It was 7:30 am on the morning of January 30. I woke up and thought to myself “I know I have to be somewhere today. Let me see what time it is.” After a quick glance at my phone I noticed I should have already been on the road to Toronto. The 4th Annual Toronto Tea Festival was starting at 10am that Saturday and since it takes me about 4 hours to get there, I was no longer going to make it for opening time. Sadly, I missed a couple presentations that were high on my list, but there is plenty more to report on.
Arriving at noon, the moment after I received my media pass from the entrance I was greeted by Amy from The Art of Tea and Tasseomancy. It was our first time meeting and we had planned to exchange tea gifts with one another, which I will have to blog about some more another time. Amy has been to the last three Toronto Tea Festival and she agrees that this year was the best yet. “In the four years since it began the festival seems to grow and add new features that make any tea lover get excited about attending,” she shares. “My favourite part of course is always trying and tasting fantastic high quality teas in an environment where being a complete tea freak isn’t looked at as being weird!” Perhaps something tea lovers everywhere can relate to.
Afterwards, heading into the venue I was surprised by the crowd. Last year I had only attended on the Sunday, which was popular, but still, enough room for everyone. This Saturday it felt a too crowded but I was thankful I planned to attend both days because there were quite a bit of booths I had to miss as I couldn’t get through. With over 40 different vendors, I think I still happened to miss a few after the weekend was complete. If there was one complaint, it was regarding space. Which is a good thing too, because it just means the Toronto Tea Festival is increasing in popularity. I love the current venue, but if a larger one was available for more tea next year, then that would definitely be a great move.
My boyfriend, James, jazz musician and fellow avid tea drinker, attended both days of the Toronto Tea Festival with me. Throughout the weekend we were able to visit Zhen Tea, Jalam Teas, Wait Tea House, Tao Tea Leaf, Chai Wala Chai, Momo Tea, Tea Journey just to name a few. “I think it’s really great to meet so many people bringing the beauty of tea to Canada,” James said and I couldn’t help but agree. There were so many wonderful tea and products all provided by those who shared their passion with the beverage. In addition to the vendors, I also had the lovely opportunity to finally meet some other fellow tea lovers who attended and I’ve been connecting with online lately: Rita Fong, Reema of The Chai Palace, Edane of Bohemia Babe, and Heidi @TO.TeaConnoisseur.
Toronto Tea Festival Presentations
There were a variety of tea presentations this year at the Toronto Tea Festival. While I didn’t get the chance to attend every single one, there were a few I was glad I could. You can view the full schedule of speakers online here.
Puerh’s Roots: Caravan Fuel To Boutique Idol – Jeff Fuchs
No doubt that Jeff is an incredible speaker. I could listen to him talk about his tea adventures for hours. James and I knew after his first presentation that we had to make a point to free up our schedule to attend his other one (The Tea Caravans to the Top of the World: Puerh’s Other Tale) the following day. During Saturday’s talk, Jeff discussed the puerh production methods in Yunnan, the various forms of puerh, and much more. My favourite quote from this presentation was actually an ancient quote from along the Tea Horse Road that he shared. “If a cup of tea isn’t offered, a relationship isn’t offered.”
The Many Ways of Tea: Its Path Around the World – Linda Gaylard
Linda’s presentation was the final one of the first day. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to hear her talk after reading The Tea Book. While referencing pages in her book, Linda’s talk focused more on the history of tea and the journey it has made all over the world to get to where it is today. It was a lot of information to share in only 45 minutes, but Linda did a fantastic job. I especially like that she touched upon various tea cultures and how tea may be prepared traditionally around the world (one of my favourite sections of her book, too).
Appreciation of the Leaf: How to Appraise Chinese Tea – Zhen Lu
Zhen was wonderful to listen to and learn about Chinese teas from. During her presentation, we took a closer look into the world of Chinese teas, the various types, tea classifications and how to taste them. James and I were taking some mental notes because we knew Zhen’s tips would most likely help us during the Tea Tasting Competition that we were participating in shortly after this presentation. I hope I get the opportunity to learn more from Zhen again soon.
The Tea Caravans to the Top of the World: Puerh’s Other Tale – Jeff Fuchs
I really enjoyed that, during both talks, Jeff discussed puerh myths. The one major advice to take away from his presentation, to me, would be on the topic of the age of puerh teas. Jeff states, “Old trees are one thing, old tea is another. Don’t get caught up on the age of the tea. Age of the tree is more important.” He shared stories of various ways he has been served tea by people he met during his travels, and stories like these show the importance of making tea in your own way that you enjoy it. If you’re looking to get into puerh, Jeff recommends trying raw green puerh first and getting used to the astringent profiles. If you’re interested in learning more about the Tea Horse Road and tea travels, be sure to be on the look out for Jeff’s documentary, The Tea Explorer. While he’s not sure of the exact release date, he did say it could be out as early as May this year.
Chinese Tea Ceremony: Sabrina Chen did an absolute beautiful job presenting the Chinese Tea Ceremony. This particular ceremony is easy to adore because of the beautiful aesthetics and movements throughout. James actually recorded some of it, so I will have to share that clip soon so you can experience some of what we got a chance to experience.
Japanese Tea Ceremony: Austin Wong is currently the only person certified to teach Ueda Ryu style of Japanese tea ceremony in Canada and it was a privilege to learn from him at this tea festival. Before going on with the actual ceremony, Austin shared some of the proper ways to accept a bowl of tea (in this case, matcha) during the Japanese Tea Ceremony and much more.
The Toronto Tea Festival also had a Korean Tea Ceremony presented for the attendees, but unfortunately, I did not get a chance to watch that ceremony as it was always scheduled during Jeff Fuchs’ presentations.
Tea Tasting Competition
This was easily one of my favourite additions to the 2016 Toronto Tea Festival. On Sunday afternoon James and I participated in the Tea Tasting Competition. Everyone who wanted to take part gathered around the stage area with their tasting cups while the coordinators went by with six different teas. After each smell and sips, we had to write down our guesses on what type of tea it was (1 point), the origin (2 points) and what the name was (3 points). Normally, after the committee marked each results, the top two scores received a prize. However, for this round, scores were very close so more were recognized. Yours truly tied for third place and was gifted Seven Cups’ Qi Dan (Original Da Hang Pao Bush) 2015 Rock Wulong Tea.
At the end of the weekend, I felt tea drunk to say the least, but also just extremely thankful for the very positive experience and all the amazing tea people I finally got to meet. One of the most beautiful aspects of tea is that it brings people together and that’s just what this year’s Toronto Tea Festival did.
Did you attend the Toronto Tea Festival this year? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.