The San Francisco International Tea Festival 2017

It's 9:30 on a Sunday morning. On a regular Sunday, I would still be in bed, snoozing. But it’s not a regular Sunday. A line is forming in front of the San Francisco Ferry Building. I join it with a sigh of relief, virtually patting myself on the back for getting there early. Passers-by approach the volunteers who are managing the line, they want to know what event people are standing in line for (and what they are missing out on). They are stunned that tea is the reason drawing such crowds.

Pairing Italian marzipan with tea

Fall is an enchanted season and I was lucky enough to be in Europe for two weeks and got to experience it again after a long time. I was way less thrilled when I got home after my trip and had to edit the 877 pictures I took! As always, I was looking for tea, sometimes actively, sometimes less so and I did find it, in Germany and in Italy. Along the way, I found something I didn’t expect. Enchanted places, straight out of fairytales, so beautiful they were almost surreal.

A Tea Renaissance is Underway in the San Francisco Bay Area

San Francisco might be known for its vibrant craft coffee scene, but did you know that a tea renaissance is underway in the Bay Area?Forget unexciting, mass-produced tea bags. Tea is worth geeking out over - as a tea blogger, I’m guilty of that. Think high-quality loose-leaf tea, so good it doesn’t need milk, sugar or flavorings. That’s the beverage with a growing following, people who care about origin, tea leaves to water ratio, temperature and quality of water, steep time and traditional preparation methods, like gong fu cha, the Chinese way of brewing tea with skill. It’s a niche, but it has seen some exciting developments lately. What makes San Francisco and the Bay Area the place to be for tea lovers? Why is the tea scene here so unique? I gathered the thoughts and perspective of some local tea professionals to help me answer these questions.

My favorite smoky tea cocktail

Fall… the most nostalgic, sweet, smoky and luxurious of all seasons. The grape harvest, the weather turning chilly, we go back to craving hot tea, even though we never really abandoned it in the summer. When I was a child, fall meant collecting edible chestnuts with my dog, playing in the fallen leaves and trying to avoid the spiky chestnut pods (ouch, those spiky pods sting!). Chestnuts are delicious roasted on an open fire, they become soft, sweet, smoky and earthy. For me smoky and earthy flavors are the embodiment of fall, which is why I’ve created a tea based cocktail that brings all those notes together. 

My tasting notes: Tung Ting Mi Xiang oolong

How do you taste tea? I’ve realized that I need my “tasting environment” to be conducive and, most importantly, I need to be concentrated, especially when taking tasting notes. I’m very sensitive to sound and a quiet environment is essential for me. Also, a minimalistic and de-cluttered environment can help me focus on the task at hand. You want all your senses to be alert and not distracted by what’s around you. What do you think? What’s your experience?

The Tea Bloggers Roundtable Panel at the Northwest Tea Festival 2017

Last weekend I was in Seattle for one of the most anticipated events of the year, the Northwest Tea Festival. I will tell you more about my experience at the festival in a separate post, but now I want to focus on the Tea Bloggers Roundtable panel discussion I was invited to participate in. It was such an honor and a great experience to sit on the panel. Read on to discover more.

Anatomy of the Ideal Loose Leaf Tea Storage

I have a confession to make, something keeps me up at night... I have yet to find the ideal storage solution for my loose leaf teas. Deterioration looms large. Right now my cabinet is in complete disarray (I keep my loose leaf teas in the resealable bags they came in, which is not bad but not ideal). You wouldn’t want to stick your hand in there (and neither do I - sigh). I know exactly what’s in there by keeping detailed records in an excel spreadsheet, but it doesn’t look good and it’s hard to find what I’m looking for. I’m confident the ideal storage solution for my loose leaf teas is out there. Here is what I am looking for.

Oolong tea and passion fruit affogato

Despite being located in California, San Francisco has little in common with the rest of the Golden State when it comes to its climate. Summers in San Francisco should not be called summers. Can we all agree on a different name, please? What do you call a foggy, overcast and cool season? Fall? Oddly enough, fall in San Francisco is the best time of year. We’re experiencing a heat wave right now and warm and sunny weather is expected to last until early November. No pumpkin-spiced anything for us, at least until then. To beat the San Francisco heat, I’m making plenty of ice cream. The best way to pair any ice cream with tea? Read on to find out! 

My tasting notes: Oriental Beauty oolong

Oriental Beauty is a “bug-bitten” oolong tea from Taiwan. Let's take a moment to appreciate a tiny insect, the tea green leaf hopper. The plant defense mechanism against the attack of leaf hoppers makes the tea delicious by releasing chemicals which contribute to its flavor. Read on to find out more.

Tea: what’s going on in the UK?

The most British thing there is doesn’t seem to be doing well at home, but is thriving on our side of the pond. Last month, British daily newspaper The Guardian reported that “the US currently seems to be enjoying a tea party to which Britain has not been invited, with tea bars popping up across the nation and sales of the hot drink shooting up 15% in the past five years”. Good, high-quality tea is not hard to come by here on the West Coast but what is happening exactly in the UK?

5 things you might not know about me

Last week, fellow tea blogger Nicole Martin shared 5 things her readers might not know about her on her blog Tea For Me Please. I really enjoyed getting to know her a bit better through that post! She challenged fellow tea bloggers to write their own versions of this post, so here I am with mine! Thank you, Nicole, for sharing such a fun challenge!

The Tea Squirrel interviews Italian tea sommelier Gabriella Lombardi

When I was little, before even learning to read, one of my favorite pastimes was to take books from my parents’ bookshelves and look at the photos or illustrations. Some of those books were beautifully illustrated cookbooks, some were travel photography books, some were gardening books. Those books and their photos and illustrations had me under a spell. I would spend hours lost in those books, fantasizing about those photos and illustrations. I own a tea book that holds that same fascination for me. It’s ...

My tasting notes: He Kai Shan Puerh

The weather in San Francisco is weird, there’s no other way to put it. We have a unique micro climate. So while the rest of the Northern Hemisphere is trying to survive the scorching heat of summer, we have to put up with the fog and lower-than-usual temperatures. August has even been renamed Fogust (= fog + August). It’s dreary and grey. For a tea drinker, it’s actually rather ideal. Did you know that the fog has a name?

Hugo: the European summer cocktail gets a tea makeover

Elderflower has a charming flavor with a very sophisticated profile, somewhat vintage-y, but very classy. It’s a flavor I associate with Austria. Chilled sparkling water with elderflower syrup is a popular non alcoholic summer beverage there. As it turns out, elderflower syrup is popular in cocktails too! The first time I’ve heard about the Hugo cocktail was in Austria, but - strangely enough - not until my recent trip to Europe did I fell in love with it. There’s no tea in the original version of the Hugo cocktail, but you know me, I can’t help myself ;-) 

My tasting notes: Jun Shan Yin Zhen yellow tea

Milan is well known for being Italy’s fashion and design capital, for its opera house La Scala and for its saffron risotto. Little did I know that I would find a less widely known Chinese tea there.
Braving the merciless afternoon heat, I made my way to Chà Tea Atelier, a specialty tea shop and tea room, where owner Gabriella Lombardi and I chatted over a cup of tea. Gabriella, who is the author of the book “Tea Sommelier”, travels to Asia every year and directly sources her teas. It was fun to hear her talk about China and the cultural aspects that made a lasting impression.