Sunday, May 8, 2016

2016 Midwest Tea Festival Coverage

OMG you guys I had such a blast!! I drank so much tea and got to meet in person so many people from the internet world, combine that with really enjoyable presentations and a really varied selection of tea and teaware and it was nothing short of perfection. This year the festival was at a much larger venue so even though it was packed (845 admissions bought, not sure of the exact number of people who showed up though) it was not like being in a tea themed sardine can. One of my favorite things about this venue was up on the top floor where the specialty stage was located, there were big cushy chairs and sofas, so when I was waiting for a presentation to start I could sit and let my feet rest. Ross and Kyle from Shang Tea (or my tea bros as I call them) grabbed me out of line before the show started, so I was able to talk to some of the vendors and see the layout before it got busy (and fight with camera/phone settings to get things right with the limited lighting) and I have to say, the layout was wonderfully organized and setup.

There were so many vendors there sampling great teas, I couldn't try everything (I was teadrunk enough as it was) but the ones that really stuck in my mind as awesome were (of course) the Aged White and Tangerine Blossom from Shang's, the Rummy Pu from Liquid Proust, the Cherry White from The Dragon's Treasure, the Formosa Assam from Beautiful Taiwan Tea Company, Firewood Roasted Green from Tealet, the Matcha from TeaGshwendner, and Traveler's Turmeric from Traveler's Tea.

Even though there were a few teas that were not to my liking, and several booths that were always really busy so I never got to taste (Hugo Teas and Single Origin were the two that whenever I went by it was packed) the tasting process this year was phenomenal because of the awesome cups! Last year's cups were perfect for gongfu-ing (I still use mine) but I think a lot of people were used to larger cups and not really sure how to handle the tiny ones. There was a couple times last year I was worried about being poured on, but this year not at all. Plus I love that it has the Midwest Tea Festival and year printed on it, a treasured memento of an event I will actually use!

Allow me to segue off the cup to the bag of loot that came with admission, for $12 you get to get into the fest...and a bag of awesome goodies! The sponsor's for this year's festival went all out, not just coupons and brochures with a few teabags, but lots of awesome looking tea, and a biscuit to celebrate my English heritage. Also a pen, as a person rather obsessivly collects pens as much as teacups, this pleased me. Honestly, if I had gotten just the bag and there was no tea festival, I would have said the loot was worth way more than $12.

Presentations! There were so many! I wanted to go to all of them, but since I lacked a time turner I had to pick my favorites, which were all on the specialty stage. The first one was on the Japanese Tea Ceremony led by Ayako Mizumura the proprietress of Bimi Bakery. This was the most hype of the presentations, it was packed and I ended up having to sit on the floor. No worries for me since left to my own devices I sit seiza on the floor, though it did give me a crap photography angle, oops. Even though this presentation did not really teach me anything new, I still loved it because it was the first time I had seen a real person preparing Matcha rather than just reading or watching videos. The first time I had seen a real person talking about the tea ceremony, and this pleased me! I had hoped to talk to her about becoming a student, but she was super busy so clearly I need to go to Lawrence and order cookies.

And her cookies are freaking amazing. The little bit I was able to talk to her, she was so happy I knew Genmaicha and Umeboshi, and as someone who gets super happy when I meet someone who is familiar with my native food (be it English or Southern) this is a feeling I can relate to. Also I want more of her cookies! I ate the package I got of them as soon as I got home and want more.

The next presentation I utterly failed at taking pictures of, was Tealet's presentation on Direct Trade tea and introducing a few farmers who are following these ethics. I got to introduce Rie and she requested I do so in a fun accent so I went with my only slightly terrible Scottish. While I was really excited to see these farmers, this presentation was mainly for Ben, who was sad he missed last year's presentation on this topic. Both of us have a great deal of interest in the environmental and human aspect of tea production, and appreciate companies that are about transparency and not just using a label to drive up a price. Tealet will give you excellent information and resources on Direct Trade, but the real motto of the presentation is one I appreciate, and that is to ask questions and not take things at face value!

The final presentation I went to was James of Single Origin Tea, and it covered a subject I am quite passionate about, and that is the fine art of growing tea in the US! James is getting a PhD in Botany specializing in tea Biology, and being able to occasionally pick his mind when I have questions in this vein is always a pleasure. Plus seeing how more and more farmers are trying to grow tea here is awesome, though with all things there are some shady goings on and a lot of unnecessary secretive behavior. I understand it, wanting to protect trade secrets, but sadly this being protective is making it hard for the scientific community to study. This honestly has been a problem as long as there has been tea grown for profit though, but luckily there are growers who are passionate about it and want to share, so we are not totally in the dark. He brought with him some tea made by Fairhope Tea Estate in Alabama, and I can safely say it was some of the most unique tea I have had, the country is big and full of so much potential to develop unique terroirs, and I am so excited to see how it grows.

I also went to a tasting cafe, and man was it hard to pick which one to go to! I feel a little bad, I dragged Ben with me to the same one so I wouldn't be by my lonesome, but he probably would have been happier going to one of the ones focusing on Western brewed teas rather than the Spectrum of Taiwanese Teas. I was tempted by the Wuyi Oolongs, the session devoted to experimental teas by Tealet, and Shang's session of White Teas, but the Taiwanese Teas won my heart, plus it was being led by Beautiful Taiwan Tea Company, and if you remember when I covered them on my blog I was very impressed with their offerings. We got to sample Pi Luo Chun (which inspired me to do a comparison of Taiwanese, Yunnan, and Jiangsu snaily greens) fresh from the field (finally! I got a green from this year! Come on teas, get out of mail limbo already) a Winter Shan Lin Xi which was wonderfully sweet and alpine, with a wonderful viscosity, and an Alishan Black which I actually reviewed on the blog and ohhh it was so good. Ben's favorite was the black, unsurprising, but it is harder for me to pick because they were all wonderful.

There was of course, the mythical Steepster gathering and tea tasting, where I was able to meet other steepster peeps, fellow bloggers, and honored tea vendors...and of course Andrew of Liquid Proust since he was the one who came up with the idea and brought the tea. He was kind enough to also let me store my tea gear at his booth before the event so I didn't have to carry it around. We had many steeps of an aged Ti Guan Yin from 2003, one of the best aged TGY's I have had, but I am not sure if it was the tea or the excellent company. As first times I have poured for a group goes, the only spillage that happened was on the table, and even though my hands were shaking a bit I didn't make a mess, maybe I will do more of these in the future! It was so awesome meeting people I talk to online, and reminded me how tea people are just so awesome. Plus we all got to touch LP's Beenghole and that was excellent.

It seemed there were two really big themes going around the festival this year, or at least in the areas I was in, dinosaurs and shadiness. There was Earl the giant Rex that was wandering around the festival and at the entrance was an adorable Rex figure, as a dinosaur enthusiast and tea fanatic I seriously appreciate the overlap. I think next year if there is a Rex costume to be had I might volunteer my services because as you might all know, the Rex is my spirit animal. On the shadiness front, well, Beautiful Taiwan Tea, Tealet, and Single Origin Tea all mentioned in the tasting and presentation that the tea world is not as honest or transparent as it seems, and this is sadly true. Lately there has been a lot of turbulence in the tea community as vendors and experts alike blow the whistle on practices that are dishonest. It has been polarizing and messy in some ways, but very eyeopening in others, and I for one, as a person whose motto is 'all knowledge is worth having' support this, even if it does break my heart at times.

I wasn't sure it was possible for this year to be even better than last, but it was. I am a bit sad I was not able to go to all the presentations or go to the couple of after parties held after the event, but it was grand. I of course did a bit of shopping, getting some tea for the blog from Liquid Proust and Beautiful Taiwan Tea, and realize I need to drink more of my tea so I can justify buying more from some of the awesome vendors I met and re-familiarized myself with. I maybe should have broken this up into multiple blogs, but I figure my later coverage can be about the teas I bought! Now I finish off with some photos from the event that need to be shared:
The line shortly before the Tea Bros rescued me, I am mildly phobic about lines, queuing is not a strong skill
Before the crowds, a good photo opportunity
A wild Ben has been spotted
Must...avoid...teaware!
Blending tea and anime, be still my geeky heart!
Look at the size of that barrel!
I touched it, we all touched it
REX!!!!! I squeed 
holy crap line
See, thematic!
And the festival starts! 
Ben and I agreed that this gentleman had the best beard of the festival, though there was lots of dapper facial hair
Dragon looks so friendly
Local favorite herb shop!
I want this cup, I'm going to have to go about getting some of her stuff, Pi Ceramics, you are awesome
oh no I found the teapots
OMG THIS GAIWAN IS SO CUTE!
Duanni!! I Love the yellow clay!
Nicole wrote a book! I take so many notes that I would need a stack
Rex!!! I believe the name of the Rex was Earl, fitting!
So much fun iconography around the venue
Ben armed with the camera tried really hard to get all the steepster peeps in the shot
It was hard to achieve the all people in the photo goal
Hi Oolong Owl! I need one of her owls for my tea table 
See, we all touched the Beenghole
A hilarious army of used bottles of water...now I know why I started to slosh
ok I bought teaware. They were only fifty cents each, I needed them!!

If you want more pictures, and you know you do, go to instagram and look at the #midwestteafest tag, there are loads from people at the festival...and many of them taken with better cameras than mine!

7 comments:

  1. Awesome coverage and great pictures. Nice to see so many vendors in attendance and Phoenix there as well. Back when I lived in the KC area they were called House of Hezekiah and were an almost weekly stop. LP had a very cool setup. Thanks for blogging this event, hopefully I can attend next years event and visit some old stomps too.

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    1. That is so cool! I didn't know that they had a previous name, a bit of history is always appreciated! I hope you are able to attend as well, the more the merrier!

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  2. One of these days, I'll make it there.

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  3. This event makes me so jealous! It's so much more tea focused than any of the NYC festivals. Hopefully I'll be able to make it next year.

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    1. That would be so awesome!! If enough tea bloggers come we could have a blogger meetup and I can fulfill my WTE envy :P

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  4. Love such festivals! I am going to attend couple of corporate events Chicago next month. Will try to attend a similar festival as have got an invite for that one too. Thanks for sharing the inspiration. Keep sharing such things.

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