I take it all back, Canada.
All those snarky things I said about North Americans not understanding tea and its intricacies and complexities.
Oh, how wrong was I …
The Toronto Tea Festival 2014 was held on the weekend of 1-2 February in the Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library in Yorkville.
North Nomad got a leave pass for this event, no doubt breathing a sigh of relief. He’s not a tea drinker. Instead, I planned my tea sampling with my speculative-fiction reading and writing buddy Christina.
I’d imagined a quiet affair: middle-aged tea aficionados wandering though stalls. Glassess and turtleneck skivvies. Everyone wearing olive coloured slacks. Sensible hairdos.
I was mistaken.
Inside, the Appel Salon is bursting at the seams with life, aromatic scents, and the din of excited chatter. Tea drinkers of all ages and varieties jostled for prime position.
Tea stalls ran the lengths of the large room and up the centre in double rows. Stages were set for hourly tea ceremony exhibitions at either end of the room. The air was thick with a heady combination of smells. To my left, the pot pourri scent of an Earl Grey blend. To my right, Jasmine. And something fruity and tropical smelling came from a stall somewhere behind me.
We sampled most of the teas available. There were standouts for me, influenced by the taste and by the personality of the seller. The snakeoil salesman types scared me like a baby deer on a highway, and the condescending “we know everything about tea and are better than everyone” types turned me off.
Majesteas “purveyors of loose teas” showcased my favourite tea of the day. Their blends were pleasing on the eye, brimming with natural ingredients and vivid colours. The scents wafting from the samples were promising.
Majesteas fruit and nut sample was my favourite. The cinnamon and almond gave the tea an almost milky texture. I’d expected something more citrusy because of the fruit in the name, but the nuts gave it a delicious, mellow taste. It’s a tea I could imagine having before bed-time.
There were no tea samples at Samadhi teas, but the lovely stall-holder entices me with her home-made dates stuffed with walnuts. I’m a sucker for dates and these plump beauties are sweet, tender, and filled with walnut paste. I’m hooked. I make a mental note to visit her Kensington Market store.
The Samadhi stall is one of the most exotic and interesting, covered in large mushrooms. Their teas promise an array of health and medicinal properties. Aside from being a fantastic cook, the stall-holder is fascinating to talk to and tells us that her organic mullein leaf can also be used to filter down your wacky tabaccy. Canadians really love that stuff.
Several vendors are selling their tea infused and related products: lip glosses, body creams and scrubs, tea caddies, tea pots and cups, and macaroons. I’m particularly taken with the Bare English & Co lip balm. Rachael and Frank are manning the stall and explain to me that it’s 100% organic and vegan, as well as being tea infused. I prefer my skincare to have natural ingredients, and the mix of coconut, almond and jojoba oils is soothing on my chapped Canadian winter lips. The grapefruit scent makes me want to eat it, but I refrain! The other thing I love about this balm is the shape. It’s more oval than circle, and prevents smeary, shiny marks around your mouth.
We give our tannin filled tongues a break and watch demonstrations for the Japanese Tea Ceremony and the Korean Tea Ceremony.
Austin, a Torontonian of Japanese descent, performs the ancient samurai tea ceremony, which was only performed by men until recently. Wearing traditional samurai garb, he shows us the tea making apparatus he’ll use during the ceremony. It’s explained to us that he wears his towel on his right side – as the sword should sit on the left (though swords are not taken into tea rooms). Today’s tea he’ll be using is a matcha green tea – a strong tasting tea that is finely ground and about 10 times stronger than regular green tea.
He asks for a volunteer for the ceremony, and one is promptly chosen. She explains that she doesn’t like tea and there’s an indignant murmur through the crowd. I can’t help but chuckle at the quiet outrage.
The Korean Tea Ceremony is a colourful sight. The women’s traditional hanbok dresses are impressive: bright primary reds matched with paler blues, hot pinks, and rust with cornflower yellow. Christina tries a Korean tea cake after being offered some Jasmine tea. I can’t have any as they have honey in them, but I’m taken with the small cakes pressed into flower shapes and their earthy red and yellow tones. Hers has a mild, sesame taste.
Since I moved to Canada, I’d been bemoaning the lack of quality tea stores. Now I have several on my “to do” list.
What’s your favourite tea? Do you drink different blends on different occasions or at different times of the day?
Costs: Tickets can be purchased at the door for throughout the duration of the event ($15 for one day, $25 for two-day pass). Sales are limited.
Location and date: Appel Salon (2nd floor), Toronto Reference Library (Yonge and Bloor) February 1 & 2, 2014 10:00AM – 5:00PM.
The lovely Frank and Rachael at Bare English & Co gave me a Pink Grapefruit tea infused organic vegan lip balm at no cost.
You can connect with South Nomad, Jessica over at Google.