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The San Francisco International Tea Festival 2016

The San Francisco International Tea Festival 2016

In my experience, the tea world is very friendly, welcoming and inclusive. It’s always nice to meet tea people in person, tea experts, tea vendors, tea bloggers, tea farmers, tea lovers, tea you-name-it. You always end up learning a lot and making new friends. What better occasion than a tea festival! Moreover, it is a great way to track new trends and get a glimpse of “the state of the industry”.
Ok, let’s get to the point! Last Sunday I attended the 5th San Francisco International Tea Festival. It was a relatively small event with about 35 vendors encompassing different sectors of the tea world but I enjoyed connecting with local tea businesses from San Francisco, the Bay Area and California. The event was open to the general public and was sold out. The admission ticket included a goodie bag with a porcelain tasting cup, some lectures and workshops and various samples. 

The highlights:
Some small Camellia Sinensis plants immediately caught my eye. Owning a tea plant and trying my hand at processing tea leaves have always been on my bucket list. Unluckily, I am well known for being the plant killer (not out of cruelty, I love plants, but they don’t seem to like me - sigh). Imperial Tea Court, one of the SFITF organizers, might have Camellia Sinensis plants for sale in the near future. How exciting! In the meantime, I can hone my gardening skills.
Speaking of tea plants, I had the pleasure to meet a tea farmer from California, Mike Fritts of Golden Feather Tea. He has a background as a horticulturist and was there as an attendee. California-grown tea? Yes, please!

The tea lectures I attended (I will tell you more in a separate post):

  • Deconstructing Kombucha hosted by Anu Patel, Health-Ade Kombucha
  • Japanese Green Teas: From Traditional Sencha to New Trends of Matcha hosted by Rona Tison, ITO EN

I am instinctively attracted to small businesses, rare, authentic and high quality teas, teas that are sustainably and responsibly produced and directly sourced. That said, here are 

My favorite vendors (in random order):

  • Red Circle Tea. Sina sources her teas personally and her teacher is a tea master who lives in China. I sampled some beautiful Phoenix Dancong oolongs at her booth. She is based in San Francisco.
  • Blue Willow Tea & Kirishima Seicha. Ali is the owner of Blue Willow Tea, a small company based in Berkeley. It was a pleasure to chat with her. She carries (and therefore was sharing a booth with) Kohkaen Kirishima Tea, an organic tea farm from Japan. I sampled their delicious Asatsuyu Sencha. They don’t use pesticides but goats and ducks, which I found not only clever but also really cute!
  • Yerba Buena Tea Company. Grace and Chad, who are based in San Francisco, are all about healthy, slow living. Their organic teas and tisanes embody their philosophy. I sampled their Turmeric Lemon Ginger and Lavender Ginger Mint herbal teas. Have I ever mentioned that The Tea Squirrel is a little sensitive to caffeine? In the evening only herbal tea for me, please! 
  • Silk Road Teas. Catherine & Ned Heagerty source their rare and artisan teas directly from China. They are based in San Rafael, California. I had the pleasure to taste their Green Monkey green tea from Fujian.
  • Jade Chocolates. If you are looking for gourmet chocolates made in San Francisco, look no further. Their chocolate bars and truffles have delicious unusual flavors and they have tea-infused confections! I sampled a milk chocolate bar with genmaicha and a dark chocolate bar with chili and lapsang souchong. Yum!
  • Health-Ade Kombucha. Are you familiar with kombucha? If I’m mentioning it here, it’s because it’s related to tea. I am usually put off by vinegary or too sweet kombucha, but this was just right, not too sour and not too sweet. Stay tuned, I’ll tell you all I know about this fermented beverage in my next post.
  • Hankook Tea Company from Korea. I sampled their Korean green tea, I am glad Korea was represented at the festival and would love to discover more about Korean teas.

The public's favorite: the general public went crazy for chai, matcha, kombucha, Burmese fermented tea leaf salad and tea-infused chocolates.

The strangest products: Pique tea crystals and Tea Drops. Not my cup of tea (pun intended), but undeniably interesting products. Tea crystals are made by crystallizing brewed whole leaf tea, they are unsweetened and even certified organic. Tea Drops are finely ground organic tea, raw sugar and spices compressed into pretty little shapes (hearts, flowers, stars). Both booths were stylish and well designed. Attractive packaging in both cases.

VIP sightings: James Norwood Pratt. Or maybe I was just under the influence... of tea!

Fun fact: everybody is suddenly more interested in your questions if you carry around a big professional-looking camera. The power of the lens.

Disclaimer: This is my honest opinion. I was not asked nor paid to mention or review products, services or businesses that appear in this blog post. 

What is kombucha?

What is kombucha?

My tasting notes: Jing Mai Ancient Black Hong Cha

My tasting notes: Jing Mai Ancient Black Hong Cha