When this new year first began I was extremely anxious for the end of the month because that meant one thing: Toronto Tea Festival 2017! This was my third year attending and I can confidently say that it keeps getting better each year. The committee is constantly thinking of new things for Toronto’s tea lovers and it seems to be growing in popularity, too. While I didn’t want the festival weekend to end, I also couldn’t wait to get home and dive into my new tea goodies and, of course, report my thoughts on this blog.
Tea Taster Box
Last year the Toronto Tea Festival committee introduced the opportunity for tea lovers (anywhere!) to sign up and taste some of the teas from vendors at the festival and rate them for their Tea Lover’s Choice awards. I participated again this year and it was a bit different than previous year. This year we had to specify what type of tea we wanted, whereas last year we were just sent a mixture of tea types. I opted for oolong and I received some new favourites.
The Toronto Tea Festival then announced the 1st, 2nd and 3rd place winners online a few days before the weekend and even had a table with all the winning teas laid out when you first entered the festival. I was so excited to see that my top pick for the oolong category placed 1st, too! It was Tao Tea Leaf’s Da Hong Pao oolong. You can view the full list of winners here.
Toronto Tea Festival 2017 Vendors
With over 40 vendors there was something for everyone at the Toronto Tea Festival. I did recognize quite a few of the same vendors from the past couple of years and it was nice to meet some new ones as well. I always really love the variety of vendors at the festival. For instance, there are quite a few vendors selling their own tea blends and quite a few selling high quality single origin teas. There also were some delicious cookies and chocolate creator booths, tea infused beauty products, etc. truly encompassing the vast uses for the Leaf. These are just some of the booths I found myself heading to often:Momo Tea – There is always such a nice vibe at this booth and it also has some of the best tasting Japanese teas. This year Momo Tea had Natural Japaneats with them selling some mochi made with their tea, too! (yes, I took some home)
Chaiwala – Rebecca and Eamon always have such fun and great energy. Of course, they serve one of my favourite chai, too (this year they prepared it with coconut milk)!Jade Tea – I probably stood there admiring their tea ware for far too long 🙂
Wait Tea House – I love how their booth is set up with an array of samples ready to be sipped (their tangerine puer is a favourite!)
Zhen Tea – Every year they have a lovely set up and serve some of the best teas all weekend long! I always want all of their teaware, too. However, this year I managed to walk away with just a gorgeous incense stand. JalamTeas – Easily one of my favourite stops for puerh. I’m sure anyone who has experienced JalamTeas before would agree. This year we missed Jeff, too. I hope he’ll come back next year and speak!
As usual, the Toronto Tea Festival did not disappoint in the variety of tea presentations that are included in the entry ticket price. Again, I could not attend all of them (that would be a dream!). I really wanted to attend Zhen Lu’s talk again this year but regretfully I could not because it was taking place during the Tea IQ event. Gah! But, I was able to catch three other wonderful presentations. For the full schedule of speakers, check it out on the website here.
Tea 101 – Kevin Gascoyne
The first presentation I attended at the Toronto Tea Festival was given by Kevin Gascoyne from The Camellia Sinensis Tea House. I missed the beginning of the talk but, overall, it was very informative. As one of the authors of TEA: History, Terroirs, Varieties, Kevin discussed some of the lab work they did on concentration in antioxidants and caffeine in various teas. If you have a copy of the book, you’ll notice some great reports in the back. He also went through the six different styles of tea and how each are processed and he offered a few types along the way. When it comes to aged tea, Kevin says to treat it like wine. The oldest tea may be more expensive but it is not always the best.
Even though it was brief, I really liked that Kevin included Yellow tea, too. He mentioned that there are only 3 official yellow teas on the planet. They’re rare, pricey and not recommended for an everyday tea more like a fine wine. Best for special occasions and to share with those you care for. He also advised tea drinkers to be cautious when buying yellow tea as some yellow teas on the market are just green teas that have been processed incorrectly.
I appreciated that Kevin kept referring to tea as a personal experience throughout the talk and with all the information he provided, I am glad I had the opportunity to hear his presentation. Here are a couple of my favourite quotes from it:
The expert in what you’re looking for in a tea is actually you.
The best teas are always the ones you enjoy and the ones you drink often.
The Art of Tea and Tasseomancy – Amy Taylor
I have been looking forward to Amy’s presentation since the moment she informed me she was going to be a speaker! I have loved all of the past Toronto Tea Festivals I attended but I did always feel like there was one tea related topic missing – tasseomancy. I have always been interested in tea leaf reading and that’s how I connected with Amy in the first place. She was the perfect individual to share such an interesting topic at the Toronto Tea Festival.
Her presentation began with a history of how tea arrived to various countries and how tea leaf reading became a part of the entertainment at tea parties back in the 1800s. There was a table at the front with a plethora of cups used for tea leaf reading. Amy’s collection is definitely incredible! She went through a few of the different types of cups you may encounter. There are Zodiac Planetary Cups, Playing Card cups and Symbol Cups.
This was my favourite cup from Amy’s collection that she brought to her presentation:
It’s easier to work with marked cups like the ones above but Amy says the perfect cup to read someone’s tea leaves in is simply a plain teacup with a saucer. The teacup should be more of a bowl shape and the handle should be lower than the lip of the cup as well. As for the perfect tea, Amy prefers to use small leaf teas like rooibos and peppermint as they give a much wider spread in the cup. When it comes to a tea to use her advice is to experiment for yourself.
My favourite part of Amy’s talk was when she began to discuss what some symbols could mean. Symbols are important when you’re first starting to read tea leaves. You can look up a symbol’s meaning online or in a book but Amy states that in the end, “the best reader is going to use their intuition.”
Amy’s presentation had me captivated throughout that I couldn’t believe the end was the end. I honestly could have listened to her talk for another hour just on the meanings of various symbols. I’m going to have to dive deeper in this topic with Amy for another post on the blog soon!
Judging Tea Quality for Consumers – Austin Hodge
The next day I attended a presentation that also focused on reading tea leaves, but an entirely different way than what Amy shared Saturday afternoon. Austin’s presentation was also the only one I was able to catch on Sunday. It focused on how a consumer can make better tea and recognize the qualities that are available. Over the course of his talk, he highlighted the 12 elements that are necessary for authentication and quality assessment:
- The condition of the leaf
- Adherence to the plucking standard
- Uniformity of the leaf
- Harvest Date
- Tea Maker
- Percentage of moisture remaining in the tea
Austin states that, “if you don’t know the answers to all 12 elements then the authenticity of the tea is in doubt.”
My favourite part of the talk was when Austin took us through a handful of examples on what to look for when talking about authenticity in tea. With images up on the screen, Austin compared leaf quality from Seven Cups’ selection to a national tea store chains’ collection.
To give you an example, the first tea he used was a Long Jing green tea. The side by side comparison showed that Seven Cups’ Long Jing had a more vibrant and consistent green colour than the dark and dull colour that was coming from the national chain store’s Long Jing. When it came to testing the leaf quality in water, Seven Cups’ showed nice plucking standards – 2 leaves and bud, some broken but not a lot. The national chain store’s had no uniformity of leaf. They were all different sizes and colours, not to mention many broken leaves.
It was a lot of fun to see different examples that Austin showed. It had me wanting to start looking for some tea doubles in my stash and experimenting the same. After a few more examples, Austin told the crowd to next time ask a tea supplier what makes their tea valuable because if they don’t have an answer for that then how are they pricing their teas?
The tea ceremonies are always a nice addition to the Toronto Tea Festival. Like other years, attendees had the awesome opportunity to see (and sometimes actually take part in!) a Chinese Tea Ceremony, Japanese Tea Ceremony and Korean Tea Ceremony. They begin with a brief overview of the ceremonies, some of the items used during it, and what to expect. Watching each of the tea ceremonies offer a sense of calm and elegance. Everyone involved in presenting the tea ceremonies at the festival truly did a remarkable job. These ceremonies are offered many times both days, so thankfully, if you can’t attend one because of something else, you are able to try another time slot.
If you follow me on Instagram, you may have noticed I finally tested out the Live stream feature on that Sunday morning and live streamed the Chinese Tea Ceremony and Japanese Tea Ceremony. If you were able to catch that, I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did 🙂
Tea IQ (Tasting Competition)
The tea tasting competition that was first introduced last year was a favourite so I was glad to see it back again this year. Those who wish to participate gather around the stage area and are handed a paper to fill out and six different teas to sample. Each taster must then jot down their guess for what type of tea it is, the origin and the name of the tea. I managed to get third place again this year (hooray!) which resulted in a lovely matcha gift set prize.
Wooo! That was a lot to cover 🙂 Overall, it was another successful tea festival weekend that had me wishing I didn’t have to wait another year for it to happen again! There was another new event for this year called Tasting with Tea Sommeliers & Tea Leaders. Unfortunately, tickets for that portion of the festival were sold out before I could get any. I’ll be a bit more on top of that if it comes back next year as I heard it was a fantastic experience. I hope to see you in 2018 🙂
Did you attend the Toronto Tea Festival 2017? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.