Vancouver Tea Festival (2016)

Two things happened yesterday. The Vancouver Tea Festival ensued, and Tony Gebeley published his book. This is a book I’ve (read: most people) been spying on for a while, and it looks like it’s got everything I want in a tea book. I’d really like the physical release, but I’m not prepared to spend the over $55CAD to get it right now. For once, getting the digital release actually saves you an appreciable amount (I come from a world of ‘digital textbooks’ that save you a joke and a half, pulp books that save you actually nothing [unjokingly, literally, nothing], and a whole lot of publications that came out way before the internet and aren’t popular enough to be readily digitized). Unfortunately, that means downloading the Kindle app onto my slow little Kobo. Is that sacrilege?

Back in June I received a comment inviting me to attend the third annual Vancouver Tea Festival as a media representative. I was pretty doubtful, since I’m not much of a blog, and I actively regard any comment addressed directly to me with suspicion. Spambots are only getting smarter.

After answering, I largely forgot about the invite, since the festival was months off and I was pretty quickly swamped by summer work, summer fieldschool, and then the fall term. That mostly meant not reading and writing either, although I’ve got a stack of books and a short lists of posts planned. I tend to feel guilty whenever I read for leisure when I know I could be reading a textbook instead.

I got increasingly more anxious as the date approached (a combination of base social anxiety, and not knowing what was expected of me). The morning of, I’d downloaded the emailed invitation (“proof”) onto my phone, because I was afraid I wouldn’t be on the “list” I’d been told I would be added to (spoilers: I wasn’t on the list). Unfortunately, my antique old smartphone reset itself on the ride down, so I lost the email and didn’t have the wifi connection I needed to retrieve it.

The festival has changed venues again, and was a bit more disorganized compared to the relatively well-oiled system in place last year. I had trouble navigating the signs, and got bounced back and forth between the main check-in and the signup desk in the opposite building. Ultimately, it looked like they didn’t know where I should sign in, so I was given a cup and ushered in anyways.

About two hours later, and with the help of a exhibitor slash friend, it looked like passes had been sorted out and we went to go pick them up proper. It was at this point that the physical “Media List” was pulled out and I had a silent anxiety attack because (surprise) I wasn’t on it. I was allowed to sign in on paper though (after stuttering about getting an email) and got a pass, which was quite nice seeing as, had I the talent for it, I could have been lying out of my ass to get in without paying.

Of course, the downside of having a physical pass around my neck was the symptomatic constant, nervous laugh every time someone asked me about who I was ‘with’ followed by me uncomfortably mumbling something about having a blog. Occasionally I’d pass other people with “media” passes and very expensive, professional looking cameras. But the tag (when it wasn’t falling off–the plastic cover on mine was broken) did serve as a useful conversation starter. Damn, I need this plastic courage for geoscience conventions.

I’m lucky I had some of my geoscience student business cards in my bag, as they came in handy when people asking about my “media”, so at the very least I could quickly scribble the website down on the back. I should really do something about the mismatched URL.

That all said, I do have some honest confessions about this year’s festival. Firstly, the lack of signage. It got me lost, and for the entire first half of the festival, I thought the conventional workshop/tea tasting setup had been mostly scrapped because I couldn’t find any posters of the schedule. Only to realize there was one, tucked to the side of the inner entrance.

This was more confusing because they DID have a “Tea Tasting” sign for the second building, but since I couldn’t find a schedule, I thought it was a single, all-day event. By the time I had noticed the agenda, everything I was interested in was either over or fully booked.

The exhibition hall itself, I could have sworn was a bit smaller, and I heard a few people remark that it didn’t feel as busy (although to me, all crowds are too busy). Not exactly the fault of the planners. It was a bit disappointing to see that many of the interesting companies I’d been introduced to at the last festival, like Young Mountain Tea, weren’t present. I hope as the festival grows in coming years, a bunch of these companies will return. It was almost a little sad not to see DavidsTea, and as always I’m always disappointed when Murchie’s isn’t about. I would have liked to see TeaFarm as well, since they’ve finally come out with their first harvest of tea (imagine if they’d done a talk or workshop… sigh). Weirdly, they WERE there, in a sense. Honey Shoppe was selling some of their blends. Huh.

So close.

So close.

Although I managed to miss every single workshop and tea tasting (well, the cocktail one still had spots open, but here I am, being a no-fun teetotaler), I did manage to sit down at the gong fu booth, and even though I will agonize over every thing I said (as I am wont to do), I’ll admit it was really nice, and I had some pleasant conversations with people. I was also given a task: research Nepalese bamboo-packed heicha. I like a challenge.

Nepalese bamboo-packed tea

What are you?? It was very sour.

For merch, I managed to keep myself under a solid budget, since I’m tight for money right now (lousy tuition), but managed to find myself a new fairway cup at least. It came with a nice wood coaster. If I remember, I’ll take a picture. From there, I picked up an oolong from Justea (to replace the one I ran out of), Oollo’s limited edition Alishan black (which I coveted last year, but which they didn’t have at the festival then), and an aged brick white from the Chinese Tea Shop. I would have picked up the pressed yue guan bai from O5 as well, but I was a few dollars short, so that kept me under budget. Oh, darn. Money saved.

In the end, I like the new location (you’re within walking distance of about three tea shops, only one of which actually made it out to the festival). The garden was very nice, and when the crowded exhibition room got overbearing, I went for a walk through it in the pouring rain with my umbrella. I regret not exploring further. The setup was great, just disorganized (but assuming they stick with the venue, better signage will fix that in the future).

I would have liked to go to one of the tastings or workshops, which looked like they were being held overlooking the garden. Next year.



  1. Thanks for mentioning my book! It should be available on the Kobo shop, no need to purchase thru Kindle app.

  2. Too bad the signs were not up to the task and too bad you missed the tea tasting.
    Next time :D

  3. Thanks for the review. I’m loving Tony’s book too.

  4. Jealous about this fest. 05? And Tea Farm were there?!? Aaaaah, I would’ve been in sensory overload mode.

    Everything you described is how I was at my first festival.

  5. Hi AJ, thanks for the article.

    Sigh. Where to begin? There’s a lot I could say by way of explanation, but I won’t go into too much detail why things weren’t quite as “well-oiled” as they may have seemed last year. Suffice it to say when there are two technically separate venues (despite only being a few metres apart) and three different stakeholders involved in the operation of the festival, there are going to be some hiccups and learning experiences in our first year at a new venue.

    The relative paucity of signage, which we were unfortunately quite acutely aware of going in, has a pretty simple explanation – our graphic designer completely abandoned us and despite our best efforts was impossible to contact in the period prior to the festival. So we ended up doing what we could ourselves with the ability and time frame we had. It’s frustrating it ended up that way this year, but fortunately, unless we encounter yet another flaky designer next year – something we will do our absolute best to avoid at all costs – the quantity and variety of signage definitely won’t be an issue from here on. I am perplexed why the tea tastings caused such confusion, though, especially since even if our onsite signage could have been better, we had the detailed workshop and tasting schedule – times, locations, descriptions, etc. – on the festival website weeks in advance. But regardless, your experience is duly noted, and the experience will be a much better one if you choose to come back next year.

    Also, I’m sorry, and angry, to hear you weren’t on the media list, because I put your name on our media list myself. I have no idea what happened there. I’m happy to send you a screenshot of that list if you’d like proof. However, whether that was the list that got printed out and the volunteers were using at the door is another matter. I should have just done it myself and there would have been no confusion. Lesson learned. I do wish, though, that you had said something to me when you saw me at the gongfu cha booth, or earlier. I had no idea you had had difficulties with getting your accreditation and would have done my best to make up for it to you if I’d known.

    Regarding the exhibitors:

    We were also sorry Young Mountain was unable to be there this year, as they’re wonderful friends of ours and have great tea, but they had a very good reason for not being there – they were conducting a tea tour of India. We really hope Raj and his team will be able to be back at our festival next year.

    DAVIDsTEA was one we were disappointed not to have back this year, particularly since we didn’t even receive a response, yea or nay, to our invitation. But in their defence, their organizational priorities may have shifted, and in any case, we remain grateful and happy to have had them exhibit at our first two festivals.

    Teafarm? We would love to have them at the festival, directly. Whether they wish to be a part of it is, of course, entirely their decision. This has been a big – and no doubt, busy – year for them, and schlepping over from the Island isn’t the most convenient either, so it’s perfectly understandable if they haven’t seen fit to participate so far. We definitely hope to have them at future festivals, though.

    The other company you were disappointed not to see there? As I think I mentioned to you before, don’t hold your breath. Their seeming antipathy toward us is as consistent as it is inexplicable.

    Anyway, thanks for the write-up, and I’ll personally hand you your media pass at next year’s festival if you wish to attend. :)

    Also, we’re super excited about Tony’s book, too!

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