The Vancouver Tea Festival came upon me again, and I almost forgot about it until I got a text out of the blue from a friend helping organize it. That could have been disappointing. Since graduating and working full-time I haven’t had nearly as much time to actually sit down with some nice tea, but I have at least been doing more reading. So I’m left with a nice little backlog of books to talk about—if I can remember what it is I want to say, or find my notes on the matter.
So I attended it a few weeks back; following it I relegated myself to my Social Coma. Big events like that don’t sit well with me (well, ‘big’ is relative; ‘big’ for me), and I usually need a good week alone to agonize over social interactions and just mentally rest. It was in the same venue, Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden (and if that isn’t enough to make you go, I don’t know what to say; it’s always a really nice walk-around), and most of the same vendors haunted a lot of the tables—some shuffling around between corners (places like the Chinese Tea Shop always take up a corner—extra room for their wares). Some of the new faces are what I think I’d like to focus on.
Firstly alcohol made its debut at this year’s event. There were two vendors advertising alcoholic tea beverages, set up side-by-side and easy to spot. I’m definitely not the right person to be reviewing tea liquor (being an, ahem, ‘teetotaler’), but Vancouver/the Lower Mainland is kind of a great place for innovation and startups, and I liked what I saw anyhow.
The Spirit of Tea is founded by Del Tamborini, the head of the Vancouver Tea Festival. I sampled the Earl Grey Gin, which was 40% abv. Suffice to say, to me, it tasted like ‘burning.’ I do enjoy a nice earl grey, so I wonder what mixed drinks that use gin would be good for bringing that through. Hopefully there are some proper reviewers out there who can give a better account as to the quality. At least for me, I love the name (The Spirit of Tea) for being a silly pun and a book. Hah.
The other spirits company was Taynton Bay, who debuted their two tea-cocktails: Ginger-Matcha and Strawberry-Herbal. I tried both, and actually quite liked them. But I’m a bit of a sucker for ginger. I couldn’t taste much of the matcha (neither could a friend that was with me), but the ginger wasn’t overly medicinal and the strawberry was equally as nice; not too sweet or syrupy.
It’s worth mentioning that this year also saw the debut of a local chocolatier. As a collab, Drunken Chocolatier used Spirit of Tea’s Vanilla Rooibos liquor as one of their fillings. Most of their chocolates are tea-flavoured, which is honestly fantastic and when I was down to my last ten, I kept circling back around and considering throwing it down on one of the cheaper chocolates. Just for how gorgeous they look on their own.
There were a number of talks and tastings that interested me, but I only ended up going to one, The Cultures of Tea Ceremony put on by Tealet. It wasn’t quite what I was expecting, but was a refreshing surprise in its own right: It was mostly a talk about what makes a ‘ceremony’, and cultural appropriation in tea drinking. It’s a touchy topic that kind of gets brushed off a lot, I think. It ended with a chat about the cultural sharing involved in the Wu-Wo tea ceremony, which I particularly loved.
I suppose the advantage of me not spending most of my time in talks and tastings is that I got to pick up more local chatter from people as I walked, and it’s always nice to meet new and old folks. There was a lot more interested chatter in gongfu and Chinese teas this year, but with that came a level of Tea Elitism that made my eyes roll. Especially given there were a number of new startup tisane/herbal-specific companies this year, and a lot of the talk was directly looking down on them. It’s a shame.
While walking, I spent a lot of time hanging out around the gong fu tables. The volunteers that helped here were an important part of the event–tea lovers bringing their own tea, their own gear to share an experience with anyone who was willing to sit down. The talks are great, but these little tables of introspection make the event for me. Someone brought their own tea-books to flip through (it wasn’t me, but I noticed that they were purchased from the same used bookstore I frequent specifically for tea books, which means I missed out on these; you know I was a bit salty about that).
There was the unfortunate absence of companies that had made it out previously. But the tables left were filled in with a number of these new, small start-ups that hadn’t made it out to past events. One I recognized was Tea Lani (they’ve sold on-campus at my university in the past), a little company that does mainly herbals, medicinal blends. But they also sell one of my favourite earl greys of all time: lavender cream earl grey. That’s right, merging my two favourites into one. Fantastic. So naturally I swung around just to pick up a jar of that, as this was the first time I’d seen them in years. While I was there, though, I sampled their chaga chai; I normally find any non-tea based chais taste a little flat without it, but it was surprisingly full. I have no idea what chaga tastes like on its own.
My usual habit is to pick up a heck of a lot of samples from different vendors; usually chatting with friends about their preferences and grabbing some recommendations. A couple weeks after the event, one said friend texted me saying they’d been hugely enjoying the aged Shui Xian they’d picked up, and were almost out. Remembering that I’d also picked up a sample of it, on their recommendation, I was inspired to give it a sip once I got home from work that day.
Looking back, I remember thinking ‘this roast is a bit sour; maybe it’d be better grandpa-style’. It was. It didn’t hit me as anything fantastic, but then again, I don’t drink a lot of aged Wu Yis. Preferences aren’t always the same. I have no issues sipping a flavoured tea in the morning, and tend to drink an herbal or two in the late evening. Although some of the chatter I came in contact with was overly negative towards these companies, I hope, for the most part, they saw support and good sales from festival-goers. My tea-preferences are all over the place, and I will gladly hold a cup of lavender cream earl grey in one hand and aged Shui Xian in the other.