Sunday morning dawned bright and beautiful. Blue skies dotted with clouds guided my wife and I up the 101 highway and into downtown San Francisco for our first trip to the San Francisco International Tea Festival. I had never been to any kind of formal tea event and I was very excited to see what the event had in store!
Early access tickets in hand, we waited briefly to move through the line that seemed like it would be longer than it was. The volunteers did a great job getting everyone into the event as quick as possible. Walking up the stairs, we were handed a grab bag of goodies–all tea of course!
The bag itself was a mix of blended and herbal teas. None of them were really my speed, but I know some people who will appreciate some fun SFITF gifts so they’ll go to a good home.
The real gem of the bag was the SFITF glass tasting cup. The porcelain cup made a great souvenir and is also the perfect way to prevent waste from huge amounts of paper cups. Very much in keeping with the theme of tea (appreciation and cultivation of our natural environment).
By lunch time the crowds were in full force. I found myself wondering: who are all these people coming out to celebrate tea? Where do they live? Where do they come from? I wish I had spent more time finding people to talk to so I could learn their tea stories!
For the most part, I was very impressed overall by the quality of tea being shared. Roy Fong’s Imperial Tea Court was sampling a 15-year ripe puer that was simply phenomenal (with a price tag to match, of course). I did skip most of the herbal and tisane vendors, so I can’t really comment thoroughly on what they had on offer, though I made a point to stop by and pick up some Yerba Buena Tea Co. herbals on the recommendation of my friend Anna (The Tea Squirrel).
In some cases the tea was all kick with none of the subtlety of flavor I was hoping for. This was my first tea event so I’m not sure if this was by design or if it was by accident?
I appreciated that some less “conventional” tea vendors were present, such as a couple kombucha vendors and the tea leaf salad from Burma Superstar. I’d love to see this vendor category grow in the future.
I was also surprised and disappointed that no one was selling any teaware. I was hoping I’d find some lovely new pieces to add to my collection. Definitely an opportunity to open that up in the future as well.
I have a few pieces of feedback for the event.
I would love to see a bigger event, not only with more vendors but also with stronger content in the form of panels, talks, and workshops. The Make Your Own Chai workshop was awesome (thanks again to Sarah at Chico Chai for letting us in!) and I think a great example of how extra experiences like this can spice up the event. I’ll write more about this experience in a separate post.
If the event is going to grow, we’ll need a new venue. The Ferry Building 2F gets insane when the crowds come. At some tables people were reaching over each other just for a small cup of tea. Fort Mason would be appropriate if the space could be filled, but I know the event has been held there in the past so there must be a reason it’s not there any longer. Maybe an intermediate step is what’s required? Certainly seems like the interest is there!
Finally, apart from Burma Superstar there were no food options and no re-entry into the event. By the time my five-hour spree of tea drinking, talking, and battling crowds was at an end I was so hungry and caffeinated I could barely think straight. This is pretty severe and any problems should be easily avoided with some cheap wristbands to let people in/out.
The Wrap-Up and Tea Haul
All in all had a great time. I think it was more than worth the ticket price. Early access was a smart move. It was only an hour but it got me through the bulk of what I really cared about before the tea-crazed masses hit the floor. I hope to see more tea events like these in SF in the future!
Here’s everything I came home with after the event. I bought much more than I expected but still less than I wanted to. I have to tally up the total for everything in the picture, but I might give myself a few days before I assess the damage!
Teas I’m most excited about:
Sugimoto Hoji Cha – this stuff was like butter! So smooth and flavorful I can’t wait to make at home.
Teaful Co Rhythm #21 – it was so delicious and it felt like I was wrapped up in a tea bear hug! Thanks Jason(s)!
Thao Tea Co Silver Needle – Caught me off guard with its fruity aroma and small leaf size. At $20 for 50g it was more expensive than many other teas of similar or better quality at the show, but I was so curious I couldn’t pass it up!
Silk Road Tea Golden Monkey – Made from tips. Smooth and unblemished. An absolute delight to drink!
Teas I loved but didn’t buy:
Imperial Tea Court Ripe Puer – 15-year ripe. So good I wasn’t at all surprised by the $350 price tag for a bing! I’ll have to save my pennies for this one.
Pure Puer 2009 Superior Loose Leaf Black Tea Puer – Earthy and robust. My wife’s favorite.
Pure Puer 2009 One Sprout Two Leaves Green Tea Raw Puer – Smooth and sweet. Slight astringency. Very good!