Sunday, October 4, 2009

The Northwest Tea Festival

So, today I put on tea-colored pants, a tea-colored shirt, tea-colored shoes (and socks), and a tea-colored hat before we went down to the Seattle Center, where we met up with Sigfried and Anne at Internat'l Fountain (which was in fine form, esp. with the small but intense rainbow) before walking over to the Northwest Tea Festival. We'd found out about this a month or so back from Shelly (thanks, Shelly). Never having been to a 'tea festival' before, I didn't know quite what to expect, but we all found it v. pleasant, and I'd gladly go back next year.

When you came in the door, registered, and paid a small entry fee ($5), they gave you not just a little paper bag w. a handle containing various leaflets and some tea samples* but also your own handleless little porcelain cup to keep (measuring it since we got home, I find it holds about two ounces when filled to the brim, so a normal serving is about an ounce to an ounce and a half). The event was small compared to, say, the Antiquarian Book Fair (which I'm hoping to attend there next week), but a good size that you got to visit each of their dozen booths without feeling rushed and sample the free teas brewed up at each without coming away feeling overfull; the crowd was also a nice size -- big enough the fill the place and feel like a decent turnout without being overcrowded (with the noise, heat, and difficulty in getting around that entails).

Among the folks with booths there that I know were Market Spice in Pike Place Market (from whom I picked up a box of Northwest Breakfast teabags, as ours are running low), Teahouse Kuan Yin just west of the University District (from whom I bought one of the teas they were offering tasting samples of, Golden Snail Yunnan), and the Perennial Tea Room in Post Alley.**

Others new to me included Barnes & Watson Fine Teas, from whom I bought a sample of 'Special Black' ('similar to Keemun', it said -- I brewed it up upon returning home and find it a bit mild for my tastes, at least on a five minute brew), where I also bought a COOKING WITH TEA cookbook by Rbt Wemischner & Diana Rosen; Mr. Wemischner was there, doing a cooking demonstration and lecture wh. I much enjoyed (the parts of which I cd hear, anyway), after wh. he v. kindly signed my book -- think the main courses aren't necessarily things we'll be eating a lot of, but the deserts look v. do-able on the lowcarb diet. The folks at the Sa Tea had green teas and rice teas, neither of which I v. much care for (far too mild for me), but they were v. pleasant in explaining the terminology of their teas. Similarly, I enjoyed hearing about the 'Fair Trade Certified' status of their teas from the folks at the double booth for Choice Organic Teas, though I'll have to go online to find out more specifics (such as, who makes up the board that certifies the teas, and where are they located); I picked up another sample, this time an (organic) Oolong teabag from them. I don't remember much about the Whole Foods double booth, nor the TeaClassics --Hancha booth (I think they had out more green tea and/or white teas). The only non-tea booth, Wendy Ann Creations, had tea cozies, pot holders (of which I got a red butterfly one), and catnip mousies (of which I got a blue, having realized that two of our three cats have never had a catnip mouse).

The thing I liked the most that I couldn't bring home with me as a tea-wheel, rather like a poster-sized color chart, which broke down the different tastes you might get in a tea. Rather like the continents in RISK, each category had an overall color, within which the sub-divisions had lighter or darker shades. Thus Fruity or Earthy or Spicy or Vegetal in the middle wheel turned into specifics like orange or forest floor or cinnamon or grassy in the outer wheel. I could see 'tar' or 'smoke' as options (cf: Lapsang Souchong, a v. fine tea indeed but v. much an acquired taste) but was much amused by 'wet rock' as one option, while those with me thought 'fish' was a decidedly bad option in a tea. Its utility was quickly proven, however, when the folks at the (Teahouse Kuan Yin) booth gave us samples of their roasted pu'er, which really was 'earthy'. Normally I don't like pu'er that much, but if this had been available in smaller portions I might have been tempted -- it reminded me of the twenty-minute boils I used to do when making iced tea back in the old days at Marquette. Anne bought a wheel of the roasted pu'er, so perhaps we'll be hearing more about this down the road.

In addition to visiting the booths one by one, they had a stage upon which a man was supposed to be giving a one-man show about Okakura Kakuzo, author of THE BOOK OF TEA (of which I have Taum's copy) -- we started to watch this, but the actor went on so long about himself that we finally drifted away just as he (eventually) started the 'play' itself -- in which the featured character mainly came across as swaggeringly boastful, not at all what I'd expect from a cultured Japanese author. I did enjoy looking at the photographs of tea planations they had posted on the wall nearby, though. If I'd realised there was an art show next door, as seems to be the case (based on the stuff stuffed into our bags), I wd have checked it out.

We also signed up for two events in little curtained-off alcoves that reminded me a lot of the tables where we used to run RPGA events in the basement across the street from MECCA at GenCon in the old days. The first was Teas for Tea Parties by Chris Bolt and Aimee Skeers of the Perennial Tea Room, wh. was v. pleasant. He certainly knew his teas, and was able to answer a question I've been trying to resolve for four or five years now: where in this area can you buy a Tea Plant? After all, camellias grow in these parts, so there seems to be a fair chance that a tea tree could as well, at least as an indoors plant. He gave me three options, and someone else later added a fourth, so I'll definitely be following up on this one.

The second such event was Fine Chinese Teas by Ned & Katherine Heagerty of Silk Road Teas in San Rafael, California. Unfortunately, they were late in starting and so we only got through three of the four teas they intended to prepare for us, and the third barely before time ran out and we had to leave to make room for the next group. Their preparation was more elaborate than at the previous event (rising the cup, carefully adding the tea in just the right proportion, adding the first water, draining it off, adding the second water, stirring the tea with each cup's lid, then pouring the tea into little containers, then filling our little cups), which I think took more time than they had planned on. Too bad (from my purely selfish point of view) we started with the white tea (or was it green?), then an oolong, but of the final two I'm glad we got the Keemun (this being my favorite kind of tea) rather than the pu'er (which, unfortunately, turned out to be the one someone else was looking forward to). Still, an enjoyable event, again from people who clearly knew their stuff: I wound up buying a two-ounce bag of the Yunnan Banna Hong Cha from them, and to our astonishment they gave each of us a little clay teapot to take home --these are of the kind in which you're only ever to make one type of tea in a given pot.

So, between the teas we tasted, the tea we bought or were given as samples, the cup and mini-pot and potholder and cookbook and catnip mousie we brought away with us, and the good company we had while there mixing with like-minded people, I enjoyed our excursion v. much. And it was a nice autumn day to boot.

And now, on to the Book Fair next week. Dare I hope for the Hughart I'm missing?

--John R.

*there were four of these: Whole Leaf Organics' Jade Green; Barnes & Watson's Star Spangled Herbal; MarketSpice's African Red Bush True Vanilla; and Teahouse Kuan Yin's Assam -- Halmari Estate (Janice got the same except that her packet from Teahouse Kuan Yin is Shou Mei Chinese Whole Leaf White Tea)

**Sad to say, my favorite area tea shop, The Tea Cup, wasn't present, but still there were plenty of good things to see and sample.

1 comment:

John D. Rateliff said...

Upon reading this, my wife said: "I thought you were just wearing brown. As usual."