I’m back from an incredible weekend at the Toronto Tea Festival 2018! Sadly, the festival is over and it’ll be another year until the next one. On the bright side though, I couldn’t have asked for a better tea experience. Throughout the festival I shared as much as I could on Instagram and I received a lot of direct messages from fellow tea lovers asking if I would recommend this tea festival. My answer is always an immediate YES! If I could only go to one tea festival my entire life, I would pick the Toronto Tea Festival in a heart beat. Here’s a recap of the tea filled weekend that may encourage you to start planning your trip for next year.
As usual, when you arrive to the Toronto Tea Festival you are greeted with a tea festival branded tote bag (this year it was purple!) and inside you’ll find a program book and a glass tasting cup that is perfect to use for sampling tea at all of the vendors.
Tea Taster Box
I didn’t participate in the tasting and rating of some teas prior to the festival weekend this year, but as usual, the winners were showcased right when you walk into the venue. A few vendors also had ribbons at their booths next to their teas that placed. This year the top 5 teas were announced for each tea type category and there were a lot of ties! Check out the full list of winners here.
Toronto Tea Festival 2018 Vendors
There were 51 vendors this year, which is a slight increase from previous years. I’m not going to go into too many details about vendors in this recap because I have another special post coming that will be highlighting some of my favourites. But, I do want to say that one of the best parts of this festival is the variety. There truly is something for all types of tea lovers.
There were vendors that have been in the tea business for years, and some that were fairly new. I found that each vendor had something different to offer to tea drinkers. There were those that specialized in Ceylon tea, oolong tea, or even just tisanes. There were vendors that were selling items that were perfect to pair with your tea, like shortbread cookies, honey, macarons, mochi, etc.
Unfortunately, due to the crowd, I couldn’t make my way through every single vendor. The vendors I did get a chance to stop by at, and enjoyed very much were:
– Momo Tea
Stay tuned for a fun Toronto Tea Festival vendor spotlight blog post coming soon…
There were 12 educational presentations to check out at the Toronto Tea Festival. This tea festival offers a wide ranges of tea topics for all attendees. It’s awesome that included in your $15 day pass are several opportunities for you to learn so much about tea. What a deal!
For my Saturday schedule, I worked in 2 presentations and then another 2 for Sunday.
Saturday, February 3rd —
Tea & Chocolate with Katie Cyr
Arriving Saturday morning, I was able to catch the end of the first presentation, Tea and Chocolate pairing by Katie of Monarch Tea Co. I attended this talk at the RBG Tea Festival last year, too. When I arrived she was offering tips on how to do your own tea and chocolate pairing at home and gave the audience a chance to experience it themselves right there. She shared a genmaicha green tea to pair with a salted caramel chocolate. It was a heavenly combination! I really enjoyed the nutty notes from the Japanese green tea with the salted chocolate. Do yourself a favour and experiment with those flavours together.
Teas’ Great Trade Routes: A Look at Some of the Great Overland Journeys Tea Took with Jeff Fuchs
I was thrilled to see that Jeff was on the presentation schedule this year, especially since I couldn’t make The Tea Explorer Night. Jeff is the best story teller. Seriously. He can spend an hour explaining how paint dries and I would probably still find it to be the most interesting thing.
In this case, Jeff didn’t talk too much about tea specifically in this presentation. He did spend time talking about how tea is a vital part of life for the people he met on the Tea Horse Road and how tea beautifully facilitates relationships. He shared some photographs from his own journey, including, what he called “tea porn” which were images of hand frying tea leaves. Here are a couple of my favourite quotes from Jeff’s presentation:
Tea water is always on. I think it’s a very civilized way to live life.
There’s a saying in Tibet ‘the person who makes the tea can speak the first word.’ That person is usually a woman.
Jeff’s tangents are my favourite. This next tidbit is unrelated to tea, but I thought it was interesting. Jeff told the audience to only buy white Himalayan salt because over there pink and other coloured Himalayan salt are used to feed livestock only.
Sunday, February 4th —
The Evolution of Authenticity in Wenshan Bao Zhong Tea with David Campbell
David provided an incredible amount of information during his presentation. I’m still digesting it all. To summarize, as the title states, the focus was what exactly is authentic Wenshan Bao Zhong, the beginnings and processing of Bao Zhong. I really didn’t want to miss a second of David’s tea talk so only near the end did I remember I meant to take notes. Here are some key points I managed to jot down:
– To begin, he deconstructed the name: currently, Wenshan is a district in the south of Taipei and Wenshan tea comes from areas immediately adjacent to Taipei City. He concluded this segment of the talk with Bao Zhong meaning packaged tea from the Qing Xin Oolong plant.
– Manufacturing Bao Zhong was introduced in 1881 and the process included scenting the tea with flowers (ie. jasmine) then roasting over low fire. It was 12% of Taiwanese tea production at the time, which he states was substantial.
– Only inferior quality leaf was used for Bao Zhong, top quality leaf was for Formosa oolong.
– Today, authentic Bao Zhong is not what it was 50 years ago. Originally, it was highly oxidized, roasted and scented with flowers. Today, it is lightly oxidized and floral generally from Qing Xin oolong but also Jin Xuan and Cui Yu.
David also shared a simple way to tell how a garden harvests their tea. “If a garden (referring to the rows of tea plants) is flat, it’s hand harvested. If a garden is round, it’s machine harvested.”
For more on authenticity, check out this blog post from Tillerman Tea.
Taste the Process – Decoding Your Tasting Notes with Zhen Lu
Focusing on Chinese teas, Zhen did an tremendous job at explaining how and why teas taste the way they do. At the beginning of her talk, Zhen highlighted all the things that can affect the taste of tea. Such as:
– the location of the tea
– the soil
– what gets into the water
– the cultivar, varietal, and origin
– where the leaves were located on the plant
– the processing type
– water quality
Moving forward, she took the audience through the processes of tea (Kill Green -> Oxidation -> Roasting).
A couple of my favourite quotes from Zhen during this tea talk were:
The best tea gardens are those when you walk there and you’re like ‘where’s the tea?!’
– Zhen said this after she shared that she doesn’t like the organized looking tea farms.
In Chinese tea, when you’re making an oolong and it tastes like a black tea it’s just wrong. There are standards.
Zhen concluded her presentation by offering some advice on how beginners can really taste tea.
How to taste tea the ZhenTea way:
First: Close your eyes to taste tea.
Second: Allow the tea to stay in your mouth for 30 seconds. These first two steps will help you focus on the tea only.
Third: Don’t assume what a tea will taste like before even tasting it.
Forth: Don’t be nervous that you didn’t taste something that someone else might have tasted. Everybody is different!
Zhen is a wonderful speaker and I think part of it is because she is so honest and humble. She also does an excellent job at sharing her tea knowledge with visuals. ZhenTea hosts tea seminars throughout the year. If you find them in a city near you, definitely check them out.
Jeff Fuchs’ Sunday presentation was at the top of my list, but unfortunately, with the weather that was coming, we decided to head out a bit earlier than planned.
Three different tea ceremonies were presented multiple times throughout the festival weekend:
– The Chinese Tea Ceremony by Sabrina Chen (I came across this recording if you’re interested in watching this ceremony from the festival)
– The Korean Tea Ceremony by Sun-hee Jung
– The Japanese Tea Ceremony by Austin Wong
Similar to the other years, the tea ceremonies begin with an overview of what you’re about to see from the presenter, then music will be turned on and the ceremony will begin. These tea ceremonies are another fabulous way to have the attendees experience different tea cultures.
Tea IQ (Tasting Competition)
The Tea IQ is a blind tea tasting competition. During it, participants are gathered at the stage area and are served samples of 6 different teas to guess the type of tea, the name of the tea and the origin of the tea. It was cool to see so many attendees give the Tea IQ a try.
The image above are the five winners from the Tea IQ that was held Saturday. Can you guess who’s the first girl on the left? 😉 The first place prize was actually a travel tea cup that was gifted to attendees from The Tea Explorer Night. So, even though I couldn’t attend that night, I was able to snag the gift another way! Second place was a signed copy of The TEA Book, and third place (which was tied!) was a 1 year Tea Guild of Canada membership.
We all know that tea brings people together and the Toronto Tea Festival is the perfect place for a meet up with tea friends. In addition to lovely tea vendor friends, I had the chance to get together with some people I’ve connected with over social media and my blog. Shout out to some of the tea friends I got to meet up with over the weekend, even if it was just for a couple of minutes:
– Mel of Mel Had Tea
– Connie of Tea in Spoons
– Deb of The Sugared Teacup (pictured above, on the left)
– Amy of The Art of Tea and Tassoemancy
– Rita Fong aka the awesome one behind the festival’s social media accounts
– Jeff of UNYtea Store
My Hopes for Toronto Tea Festival 2019
There has been a lot of discussion about moving the Toronto Tea Festival to a larger location because every year the attendance increases and it is getting to be difficult to move around and visit all of the vendors. This is a good problem to have though.
It’s incredible to see how the tea scene is growing in Toronto, and Canada in general. But, at the same time, I love having the tea festival at the Toronto Reference Library. The central location makes it easy to get to by many forms of transportation. Even if there was a way to rent out more space in the library for the festival, that would probably help for a bit!
The icing on the cake for next year’s tea festival would be that Canada’s first tea farm, Westholme Tea Farm, would take part and share their Canadian grown tea. Hopefully Victor or Margit are reading this…. hint, hint/nudge, nudge 😉
Until next year…
Did you attend the Toronto Tea Festival 2018? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.