OTTAWA — Tea lovers can experience the world of teas when the Ottawa Tea Festival opens its doors at the Convention Centre on Dec. 1 and join a host of tea-related workshops at various downtown locations on Dec. 2.
With its theme of “sharing culture through the language of tea,” the much expanded second annual festival will present vendors, lectures, sampling, and cultural dances from India including traditional, Bollywood, and folk, with the main event on Saturday and several workshops on Sunday.
Particularly popular last year was the Tea and Chocolate Pairing workshop, which organizer Kimi Uriu presented every week for almost a year after the festival.
This year, a Tea and Food Pairing workshop is offered, and there will be a Cooking with Teas workshop followed by dinner at Lapointe Restaurant where seared trout seasoned with chai tea will be served. See the website for the full list of workshops offered this year.
Uriu says she likes to give back to tea-producing countries by donating some of the festival proceeds. This year’s recipient will be the Canadian chapter of Asha for Education (AfEC), an organization that provides educational programs, housing, food, clothing and other basic amenities for needy children and adults in India
AfEC is run entirely by volunteers so that 100 percent of donations and funds raised go towards the education and development projects they support.
Making a good ‘cuppa‘
Tea aficionados prefer to use loose-leaf teas and find the quality of teas made from tea bags to be inferior for several reasons. The tea bag (usually paper-based) may impart a flavour, the tea in teabags is often made from chopped leaves, and because there is not enough room in a tea bag for the tea to expand enough to impart it’s full flavour.
The usual way to make a cup of tea is to place tea leaves into a tea pot, pour freshly boiled water over the leaves, and let it steep for a few minutes. The leaves may be strained when it is served so that they aren’t consumed and to control the strength of the brew.
Good-quality teas can be reused several times, with subtle differences in flavour occurring with each steep. Uriu went to China to find the growers of a quality tea for her specialty tea store. She called the tea Jin Jun Mei, a black tea, and it won the North America Tea Championship last year.
“The Jin Jun Mei tea can be used seven times without becoming bitter,” she says.
“Good teas can be steeped more times. The flavour changes a bit but the peak is in the third steep,” Uriu explains.
“If you use an average or not-good-quality tea it is not usable even after two uses as it becomes bitter and not drinkable unless you add a lot of sugar and milk. Good teas can be steeped at least three times.”
Tea’s mystical quality
“The Japanese have a big philosophy behind the tea ceremony, and tea used to be medicine,” says Uriu, adding that Buddhist monks used Matcha tea during meditation.
“Matcha was used by Bhuddist monks for meditation because it helped them concentrate yet stay alert at the same time. This is due to the L-theanine, which relaxes the body while the caffeine keeps your mind alert.”
“Matcha is used a lot in Asia,” she adds. “If you have a cold you gargle with green tea or if you have eczema you use a tea bath. I think those ideas are slowly being accepted in non-Asian countries.”
One important aspect of the festival is showing the culture and history of tea in many countries.
“So many cultures have tea in a very central way in their lives. Like tea-time in England, or in Morocco, the mint tea, or Turkey—if you go to someone’s home the first thing they do is offer you tea,” says Uriu.
Buying and storing tea
Uriu recommends buying good-quality tea in smaller quantities, storing it in an airtight container, and using it within about a year.
However, if you find you have some older loose tea that is less aromatic Uriu says you can use it in a foot bath, as a refrigerator deodorizer, or in a regular bath. Just place the tea in a small cloth bag before using.
The festival runs from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. at the Ottawa Convention Centre. For workshop information and to purchase tickets visit www.ottawateafestival.com
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