in Retail: New innovation /Trends. 
Dan is very knowledgeable and experienced in the tea and coffee industry. He’s also the editor and publisher of the Tea Journey Magazine to which I have contributed and am helping with their social media marketing. So of course, I will be there to share cool tidbits from his talk. He looks serious here, but Dan can be a lot of fun...
Photo from Tea Journey Magazine Facebook page
Hawaii- a New Frontier for Tea Farmers.  I’ve never been to Hawaii but a trip is planned for the fall, so I am curious to hear more about tea in Hawaii.

Panel Discussion about Public Tea Festivals (since I am on the organizing team of the Toronto Tea Festival, it’ll be great to get some pro tips from other tea festival organizers)

Kevin Gascoyne’s "Take it to the Field? The Tea Studio Project".  Kevin is a great speaker! 

There will be a networking cocktail reception on opening night and then the World Tea Awards the next day. Some learning, some fun, why not! Might as well make something happen in Las Vegas while I'm there!

There are off-shoot conferences that take place during the expo such as the Tea Bloggers Round table where writers and bloggers will gather, share and learn from each other.

Look closer at the poster, do you see me? I’m on the panel!

I hope to make some time to go check out the Strip, have a really awesome meal or two, not sure if I can fit in a show, though.   

So, excuse me as I need to finish selecting seminars to attend, check out which vendors will be there and start packing!  

See you in Vegas!