The Ladies' Tea Guild

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Back from the San Francisco International Tea Festival!

Ferry Building Marketplace, San Francisco.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
 Today was the 4th annual San Francisco International Tea Festival, at the Ferry Building in San Francisco, and it was a fun day, although I did wish there was more to the festival than 15 to 20 vendors and 5 lectures.  I did get to taste some really interesting teas, and purchased one of them, a Taiwanese black tea with a really interesting cinnamon-spice aroma and flavor -- and no actual cinnamon or flavoring had been added!  I'll write a follow-up post about my impressions of some of the teas I tasted, later.

There were more than 1,000 people at the festival this year, and I heard talk about moving to a larger venue next year; hopefully that means more vendors and lecturers, and not just more attendees!  We'll have to see what happens.  I bought James Norwood Pratt's _Tea Dictionary_ and chatted with him and his wife Valerie for a few minutes, since they were just setting up their book-signing table when I arrived.  He had his _Tea Lover's Treasury_ there, also, and gave away a paper-back version of that book when you bought the _Tea Dictionary_; he was nice enough to sign it for me, but I forgot that I already bought a copy of the _Tea Lover's Treasury_ 2 years ago from him, and he also autographed that one, addressing the message to me, as well!  So now I have two copies of the book, both signed with a message to me ... Oh well!  

Roy Fong giving his Great Teas of China lecture.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
I was able to get into 3 of the lectures: Roy Fong's lecture on Chinese tea, Hollie Lucas-Alcalay's lecture on growing your own herbal teas, and James Norwood Pratt's lecture on the culture shift around tea in the U.S.  Mr. Fong, of the Imperial Tea Court, traced the history of tea in China, from a medicinal remedy and a high-status offering to the deities, to a luxury item and status symbol, to the daily staple that it is today, with deep roots in Chinese history.  Surprisingly, when tea was used as a religious offering, it was mixed with salt and expensive spices (like chai is, in India), to enhance its value, and to make it more palatable by covering up any bitterness when consumed.  It went through a period of being pressed into cakes for transportation (from the south, where it was grown, to the north, where the court was, as well as across the Silk Road), and then broken off, pulverized, and whisked into hot water, a technique passed to Japan through visiting Buddhist monks, and preserved in the preparation of matcha in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony.  Tea-processing changed to loose-leaf production (from the pressed tea cakes) during the Ming Dynasty, because of an emperor's decree, and it's still processed in basically the same way today.  This change in tea production also sparked a revolution in tea-ware, to adapt to the loose-leaf tea.  Mr. Fong also talked a bit about his own tea garden, 23 acres in Northern California, where he has many different kinds and cultivars of tea, which might be ready to be processed and sold as early as 2016!

Hollie of Hollie's Homegrown.  Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
Hollie Lucas-Alcalay, from Hollie's Homegrown, talked about growing your own herbs for tea, including tips for the soil, harvesting, storing, and using these fragrant culinary herbs for both their taste and medicinal properties, in herbal teas, or tisanes.  She reminded the audience that dried herbs have a shelf-life, of a couple of months, before they start to lose their medicinal usefulness, as well as their flavor.  She recommends using fresh, whole-leaf herbs, for making your herbal infusions, for the best flavor and nutritional value.  One tip, that I think I'll try to use, is washing your pots before you plant in them; not just when they're brand new (and Hollie recommends unglazed terra-cotta, galvanized steel, or non-treated wood planting pots and containers), but whenever you plant.  Since most herbs either need to be re-planted every year, or benefit from being dug up and divided, this is a good time to empty all the soil out of the pot, and wash the pot in hot soapy water before re-filling it with soil and re-planting.  

James Norwood Pratt giving his lecture.
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.
James Norwood Pratt, who wrote both the first serious book about California wine, and the first serious book about tea in the U.S., and is the "godfather of tea" in the U.S., talked about the journey of tea-drinking in the U.S., from a luxury item imported via England in the 18th century, to a daily staple of the American home by the 19th century, to a flavorless "brown beverage" by World War 2, to a health fad by the 1980s, to a luxury item again, today.  He also told about the contributions he has made to the love of tea in the United States, from meeting Roy Fong the day before the Imperial Tea Court opened in San Francisco and bringing his non-Asian friends there, to writing his first book about tea, which influenced Alice Waters and other innovative chefs in California, who influenced the rest of the food world.  He reminded the audience that tea has sparked a renaissance of the applied arts -- pottery, metalwork, porcelain painting, etc. -- as he says, "the arts of civilized living," by creating a market for the various tea wares.  Here's a clip of James Norwood Pratt talking about tea on television; you can get a sense of his passion and humor. He also received the John Harney Lifetime Award this year, and gave a mini-lecture in his acceptance speech, which also gives you a good idea of his manner and style.  
Babette taking a photo of James Norwood Pratt!
Photo: Elizabeth Urbach.

It was fun to see so many tea celebrities, and I even met up with my online friend, Babette Donaldson, who is an author and the founder of the International Tea Sippers' Society, which will launch, officially, in January 2016.  


Bernideen said...

This is a great review. I am so glad you went and got to enjoy!

Marilyn Miller said...

So glad you enjoyed the tea festival and had time to meet with Babette and Norwood. I would have loved sitting in on Roy Fong's talk. Thanks for sharing with us.

Margie said...

How interesting! Thank you for sharing your experience.

Bernideen said...

I will be using this post as a special feature link on Saturday! Thanks Elizabeth.

South Bay Ladies' Tea Guild said...

Thanks to everyone for your comments! I'm glad you enjoyed the article. I wish I could have met you all there and shared some tea!

Thanks for featuring this post, Bernideen! I'm glad you liked it.

memorial garden benches said...

Great review! How interesting! Thanks for sharing.

Now stir the fire, and close the shutters fast,
Let fall the curtains, wheel the sofa round,
And, while the bubbling and loud-hissing urn
Throws up a steamy column, and the cups
That cheer but not inebriate, wait on each,
So let us welcome peaceful evening in.
-- William Cowper (1731-1800)
"The Winter Evening" (Book Four), _The Task_ (1784)