Who are you?
I am a computer drafter for the structural department of a civil engineering firm. I have been working for the same company since I graduated from University of Central Missouri (it was still CMSU when I attended!) back in the Stone Age. I am a self-taught cook and have taught cooking classes at the Kansas City Culinary Center (mostly focused on the perfect cheesecake) and was a cooking instructor for several seasons with the North Kansas City Community Education program. So I’m not a tea merchant and until starting this festival my relationship to the industry was strictly as a consumer.
On the personal side, I live up by the Kansas City airport with 2 spoiled rotten cats and a very patient husband.
How did you first get into tea?
We always had iced tea around when I was a kid (unsweetened – we weren’t that far in the South!) and occasionally hot tea if we were sick. That was the same stuff everyone had – bagged Lipton. Even back then my mom didn’t like the instant tea so maybe I started out as a budding tea snob. Many, many years later, I attended my first tea party with my Granny. It was the annual Christmas tea at the Dallas Arboretum. I was immediately enamored of the trappings for a tea party – all the pretty plates and cups and teapots – and having always been a cook and baker, the tiny little tidbits of food at a tea party naturally caught my attention. I don’t remember how I stumbled across them in the first place, but my first loose leaf tea purchase was from Harney & Sons. It was all downhill from there. Pretty soon I was throwing tea parties for my coworkers over the lunch hour and then for my friends at home and next for birthday parties and wedding showers for friends. Somewhere in all of that I ran across Steepster, an online community for tea lovers. I started finding more and more different teas, learning more and more about tea, and buying from more and more merchants. My tea collection grew along with my tea ware collection and now some people would probably call it more of an obsession than a casual hobby!
That’s hard. I have found that my tastes change as I am exposed to more and more teas. I started out loving flavored black teas but after venturing into unflavored Darjeelings, I began to love the varying depths of flavor in those far more. Now that I have been tasting high quality unflavored black teas of all varieties for several years now I rarely reach for flavored teas any more. I most often find myself with Yunnans lately or Taiwanese blacks. I adore the malty and honey profile so many of these types of teas have. Chewy tea. That’s what I like right now.
Favorite aspect of the tea community?
The generosity shown, both with knowledge and tea itself. Steepster has its issues, like any large online community, but by and large, people are so nice to each other. The majority of tea people I have met, both online and in person are simply decent folks who share a passion for tea.
Most unusual tea you have had?
Probably a buckwheat tea that I found in a traveling tea box swap on Steepster. I can’t say that I liked it, but it was unusual.
A tip for someone new to tea?
Join an online tea community – I recommend Steepster. You will get exposed to sources for good tea of all kinds and learn a whole lot about tea as you go along. Tea swaps are the best for trying out lots of different teas without having to buy a lot of a tea before you know if you’ll like it.
Favorite food to have with favorite tea?
Sharp cheddar cheese on pretzels with almost any really excellent Yunnan. Or extremely dark chocolate cake made with Earl Grey – food and tea all in one!
How did the idea for the festival start?
I had written a tea review on Steepster and in the comment thread on the review someone said we should have a SteepsterCon. That sounded like a great idea to me and things just took off from there. I started looking for tea festivals to attend and they all seemed to be on either coast. I started wondering why there wasn’t one in the Midwest. Kansas City has been growing so much lately as a foodie and artsy town that it just seemed like a natural fit.
I started wondering how I could go about starting a festival in Kansas City. I am a highly organized person in my daily work and I also love travel planning so planning something like this really appealed to me. I contacted the local tea merchants and a few others from the Steepster community to see if they might be interested in participating in a tea festival. When the responses were largely positive, I threw myself into planning in earnest. I sought out quotes for venues and started making lists (which are the bread and butter of organizational types) of things I would need, what needed to be done, who I needed to talk to. I looked for those other tea festivals online again to see how they were set up. By happy coincidence, the Northwest Tea Festival in Seattle was going to be held about 1 ½ months after I had started on this endeavor. So I got my plane tickets, invited my mom to go along with me and contacted the festival organizers out there. Doug Livingston, one of the principal organizers, was extremely helpful and very forthcoming.
My planning was well underway by the time I went to the Northwest Tea Festival. When I got there and saw in person how things were being done, I got tons more new ideas and more fully fleshed out the ideas I previously had.
The Northwest Tea Festival was really an eye opener. The energy generated around a tea festival was just amazing. There were so many people there on the Saturday when I attended that you only occasionally broke free from the crowd to take a full step in any direction! Tea really is on the rise with consumers, that’s for sure – and it’s about time coffee got displaced from the top of the heap for awhile and gave tea a turn!
Thank you Nicole for the awesome interview and pictures! There will be more juicy details about the festival as we get closer to its June 6th date, but feel free to spread the word! #MidwestTeaFestival