Woo! I know I’ve been gabbing about it for the past few weeks, but the Toronto Tea Festival finally happened last weekend! I got to meet up with my tea friends, do some swaps, see people whose books I’ve read (I got to meet Linda Gaylard face-to-face!), and generally just absorb the atmosphere of it all.
I’ve written an article about the event for World of Tea, Tony Gebely’s site, but that review was a more generalized one of the whole event. Here’s a more personal, impressionistic take on things:
Like last year, and the year before, the festival was crowded. There were nearly 50 vendors (not all of them sold tea, but the vast majority did), and I would easily say that thousands of people showed up. I’m still kind of amazed that they’re holding the event at the Bluma Appel Salon in the Toronto Reference Library, as the whole place felt crowded to the seams. Even if the Reference Library is a great central location, I honestly think they could benefit from hosting it in a larger space next year.
In addition to the vendors, there was the front stage where the festival held regional tea ceremonies and even tea tasting competitions. I took part in such a competition on Saturday morning and it was much harder than I thought it would be. I was generally able to determine what kind of tea was being served (white, green, oolong, etc), but had a much harder time naming the correct country of origin and cultivar. Evidently, my tea tasting tongue has a long way to go before it’s truly an expert!
I strolled around, tasting samples and taking stock of vendors I’ve seen there before. It was good to see Joel from Capital Teas again — he has a phenomenal memory, and still remembers that I bought a pack of jasmine pearls from him at the festival two years ago. There were lots of familiar shops there.
However, there were also some new ones. The vendor that I was most excited about was a ceramics studio called Secret Teatime. They make handmade cups, mugs, and Japanese tea vessels out of stoneware; Momo Tea, which occupied the stall next to them, was pouring matcha from one of their stoneware bowls. I’m not a huge matcha person, but I ended buying a matcha bowl and a set of cups from Secret Teatime because it turns out that their studio is in Scarborough, the same suburb of Toronto that I’m from.
And let me tell you, as someone who’s lived her whole life in Scarborough, it kinda sucks when people think of your suburb as this vast swath of conservative, Rob-Ford-voting mouthbreathers. Having an independent ceramics studio in the same suburb as me just tickles me pink. Plus, I’m supporting local business by buying their wares! How could I say no to that? I’ll review the tea set from them very soon. I also bought a matcha whisk from Momo Tea to accompany the ceramics set.
Other than the bowl, cups, and whisk, I bought only two varieties of tea: a big bag of nettle tea from Samadhi Tea House and some intriguing chai mix from Chaiwala. Most of the other vendors there were offering things I was already pretty familiar with, so it didn’t feel like such an adventure as it has in the past.
I’m finding it interesting that the year in which I bought the most tea from the tea festival was the first year I attended, in 2014. Then, I was still very new to the world of loose-leaf tea beyond David’s Tea and Teavana, and at the festival I bought five types of loose tea the first time I went — which, back then, felt excessive. Goodness, how much has changed! The festival served as my kickstart to the loose leaf tea world, and I learned a lot through Steepster. But now that I know my way around more, I know what vendors I like to buy from and I have a better idea of my own tastes; the festival doesn’t represent as huge a trove of wonder as it used to.
It was still fun, though. There were some beautiful ceramics on display, and it was nice to spend a day at the library downtown.