This is the third year that I’ve been to the Toronto Tea Festival and there is still always new things to learn and familiar faces to see! I love doing a recap of this event because it gives me a chance to reflect.
The festival describes itself with the following: “Explore the world of tea by tasting fine teas, experience cultural ceremonies, attend lectures & meet other tea lovers”. Having gone a few times, this is a very succinct way of describing the event!
A big change to the festival was the fact that it spanned three days (Feb 1 to 3), compared to the normal two days in the past. The layout of the event was different to accommodate more vendors and the speaker’s corner and the vendors and ceremony were on different areas. Friday was from 12:00 pm to 7:00 pm, and Saturday and Sunday ran from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm.
This year was slightly different for me as well because I was actually given a Blogger Pass. I feel like I made it to the big leagues, people! That means that I was able to go all three days! So, we have a lot of ground to cover.
DAY ONE: February 1
Vip Event: Kevin Gascoyne and the ‘Champagne of Teas’ (5:30 to 6:30 PM):
Kevin Gascoyne is one of the four owners of Camellia Sinensis Tea House in Montreal, Canada. He is also one of the authors of Tea: History, Terroirs, Varieties. Champagne of Teas is the documentary is about Kevin’s annual quest travelling to the Himalayas to select teas from Darjeeling tea gardens. This is a trip he has done for the last 25 years!
While the documentary was produced and aired in French by the CBC, it was translated especially for the Toronto Tea Festival and screened for the first time in English that night. We were also provided with some cookies (matcha, almond, and sesame) and different types of black teas! I especially enjoyed the one from the Tea Studio which is Camellia Sinensis’ experimental tea factory in Nilgiri, India!
I found the documentary very interesting and learned a lot more about Darjeeling and tea. Having now lived and visited a tea farm in Japan, I’ve become especially interested in the farming and the process in which tea goes from bush to cup.
It seems like issues such as younger generations wanting to move away from rural areas to the city is sadly a problem for every country and greatly affects tea production – especially since while a small percentage of tea is made in Darjeeling, over 66,000 pluckers are needed. The area still also faces bad working conditions that it is slowly overcoming.
It was interesting to see the process and time it takes Kevin to source tea. It truly does require a lot of dedication and understanding of what customers like. For example, as tastes change, so do the tea. For example, people used to enjoy harsher teas, but now people want smoother, more easy going ones.
One tip that I learned was to drink the water from the area first. This makes a lot of sense because water makes up a large component of tea. Depending on where it is from and how it is processed it can taste and feel different.
Overall, I enjoyed the film. It gave great insight into how much time, dedication, and even love of tea it takes to be able to go on a journey like this, year after year, just to source the best tea possible. I would recommend that people see this if possible.
By the time I left the VIP event, most of the vendors had started to leave, so I decided to come back early tomorrow to see them!
DAY TWO: February 2
I decided to start the day early! So much to see, taste, and do!
Vendors: As I have mentioned, I have been to this event a few times. I have also been to other tea events where I have gotten to know some of the vendors over the years. Therefore, I figured that I would try to focus on new/unfamiliar vendors that I came across. If you want to read about more vendors, feel free to read my 2018 recap!
Zhen Tea: While not new to the blog, I couldn’t help but add them! I love Zhen and Phil! They are always so lovely and friendly! This year they had a lovely display which was adorable. I loved visiting their stand because they provided lots of samples and were very informative.
Tea Rebellion: I had seen this brand before in the past because they had created a Kickstarter to build a school in the Himalayas, Nepal (it was funded!). I sadly missed funding the project but I was very excited to try their teas. I liked that the farmers and their stories were put on the back of the package so you can see where the tea came from. I will have a review of some of their teas in a few months time!
Secret Teatime: I had always admired handmade teaware from afar. I happened to run into them at another tea event and we struck up a conversation! My mom sweetly gifted me a teaware set from them. Secret Teatime also offer pottery classes which are something I plan on doing in the future!
Icha: I actually visited the shop and the staff remembered me. I enjoyed the shop! It was a very nice experience. This was the first year Icha was at the festival.
Cha Gloriette: A Taiwanese tea brand located in Ontario. I really liked the setup of the booth and the staff was very nice.
Ming Tea’s Tea Ceremony Workshop: One new thing at the Toronto Tea Festival is workshops! It was run by Ming Tea, who I had met at the Royal Botanical Garden’s Tea Festival, back in November 2018. The workshop started with an introduction on how to brew Chinese teas by Ming Teas’ Founder, Edward. He gave a good suggestion on remembering things to consider when brewing tea, “TRIP”:
- T – emp
- R – atio
- I – infusion time
- P – pouring method
When the demonstration started, I was up in the front and sat next to Crystal, Ming Tea Co-Founders, so I was able to get a close up of her making the tea. The session was very informative. Then we had a chance to try brewing tea ourselves. I ended up making a new friend, Luda (Hi there!). Overall, I really enjoyed the workshop and I hope that there will be more!
Steep Off: This is also new to the tea festival this year, and it was similar to Tea IQ, which was a tasting competition from years prior. This year, participants brew a mystery tea using gong fu style. The teas would be rated by a celebrity judge (my session had Kevin Gascoyne of Camellia Sinensis) and the people in the crowd (if you sat in the front).
My tea friend, Lu Ann of The Tea Cup of Life, participated! It was fun to see all the participants made tea and how brewing styles change. Since you were able to sit down and watch and just relax. I never went to Tea IQ but, I liked this!
Japanese Tea Ceremony: Japan holds a special place in my heart. While I was there, I was able to see multiple tea ceremonies, but I can never say no to seeing another one. This one was interesting because it is considered “Men’s style” which is different than the ones I have seen in the past.
There are some changes in the movement and pacing because the men would have had Samurai sword on the left side in the past. I really enjoyed that this was tucked away this year (it used to be in the back of the vendor room) so you could get absorbed in the ceremony because it wasn’t too loud which adds to the experience.
DAY THREE: February 3
Chinese Tea Ceremony: Today was the last day, so I made it my mission today to try to see more vendors, the Chinese ceremony, and some talks on the last day!
Since I went to the Japanese one, it was only fair to also see the Chinese one! This was run by the staff at Tearoma. There were three teas being displayed which were very interesting to watch!
Each tea came from a different region: Fujian, Yunnan and Anhui! I was lucky enough to sit in the front, and I was able to watch Taiping Houkui be prepared, which uses a long glass so you can see it and appreciate the tea. It was a lovely ceremony.
Vendors: I love chatting with the vendors and sampling teas! Yes, please!
Momo Tea: I love visiting Momo! She always has such a bright smile and was featuring different Japanese sweets by artisans! It ranged from Japanese sweets, matcha bread (it slipped my mind, but my new friend, James, kindly gifted me one), and mochi!
JalamTeas: I had seen them before, but this time I was able to talk to them a bit and learn more about them. It is a monthly subscription box that mostly focuses on pu-erh. I’ll admit that I was a bit intimidated because pu-erh is an area I still have a lot to learn about, but the staff was very friendly and informative!
Tillerman Tea: The brand main focus is Taiwanese Oolongs. I had met them last year, and the President, David Campbell, was very sweet and provided some helpful suggestions on places to go when I visited Taiwan! One of them was the Wistaria Tea House, which ended up being one of my favourite places!
Tearoma: I had a really nice experience with this brand last year when they kindly gave me a new cup when I dropped mine. This year they had a black tea that I really enjoyed. Since I was on my tea ban, they again, went above and beyond and gifted it to me. I will be reviewing that in the future!
Denong Tea: I had seen this brand online, but since they are American, I hadn’t expected to see them at the festival! Jeffrey McIntosh focuses on pu-erh and provides flights of teas as samples. It was interesting to taste the different teas and to learn about them! He also provided me samples, which I have yet to try!
ZhenTea’s The Unknown of a Well- known Tea: So, I will admit, during the second day, I didn’t go to any of the talks because they were located on the lower level of the venue. So, I made sure to go at least two on the third day. It is always such a treat to learn from Zhen, so, I knew this was one I wanted to see.
The focus of the talk was to demystify pu-erh. Despite being on this tea journey, pu-erh is an area that I am not as familiar with as I want to be. So, it was really nice to learn more about how it is processed. Zhen also spoke about how to potentially spot counterfeit tea (some ranging in the $1,000s). As expected, the golden rule applies – if it is too good to be true, it mostly is. There is always tea within any budget, and there isn’t any point in breaking the bank.
One interesting I learned about is how pu-erh tea is “categorized.” While vendors can name the tea how they would like, she mentioned that this was a good standard to go by (as always, check!):
- Da Ye / Big Leaf = Leaf Size
- Da Shu / Big Tree = Plant Size
- Lao Shu / Old Tree = Plant Age, 100 years-ish
- Gu Shu / Ancient Tree = Plant Age, 200 years and older
I didn’t know much about counterfeit tea and I feel like I came away with some good tips on how to spot it!
JalamTea’s The Tea Growers Tales: It seems like I was ready to face pu-erh head on because the last talk I went to also focused on it. This one focused on Jeff Fuchs who sources the tea for JalamTea. The brand focuses on Yunnan pu-erhs. Each of the teas are selected because of “taste, production, history, and geography.” The farmers play an important role and are given a spotlight which I really think is important.
It was great to see the farmers and see the regions. Like in Zhen’s talk, we were given an overview of how the teas are picked and processed. The teas are from aboriginal communities where there are no factories. It was very neat to see artisans so dedicated to their craft and how community focused it is. I enjoyed seeing behind the scenes.
Tea Taster Box
The Taster box is tied to the Tea Lover’s Choice Award, which allows tea lovers to taste and pick their favourite teas. This year, I received the green tea one. What I liked is that it was a blind tasting this year compared to knowing the brand last year.
I am considering making it a separate post and setting it up as a blind tasting like I did with the Story of my Tea post! Tell me if that is something that you would like to see!
Like in the past, I really enjoyed the event! I actually liked the three days because it gave me more time to actually talk to the vendors rather than rushing by. Since the ceremonies, steep offs, and workshops were off to the side in another room, it gave more space for vendors and also for moving around.
The one nice draw for this event is that the talks, workshops, and ceremonies are included within the price of the ticket. These are set up as first-come, first-serve, but that means everyone has access to them. They are normally run multiple times and the talks were held in a fairly big room.
The only real issue I had was that the speakers were tucked away on another floor. From my understanding, there isn’t enough space on the same floor. So, hopefully, in the future, there can be more wayfinding signage because it took me until the end of day two to clue into where the speakers were (it goes without saying that with all the excitement with everything, out of sight, out of mind was especially true for me).
Lastly, one of the biggest draws for me, aside from all the tea of course, is my tea friends! I have made so many tea friends and learned so much from everyone. I was able to hang out with Lu Ann from The Cup of Life, and her friends and family all weekend and had a blast. Check out her recap as well!
If it isn’t evident, I would recommend this event to anyone! This is a great event for someone who is new to tea or even people who are seasoned. I can’t wait for next year!
- Date: Friday, February 1 to Sunday, February 3
- Venue: Toronto Reference Libary
- Company: Toronto Tea Festival
The Question of The Post: Have you been to a tea festival? If so, which ones and if not, which would you like to go to?