Sunday, June 7, 2015

Midwest Tea Festival, Part One!

Before I get into the really juicy details, I want to send a shoutout to Nicole and Alex, you guys did amazing, the Festival was a HUGE success! I knew the festival was going to be fun, but it was honestly more amazing than I could have imagined. Thank you to the coordinators, the vendors, and the presenters...and of course, everyone who came out to support the first Midwest Tea Fest! And now to the coverage! Yes, I am breaking this up into a three part special, part one will cover the presentations and tasting cafes I went to, part two the different vendors I was able to interact with, and part three will be my overall opinion and of course the afterparty!

The first presentation I went to was led by Michael Harney of the well renowned Harney & Sons, you might remember I reviewed his book a while ago, so being able to meet him and hear him speak was awesome. The presentation covered the history of Harney & Sons and the different teas in general, this was not new info to me, but was a great introduction to people not totally familiar with tea. I really like how the first tea he talked about was Anji Baicha, a great favorite of mine that not too many people are familiar with, and passing around teas for us all to sniff was quite delightful, I had a little explosion of happiness when he passed some Li Shan oolong around, I love that stuff. I also learned about Selena Ahmed who is working on a project studying climate change and how it is affecting tea. The presentation went a bit long and I was going to miss the tasting cafe I signed up for, so I had to dash off at the end and did not get to talk to Mr. Harney, tragic!

Next up on my schedule was the Tasting Cafe! In theory you were supposed to only sign up for one, it was a first come first serve ticket handing out, but a lot of people just kinda wandered in. Since I was a little late I was worried I would not get to taste, but one of the people at the festival without a ticket gave me her chair. Hilariously that chair was right next to none other than TheLastDodo fellow Steepsterite and Tea blogger at Soritea Sisters, we noticed we had the same tasting cup and did a little cup fist bump. It was not until one of our mutual instagram friends pointed out we had taken more or less the same picture and put it on instagram. Of course by the time we realized this the tasting cafe was over, but we ran into each other again...but that is a story for later!
So, the cafe I went to was the Tealet: Tasting Direct Trade Teas, primarily teas from Nepal. As you know, I am a huge fan of teas from Nepal, I honestly have not had one that I did not immediately love, they have crisp and clean notes, so I was very happy to try some more. Plus I love Tealet, and Rie, did a wonderful job brewing the tea. Sadly right in the middle of the event there was a fire alarm and we had to leave, and of course by the time we were let back in it was time for the next cafe, so I wandered off to my next presentation. 

I managed to sneak into the tail-end of Shang Tea's presentation where Kyle did an excellent presentation on Brick Aged White Tea and Unglazed Porcelain. Brick Aged White tea is amazing, but I am a sucker for aged white teas, definitely my next purchase from Shang's is going to be some of it because it is delicious. The Unglazed Porcelain is an amazing thing, it is like Yixing in a lot of ways (needs to be seasoned and used for one kind of tea, and costs a LOT) but it is beautifully white and even more rare and hard to make than Yixing. The failure rate of Unglazed Porcelain is very high, just one bit of impurity in the super pure kaolin clay and poof, no teapot out of the kiln, just a sad mess. The artist creating them is able to create more, so with time hopefully they will drop enough in price for my poor self to own one. I had to make my escape at the end during the question and answer session because I did not want to miss the next presentation.

Mainly because Fish and Ben charged me with answering the trivia correctly to win a tea plant from Single Origin Tea. Now I admit, I wanted to win a tea plant, but really I wanted to make my own tea...yes, you read that right. James, the proprietor of Single Origin Tea, brought some of his fresh green tea leaves from his tea garden in Florida, which we got to roll and take home to finish off and then drink to our heart's content.

The tea was actually pretty amazing! The taste was like a blend of vegetal spring greens and nutty sweet blacks, with a roasted floral tone of oolong. Honestly it was unlike any tea I have ever had, in all honesty it was kinda magical, it has been one of my dreams to make my own tea, because I love experiencing the whole process of a thing I am interested it. I feel it gives me a greater understanding and connection to one of my passions. I savored every drop.

Of course there was more to this presentation than rolling leaves, we got to learn about US grown tea, the struggles of growing tea in this country, especially in places of extreme weather. Also, it was a pleasure talking with someone who knew what I was talking about when I said Anthocyanin and Trichomes, because Botany is awesome.

Ben and Fish left to go to Harney & Son's tasting cafe (it was listed as a surprise and those two became very intrigued) while I went to Tealet's presentation on Direct Trade Tea. I suggest going to their website and learning about what they do, but I will sum it up (trust me, Elyse is infinitely better at this than me!) Direct Trade is all about making sure the farmers get what they deserve, rather than most the money going to factories and distributors. Why pay $40 for an ounce of fancy oolong when the farmer is only getting like $1 profit for that ounce, it is completely unjust me thinks. I love their mission and what they stand for, I share a very similar ideal, getting labels like organic and fair trade usually is reserved for big farms and estates that make enough to afford it, but these little farms can be just as organic and fair trade, but they will never get the recognition as that because they cannot afford the painfully expensive certification. So ask questions, connect with the farmers and get to know them, you don't need labels to get artistic tea. Plus, earlier in the day I was able to talk with Elyse and receive a hug, which was quite awesome, The Global Tea Ambassador is really a perfect title. Also, during the entire presentation we were given tastes of tea from Nepal, so even though the tasting was interrupted earlier, we were able to enjoy more. I was also really impressed with Rie's skill with a gaiwan, whenever I brew tea when people are watching I always make a mess, clearly I will need the practice of social brewing!

I promised Ben and Fish I would meet them at the Single Origin Tea Tasting Cafe, more tea plants were being given away, whomever came up with the best adjective to describe the tea being tasted, and they wanted me there...I feel so used! Ok, no I don't, I wanted a tea plant too! So, tasting three Ceylon teas, the one I tasted (since I snuck in between the curtains mid tasting, Ben handed me his cup) was from Amba tea estate, possible my favorite Ceylon estate.

I gave my quick description, sweet potatoes, roasted peanuts, and a bit of spice bush...the sweet potatoes won me a tea plant. Fish and I have joint custody (since he is an avid gardener) until we move in together and have a place that is cat safe, because Espeon would totally eat the plant. We named the plant Tiberius Action 'Sweet Potato' Jackson. The other tea I tried was quite awesome.
That is a look of pure bliss

The last Presentation of the day might have been my favorite, because it was the presentation given by James Norwood Pratt, America's Tea Sage. Now shortly before the presentation I was able to talk to the master himself, and I didn't pull a Victorian lady and faint, quite proud of myself. See, he is one of the authors I greatly admire, I consider him to be a huge inspiration, it was an honor to meet him! Ben was a darling and bought me a book so I could get it inscribed, I honestly almost cried (glad I didn't, my already smudgy eye makeup would have been just ruined, why did I wear makeup?) years ago in Pennsylvania (right before moving to KC actually) I read The Tea Lover's Treasury, and now I have The Ultimate Tea Lover's Treasury. So awesome!! One day I hope to get the Tea Dictionary, but that is a pretty penny (but being able to look at it, oooh, so awesome) I am getting off track! Anyway, Ben, knowing I am shy and awkward, insisted I get my picture taken with him, and I am so glad I did, and honored that he wanted a picture of the two of us as well!

But, enough about me geeking out, onto the presentation! It was packed, clearly the main event, I ended up sitting on the floor, which was fine, I actually prefer that when I can get away with it. It made it feel like I was being told a story, he has a wonderful way of speaking. After the presentation I told Ben that he was like a tea wizard, like Merlin or Gandalf, weaving tales of tea history and stories into a beautiful tapestry in the listeners' mind. If you ever get the chance to hear him speak, do it, I am serious, it is amazing.

So, that was an exceptionally long part one! Part two will be out next Sunday! Also I apologize for the not fantastic photos, my forte is crawling on the ground photographing mushrooms...they usually are outside and not mobile, so indoor kinetic photography on a slowly dying outdated camera is not my craft of choice :(


  1. What a wonderful article. I wish I could have been there!

  2. Oh, yay! I didn't know this existed. As a fellow Midwesterner (but now living in Oregon), I'm so happy to see this tea emergence there. (When I lived in IN, it was a desert for tea shops!)

  3. Thanks for writing this article. So happy the event was such a success!!