A Trip to the 2017 Toronto Tea Festival
The last weekend of January just passed us by, and you know what that means: I’m fresh off of attending the Toronto Tea Festival. I’ve written about the Toronto Tea Festival before, but as this is one of the biggest tea-related things going in the GTA, I’d be remiss to not talk about it.
So, I went on Sunday and met up with several of my Toronto-area tea friends: fellow Steepster users like me who have met up in the past to swap and talk tea. When I first walked through the entrance area, I was greeted by a set of trophies, this year’s winners from the pre-festival tasting contest.
One of my tea friends, Adrienne, who volunteers with the festival and has taken tea sommelier courses, told me that the winners on the table were all sold out — Saturday’s audience had snapped them up, and the vendors in question didn’t anticipate that winning the audience tasting contest would result in an uptick of sales. This didn’t affect me much, since I have so much tea at this point that I’m already pretty comfortable with my own palate and level of knowledge.
In past years, I’ve always attended the Toronto Tea Festival on a Saturday, so going on a Sunday was a surprise. It was nowhere near as crowded! I could walk around easily, look at things without jostling too many elbows, and not feel smothered by others. This is what it looked like just half an hour after I arrived, when in comparison, the Saturdays are jam-packed:
Look at all that space in the middle of the aisle!
I did some circuits around the room, but ultimately I bought and sampled only a few things since, again, I have a ridiculous amount of tea already and really shouldn’t add to the pile.
For example, I tried some chaga mushroom tea for the first time. The chaga mushroom itself looked like something leprous that had fallen of an Ent:
The gentleman who offered me a sample of chaga mushroom tea told me about how chaga grows only on birch trees and ultimately kills its host — the harvesting of the mushroom can extend the life of the tree, but really it’s just delaying the inevitable by a few decades. Depressing stuff.
I had a few sips of the tea out of politeness — it was served cold, which did its earthiness and slight tannic qualities no favours — and then discreetly rushed for a place to pour the remainder out of my cup.
However, all was not lost, as a few tables down from the Entish Parasite of Tannic Doom was a new vendor at the festival I hadn’t seen before: Rosewood Estates Winery, which, in addition to making wine, also makes honey. Their table was covered in jars of honey of different varieties, as well as containers of honeycomb and thick beeswax candles.
Adrienne had warned me ahead of time that they were very popular and that one of their offerings, a variety of honey smoked over burning pine, had sold out the day before.
So did I want some smoked honey? Yes please! I sampled it and noticed that although I couldn’t really taste any smoke — there wasn’t some sort of Lapsang Souchong thing going on — the honey was smooth and mild, yet rich. I bought a jar almost immediately, spooked that if I didn’t act quickly I would miss out on something unique.
Other booths soon followed, like the one for Steeped Tea. Last year at the festival they offered samples of vanilla-flavoured matcha mixed with orange juice. They had it again this year, but although I was happy to try some, I didn’t buy any matcha myself. I know that it’s just going to sit on my shelf if I’m not careful, and matcha is far too finicky for me to risk doing that.
After that, I went to one of the vendors that I absolutely knew I wanted to buy from before I arrived: T by Daniel.
They’ve always been a hit at previous festivals, what with their catchy bow-tie logo and the fact that the proprietor has an outsized sense of style. That’s his picture on the booth backdrop in the top hat and purple suit:
I sampled a few teas, and Daniel himself was able to fill out my order. Ultimately, I purchased five packets of tea, all roughly about an ounce in weight:
- Chai Noir, a black chai with vanilla, hazelnut, and macadamia nut
- Caramel Popcorn, a black tea with walnut, apple, almond, and caramel flavouring
- Strawberry Baloons, a green tea with strawberry and papaya
- Watch That Mango, a green tea with mango and pineapple
- Flu Who, an herbal tea with cassia, lemongrass, coconut, pineapple, and more
I then went to lunch with my tea friends at the Asian restaurant across from the Toronto Reference Library and split the teas with Adrienne.
The crowd was much bigger after we came back, with attendance levels much more like Saturdays from previous years. I did some more wandering around, talking with the staffers at the booths of 3 Teas and Jalam Teas.
Jalam Teas in particular had some pu’erh cakes that I tried, but I didn’t get anything in the end. I have waaaay too much pu’erh, much of it I bought in a shopping spree back in the summer of 2015 that I still haven’t even unwrapped. Adding a few more cakes to my groaning cupboard is absolutely the last thing I should do.
After that, I was really starting to feel myself winding down, so I made one last purchase — the Sacred Blend from Algonquin Tea Company, which specializes in promoting Indigenous-culture teas — and headed out the door.
The total damage from all 3 purchases was $44, which is pretty impressive. I think that’s the least I’ve spent in all 4 years that I attended! I’m sipping the Caramel Popcorn tea as I write this, and I’m happy that I had yet another day filled with tea, friends, and community.