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 (clearly, they haven’t read my article on the San Francisco tea scene, LOL).
There’s a lot of excitement for the much anticipated San Francisco International Tea Festival.
I attended last year (it was held at a different location) and I’m eager to see old tea friends and meet new ones.
I’m glad I had the chance to get an early admission ticket, which meant more time to chat with vendors before the general admission. The festival is super popular, so after the general admission, I couldn’t get anywhere near the booths without queuing first. I managed to say hi to my friends Grace and Chad of Yerba Buena Tea Co. (best tasting herbal teas you’ll ever have), Mindy of Jade Chocolates (artisan tea-infused gourmet chocolate confections, anyone?) and Silk Road Teas (where I got a tasting of Drum Mountain Clouds and Mist, Mei Lan Chun green tea from Fujian).
I got to meet in person (at last) my friends Avantika and John of Mana USA and tasted their organic Assam green tea, a unique tea displaying the Assam terroir notes. I talked about their organic Assam black tea a while ago on the blog and it was a pleasure to connect in person!
These were the “new” (to me) tea vendors that caught my attention. I sampled some of their products at their booths:
Young Mountain Tea. I talked to Ingrid and Raj and sampled various teas, including their Darjeeling Ruby Oolong (rolled into tight pearls). Yum!
Nepal Tea llc. I talked to Nishchal and sampled a Nepalese cold-brewed chai with lemongrass and a golden tippy black tea called Kumari Gold, named after Nishchal’s mother.
American Gongfu. They specialize in high quality teas from Taiwan. Their packaging is beautifully designed.
Teaful. I talked to Jason and ended up buying their Taiwanese High Mountain black tea. I’ll report back with dedicated tasting notes soon!
Tea Crush. They offer sparkling (carbonated) tea beverages without added sugar, one with matcha and one with turmeric.
There was so much more at the festival, but I had signed up to attend the Puerh Tea Tasting, hosted by Roy Fong of Imperial Tea Court at 11:30. Only 15 seats were available and I’m glad I got a ticket before it sold out.
Roy has been collecting teas since the 80s. Unlike wine, where appellation is very strict and regulated by law, in Yunnan there’s no such thing for puerh. Roy is not a fan of strict measurements and precise temperature when brewing tea, as long as the water is not boiling. He believes that you should have a conversation with tea and come to an understanding and then let it happen. Practice makes perfect, so with enough repetition anyone can acquire the necessary skills.
We tasted a 2006 Banzhang raw puerh cake from 20-year-old trees. Banzhang is located in the Xishuangbanna district of Yunnan and puerh from this area has big, bold, strong energy. Pressing tea leaves into cakes has developed from a manual to a mechanical process. In the past, the tea maker would sit on it to press it into a cake (Roy calls it “ass tea” LOL). Later, the hydraulic press was introduced. According to Roy, it’s better to break the cake by hand (instead of using a a puerh knife) to get a feel for the tea and to understand it. When breaking the cake by hand, you want to hold the cake with both hands holding opposite sides, gently rock your hands back and forth, slightly bending it forwards and backwards. The cake should break into chunks but the leaves remain intact, they should not crumble apart. Once the cake is broken, you want to store it in an earthenware pot, because it has to breathe.
To measure the tea leaves, he uses a large “pinch” (with all five fingers) measurement and a yin and yang motion (which symbolizes harmony) and gives momentum to the way you put tea leaves in the gaiwan, in a little mound which helps brewing a better cup of tea. Water is the number one element in making tea and the water pouring technique makes a huge difference. When you pour the water, you want to try to get the leaves to move around in the gaiwan, to swirl. If the leaves don’t move, you can raise the kettle a little higher. If the leaves don’t move, water pushes down on them and tea brews only on top, unevenly. The wet leaves smell slightly pungent and like green grape skin. The tea liquor is mouth coating and sweet, it’s not bitter but strong. The second steep is syrupy and slightly floral.
Raw puerh is processed like a green tea. You pick, wilt, kill green by pan firing, roll, dry and the final drying stage is in the sun. Raw puerh has a higher moisture content that other teas (10% compared to 6%), which increases chances of natural fermentation.
I was thrilled I could attend such a great tea tasting! After that, I strolled around the festival a little longer but I was really caffeinated and decided to call it a day soon after.
Were you there? What was your favorite part or tea at the tea festival? Let me know in the comments ;-)
Disclaimer: I am not affiliated with any of the companies mentioned in this blog post. I was not paid to mention or review any products or services.