March 4th – The Buentoilliçan Tea Growers’ Society’s Winter Tasting Festival

You might have seen their conservatories scattered across the roofs of the Hugenot district, bright throughout the night hours. Each of these greenhouses grows several different strains of tea, at all times of year, all in very small batches. For lack of space, the bushes are alike to bonsai trees, although some cultivars are grown upside-down, hanging from the ceiling, as this is thought to improve flavour. The conservatories are little islands of green, thriving beneath glass, all satellites to the Central Conservatory of the Buentoilliçan Tea Growers’ Society (BTGS).

The Central Conservatory is about four times as large as the largest of the surrounding conservatories, displaying three floors and a large floorspace. It is made of a white-painted iron frame and custom-made toughened glass, essential for the glass floors, and is about the size of a small home. It sits atop a brick construction, also owned by the BTGS, that was built specifically for the purpose of supporting the Conservatory. Inside the brick parts of the building are a number of tea processing rooms which most of the Society’s tea passes through. On the central floor of the Conservatory are placed a number of cane chairs and glass tables, surrounded by ornamental tea bushes. It is here, in the warm, humid air, that the BTGS’s Winter Tasting Festival takes place.

The festival is now in its 103rd year, as it was first held in 1914, a few years after the Seven Cities Trading Company (SCTC) broke ties with Buentoille in response to the Revolution. The SCTC has hitherto supplied the City with many varieties of tea, which is grown far across the outer ocean in the warmer, wetter climate of the province of Remaria, and many had developed a taste for it. Whilst there are now traders who are more sympathetic to the City, and tea is once again cheaply on the tables of Buentoillitants, there was a long period of around thirty years where it was all-but impossible to come across, and the alternative herbal teas that were drunk in that period are still very popular today. The BTGS was founded by a group of like-minded tea aficionados who realised that the only way they could continue their habit was to grow the tea leaves themselves.

The BTGS were initially only able to get their hands on a limited number of cultivars, but as trade opened up again they diversified their stocks greatly, partly because they now had access, but also as an attempt to maintain their status as connoisseurs, in opposition to the ‘standard’ black tea that had flooded the market. According to the Society there are 3875 separate teas in existence, made from 157 cultivars. Each tea is defined by a number of factors, including cultivar, growing conditions, type of processing (there are eight factors in tea processing, including curing, oxidation and drying, and there are innumerable methods of achieving these factors), water temperature, brewing time and equipment, and pouring height. New teas are added to the official list (the Tea List, purchasable at all good specialist book stores), if they are proven to have a distinguishable taste from a similarly produced tea by the Society’s expert tasters. The tasters never take lemon, sugar or (perish the thought) milk, in their tea, as this is thought to sully the pure taste.

One of the largest factors determining tea taste is the time of year at which they were grown, and for this reason teas are separated into two primary categories: summer teas and winter teas. Where summer teas are generally more full bodied and redolent, winter teas are subtle and light, but the distinction is more complex that this. Tea experts often use radio waves as an allegory for this complexity; radio waves are constructed of two constituent parts: the ‘carrier wave’ and the ‘input signal’. The input signal is the data itself that you are trying to transmit, which essentially ‘shapes’ or modulates the carrier wave, enabling the information to be carried through the electromagnetic spectrum. In the tea expert’s allegory, the ‘secondary’ tasting factors such as cultivar and brewing time are the ‘input signals’ which modulate the ‘carrier wave’ of the ‘primary’ tasting factor; season. In other words there is an underlying difference in flavour which other flavours seem to riff upon. It’s not known if this allegory is obfuscating by accident or design.

Today a number of members will present new creations, attempts to push the number of officially recognised teas up by a point, to the expert tasters. Today was chosen because this is when the first winter leaves were ready for tasting in 1914, and whilst there have been calls to change the date to one more useful for the production of modern teas (which have been elevated to an art form), in Buentoille tradition is strong. There has been a large amount of controversy this year, surrounding the alleged production of a more ‘wintry’ tea than the famous Edgar Appleson High Poured Winter Batch 45, the quintessential winter brew. This tea, now approximated with varying success in many cafés across Buentoille, is made from raw, entirely unprocessed, freshly picked tea leaves and is poured from the pot at a height of fifteen inches. It is said to perfectly embody the light, dancing, slightly sweet ‘winter’ flavour, which the poet Heminch Fosul said ‘tastes how the moon looks.’

Other festivals happening today:

  • Horned Jackson’s Festival of The Righteous Charge
  • The Infused Brethren’s Day of Utmost Pretension
  • And Lo, Behold This Beautiful Orange Tree in the Depth of Winter’ – A Fomic Allesiane Festival
  • Spoon Whittler’s Day