Reflections from the 2018 Northwest Tea Festival
It’s no wonder the Northwest Tea Festival, now in its 11th year, was named the “Best Grassroots Tea Education Campaign” at the World Tea Expo this year. With six tracks of concurrent educational workshops ranging from talks to tastings and tea ceremonies of all kinds to cultivar histories PLUS a no-sales educational tea bar, this event had its priorities in the right place. And since the market for speciality tea is still in its early stages in the United States, a focus on education is the right move to help build a confident consumer base.
Since the workshops are the real “meat and potatoes” of this event, I figured I should make sure to attend a few. Several workshops provided the opportunity to attend styles of tea ceremony that may be less familiar to tea lovers such as Wu-Wo or Side-Handle Bowl Tea. Other workshops delivered more historical and intellectual content such as Confronting Counterfeit Tea or Legend and Scandals in Tea. And of course, dozens of workshops provided guided tastings, parings, and analytical opportunities to learn more about the who, what, when, where, why, and how of teas from all over the world — even those grown in the US.
I attended two workshops that I registered for in advance. One was an introduction to professional cupping, which was run by the very capable Suzette Hammond a.k.a Being Tea (also a 2018 World Tea Expo award winner — Best Tea Educator). We worked in small groups to suss out the nuances in two settings of four teas each after receiving basic instruction on what flavors, feelings, and aromas to look for. While I enjoyed it, I think that a basic pre-requisite for a class like this is already knowing how these differences in taste, smell, and feel manifest. I think those basics would make a great workshop, don’t you?
The second workshop I attended provided a close look at how the amount of total dissolved solids in water changes the taste, aroma, texture, and color of brewed tea and was run by Rie Tulali of Tea Curious. It was truly fascinating! I wish we had been able to taste the waters on their own first as a reference point.
My favorite part of the event was the Tea Bar, which I had the pleasure to volunteer at all Sunday afternoon. The Tea Bar was staffed by Whatcom Tea Enthusiasts, a tea enthusiast group based in Whatcom county north of the Seattle area. Every 3-5 minutes, Laurie and Charles would give a quick side by side tasting of two different teas along with a short talk. People would step up interact for a little while and then make room for an entirely new group. All Sunday afternoon, the Tea Bar featured different types of aged teas from their personal collection, including a puerh from 1992 that reminded me of enjoying a fine aged cigar while sitting in a leather chair in a fancy private library of rare books.
Around all this, I had a chance to visit several of the metro Seattle area’s local tea shops and tea houses such as Phoenix Tea Shop in Burien, Floating Leaves in the Ballard Neighborhood, Miro Tea (also in Ballard). Late night tea sessions at homes and apartments of local tea enthusiasts kept many of us up every night we were in town.
Of course I got a chance to have a great extended visit with my Tea Sister Lauren (@teavoyeur) which really made my trip awesome. It’s the people that keep making my tea journey even more amazing with each trip.