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Monday, April 8, 2013

2nd Annual SF Tea Festival

Angela and Melissa attended the 2nd Annual San Francisco Tea Festival. We also attended the inaugural happening last year. Some things were the same and some were different. The Tea Festival follows the same event footprint as last year, which features vendor tables where you can taste and purchase, educational speakers and the chance to talk to other people who are enthused about the topic, in this case, Specialty Teas. This event takes place at the Ferry Building on the second floor, a smaller space which allows for a concentrated area of vendors with speakers and tastings spread out among rooms and halls.

Prior to the opening ceremony all is quiet.
Getting busy!
Goodie bag with tasting cup.
This year the festival began with a "Welcome" and appreciation speech by Roy Fong, the organizer of the event and tea guru behind The Imperial Tea Room. Standing behind him was the (self-titled) Old Guard, including Michael Spillane, James Norwood Pratt, Rona Tison and Frank Hadley Murphy with a special nod to Devon Shah, owner of Chado tea. Mel was already in her first tasting class, but Angela was waiting for her "History of Tea in the US" to start so she caught it all. The obvious enthusiasm that Mr. Fong has for tea is catching, but more on his personal tea philosophies later. Suffice to say, attendees, volunteers and vendors were welcomed, encouraged and thanked by Mr. Fong in a courteous and heartfelt manner.

Specialty tea professionals, with Mr. Ray Fong on the mike.
Listening to the masters speak.
The crowd has assembled.
JNP books and limited edition print by Matthew London.
Mr. Pratt signing copies of his book. His small class was sold out,
but he did introduce Michael Spillane.
After the opening remarks, Angela zoomed into the big room to reclaim her seat and we waited to hear from Mr. Michael Spillane from the G.S. Haley Company, which has been in the tea importing business for over 100 years. His father worked for the company during the depression and then purchased it from the owner's widow (paying her back in installments for many years). It was passed onto him by his mother, whom he credits with recognizing and 'creating' the specialty tea niche. His knowledge and personal stories about tea were very interesting and he is a very polished speaker. Here are a few factual highlights from his talk about tea in the US.

  • The Boston 'Tea Party' in 1773 pushed consumers away from drinking tea, clearing the way for coffee to become a patriotic household staple.
  • The California Gold Rush brought an influx of tea drinkers to the West Coast, reintroducing it to a growing country. 
  • Iced tea became popular at the 1904 Fair when a man decided to try and help customers beat the heat.
  • Tea bags were also introduced at this time by a man who wanted to send customers small self contained samples of tea--the customers kept asking for more tea bags so he started selling them.
  • Most Americans drank green loose whole leaf teas prior to the World Wars. After WWII, they drank black tea in bags.
  • In the 1950's a board of tea experts makes laws against lead lined tea tins and imports were forced to change their ways.
  • When supermarkets started to charge for shelf space in the 1960's, tea companies cut the quality of their product rather than increase the price. (Hello, tea sand!)
  • Celestial Seasonings brought 'herbal' teas to the fore starting in 70's.
  • Tea is now seen as a 'healthy' beverage, and Snapple has helped make it 'fun' since the 80's.
  • Specialty teas are making a comeback, but are still only a slight fraction of the market share for tea overall. 
  • Most Oolong used for 'iced' tea comes from Argentina as they produce a product that does not cloud when chilled.
Let me learn the History of Tea in the US
Melissa sampled a few teas during her first small class, sponsored by Wild Qi Tea. She also took advantage of the discounts being offered by various vendors in the Ferry Building, such as the Imperial Tea Room (steamed bun dim sum) and Gott's Roadside (Green Tea ice cream smoothie). Later she attended another tea tasting sponsored by the Meaning of Tea. It was a quick one, so she also got to check out the lecture on Great Teas of India by Mr. Shaw from Chado. He talked about the three types of Indian tea (Assam-northeast, Darjeeling-east, Nilgiri-south) and mentioned that flower and herb tea mix-ins that get added to tea (sometimes only for the look, no additional flavor) cost significantly more than when he first began making teas for his shop. Also, if you're looking for a low caffeine tea, either stick with a Tisane or simply pour off the first steeping of your regular tea. Mr. Shaw laughed at the idea of "caffeine free" tea and encouraged listeners not purchase a low quality product (caffeine free tea has been used, they steep it for you before you buy it).

Angela's final small class was full to over capacity (some people were nearly standing in the hall). Everyone wanted to get a taste of what Roy Fong was serving in his specially made tea cups (small base to hold or wide rim to hold, similar in style to a martini glass) during his Full Cycle of Gong Fu Tea class. Mr. Fong is an inspired speaker, showing his love for tea through stories and action. We learned about Gong Fu (the study of Gong Fu (to work to be better) can be applied to any part of life... J.K. and I are getting Gong Fu about Afternoon Tea!) He spoke about the practical and philosophical meanings of Gong Fu, including how the Chinese relate the 5 elements (metal/wood/water/fire/earth) to the tea ceremony. He starts to make all his tea with fresh water, and suggests you do so as well, because water that has already been boiled is flat. We all tasted a fresh green tea, three times, the flavors changing with each short steeping. Angela prefers tea that is not boiling hot, she feels she can taste more instead of just worrying about burning her mouth! So the fact that Mr.Fong advocates for "steaming" water for steeping your tea and serving/sipping at a lukewarm temperature is exciting and supports her personal ideas. The milder temperature also allows the tea to give a better 'mouth feel,' allowing it to coat the palate with flavor. If you would like to experience this ceremony, you can check it out at the Imperial Tea Room, or at Taste Tea in Hayes Valley. (A reminder: Black Teas often require hotter water and longer steeping.)

Custom made Gong Fu tea set.
Cleansing and warming the entire tea set.
Talking Tea and philosophy. 
Serving us the tea leaves to eat before the end of class.
Tea Time took a lot of photos between talking to vendors, sampling teas and listening to speakers in order to try and capture the variety of businesses in the hall that are offering specialty teas and tea themed items. We won't comment on them all, but follow the links if something catches your eye!

Tea and Aleigo Chocolate. Yum.
Probably better than the stuff I made at home. (okay, the fizz IS better)
Ready and willing to answer your pressing tea questions!
Waiting to share their wares and tea history.

Sky Tea


Melissa bought a teapot from them and she uses it often.
Teatime Trading Company

Glenburn Tea Direct
Ito En with their bottled tea drinks and matcha tea (very good quality).
Sencha Naturals

Tea mints. Get your tea fix when you don't have water.
The Urasenke Foundation table featured a tea ceremony performed at various times throughout the day.
Red Circle Tea
We'd love to give you a sample!
 Specialty teas of all types were found here.
sharing space with JNP.

Books for kids,

Ayurvedic Teas for your chakra.
Blooming teas=tea as art?

Chado had a wide variety of products.
The gentlemen of Chado.
A tray for your tea ceremony!
Mountain Tea
Mountain Teas had crunchy cookie bars to taste, they were good!

Pure Puer Teas
Ask a tea question, please!
Tea Is art, Tea Time thinks this tea is beautiful.

The spread.
Pu reh Tea.
The Meaning of Tea also sponsored Melissa's 2nd tasting class.
We were able to watch a bit of this documentary last year.
They also do catering.
Fox and Moon teas
Imperial Tea Court Table
Definitely a new to us product..what about you?
Tea Time was a bit overwhelmed by the choices!
The ITC also sells tea ware.
The view from above, looking down at the Imperial Tea Court at the Ferry Building.
Harney and Sons Fine Teas
Beautiful tea colors!
Featuring the "new" teabag, a pyramid which allows your whole leaf tea to steep!
A tea brewing contraption. Pretty and Expensive.

H and S table.
This posting is for the people who wonder, "Where's the tea?" in our blogging adventures. Full disclosure is that Angela has had to cut back on both hot and colored liquids (but bring on the champagne!) due to her braces. That plus the fact that JK drinks her tea only during afternoon tea and at Chinese restaurants means we don't have much in the way of specialty tea information for you. Melissa plans to be our tea maven and write up some posts about specialty teas. Right now you can check out her "Mel's Tea of the Day" posts. However, we are willing to share resources, so drop us a comment if you're curious about the Tea Festival and we'll be happy to pass on the names or books of true tea experts (and importers!). San Francisco is a gateway for specialty tea and if you're looking to build a career in tea, or you just want to learn more about the leaf, this is the place to start.

Just one question. Who wants to attend an "Afternoon Tea" Festival? Bring on the food, right? !!!!!