Monday, December 3, 2012

The Ottawa 2nd Annual Tea Festival

Hello Teanions!

Last week, while doing a bit of research and reading up on tea, I came across the 2nd Annual Ottawa Tea Festival being hosted at the Ottawa Convention Center. Despite my overwhelming urge to go and frolic with fellow teavers (tea-lovers), I had mixed feelings on going. Ottawa is two hours away from Montreal and at the moment of discovery, I had no one to go with. Not only that, but I had dinner plans back in Montreal which would mean a 4 hour drive for 4 hours in Ottawa....not entirely tempting.

Despite my hesitations, I threw out a public invite on facebook to see if fellow available teavers would surface. I had many bites, but due to exam season, I only had one catch. Good enough! I bought my tickets and started to psych myself up for an amazing, immersive, and bustling experience.


Turns out psyching myself up was a little bit of a mistake. In my head, I managed to put together a massive convention, filled with suppliers, retailers, experts, growers, anybody and everybody related to tea. My dream convention was held in a massive hall with aisles and aisles of tea. The air is filled with the unique smell and aroma of hundreds, no! Thousands of unique teas brewing; their scents all playing and dancing together. Fresh batches of tea are there for sampling and the booth representative is a chatty individual, able to recite an entire adventure behind each cup of tea. Where did the tea come from, who were the farmers, what unique characteristics does it have versus a similar tea; these are all questions that the representative could answer with beautifully weaved imagery and pertinent information. In my ideal tea convention, I would need to set a budget and pick and choose which teas to bring home with painful scrutiny, never one hundred percent sure that I made the right choice and fearful that I would not see such a collection of teas again. There would be unique teas from remote parts of the world, teas unlocked only by a 5 day trek on foot through misty mountains and vast valleys. A day in the convention would be a ticket to every small corner of the tea growing world.

My ideal convention began to take shape the moment I bought my tickets, and began to grow over two days. As I drove to Ottawa and got closer and closer, my convention started to take shape and the list of questions in my head began to grow. Where did they get their tea? What set it apart from it's counterparts? What types of hidden flavours should I focus on? My list grew on and on.

I gave in my ticket, got my hand stamped and walked into a bustling room lined with tea hushed  room slightly bigger than a classroom with a few hurriedly set up booths and a handful of people wondering around. I immediately dismissed my dream convention (putting the idea aside as a future goal) and focused on making the most of what was at hand.

The tea booths did not number very high. There were around 6 different tea retailers who set up booths and the rest of the booths (around 10-15) were all tea related paraphernalia (except for the pork sausage booth...still not sure why they were there). I must admit that I was a bit disappointed at the size of the event, but nonetheless, I gave it a fair chance; I started to wonder up the first aisle and started my quest for new teas (slowly as I had all day for a handful of booths).

I was mainly interested in trying white tea as it still remains a slight mystery to me. It's subtle taste does not linger and as such, neither did it's impression when I tasted it many years ago. It was my main goal for the event; luckily, I was not disappointed in the least as two of the booths carried a small variety of white tea to satisfy my curiosity.

The first booth worthy of mention was Tao's tea leaf, a store known in Ottawa. They had great presentation and a clever concept to sell sample size packets of tea. From them, I picked up 8 different types of tea which I will drink and experience at a later date (and share on this blog):

Silver Needle
High Mountain Green Tea
(Award winning) Golden Needle
(Award winning + personal favourite) Da Hong Pao
An Ji Bai Cha
Jin Ping Gong Fu (an incredible black tea I had the opportunity to taste)
(Award winning) Imperial Pu-Er
Organic Rooibos

A Selection of Pu-Er Teas at Tao's Leaf
They had a good selection of teas to try and sample and an excellent assortment of sample sizes to bring home. I was excited to question them further (and Mr. Tao in person) about his experiences with tea, and to hear about their teas directly from them. I was curious to know about their suppliers and their relationships, how they discovered the tea, and a unique tid-bit. Sadly, when I questioned them about it (and despite the lack of people) they referred me to their website and didn't offer much else. (though I just checked and their website isn't half bad and does contain information about their teas. Still, a personalized story or two would have been nice).

Jin Ping Gong Fu, an incredibly rich and layered black tea

The next booth I visited belonged to the pleasant people at Cha-Yi. Beautiful presentation, numerous samples, and a talkative staff made this my booth of choice. I picked up a sample pack of white teas which included:

Jinggu Theiers sauvage
Baihao Yin Zhen
Bai Cui Mei
Simao Bai Cha

The staff was very helpful and informative. They informed me that they have been opened for 2 years and take a yearly trip to China, Taiwan, and Japan to find new suppliers and develop a lasting relationship with local farmers and producers. The teas I brought home were from the Yunnan province, picked and prepared this year. I can't wait to try and talk to you about the ones I brought home.
Jinggu White Tea being steeped for tasting

All in all, I had a great time despite the small size of the event. The people were quite helpful and friendly, and I squirrelled away a good number of teas to try at a later date. If you are around the Ottawa region next year, I recommend stopping by...chances are, I'll be there!
Jinggu Tea - This was the 8th steeping and still incredibly flavourful

Stay tuned for future posts where I'll talk about the teas I tried and tasted (most of which I brought home)

Martin Out!

P.s. Teanion = Tea + minions

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