Tea Time: Victoria Tea Festival a Cornucopia of Delights

February 20, 2009 Updated: February 24, 2009

RAW TEA: Silk Road's exhibit of tea and tea paraphernalia. (Sara Hembree/The Epoch Times)
RAW TEA: Silk Road's exhibit of tea and tea paraphernalia. (Sara Hembree/The Epoch Times)
VICTORIA, British Columbia—Bamboo whisks for Japanese matcha powder, glass tea pots showing off the weightlessness and craftsmanship of blossoming tea balls, and hollow gourds and steel straws for South American yerba mate.

These were just some of the more interesting tea paraphernalia on display at the 3rd annual Victoria Tea Festival, North America’s largest public tea consumer event, held at Crystal Garden on February 14 and 15.

Over the two days, about 3,000 tea lovers gathered around dozens of exhibits where the aromas and flavours of hot steeped tea waited, ready to be savoured. Expert lectures, live musicians, a tealeaf reader and tea poet Earlene Grey rounded out the event.

The Victoria Tea festival is run exclusively by volunteers to raise funds for Camosun College Child Care Services. Renovations and major equipment purchases bought with the proceeds provide high quality childcare for Camosun students.

“We like the tea fest because it too is a strong community-driven project” said Robert McCauley of Guayaki Sustainable Rainforest Products. “The Camosun College Child Care Services is the beneficiary and that ties in with the whole Guayaki business model. We love the fact that you’re strengthening the communities here, we’re getting our product out there which strengthens the community in South America.”

BLOSSOMING TEA BALLS: Exquisite and beautiful display of a rare tea.     (Sara Hembree/The Epoch Times)
BLOSSOMING TEA BALLS: Exquisite and beautiful display of a rare tea. (Sara Hembree/The Epoch Times)
Guayaki produces yerba mate, a plant known for its stimulating and nutritional properties. The loose leaf tea is traditionally consumed from one hollow gourd by a circle of people using a metal straw.

Guayaki oversees indigenous reforestation and face-to-face cultural preservation in South America, and farmers are paid a fair wage for their crops. As part of its reforestation efforts, Guayaki’s yerba mate is, including the packaging and transportation, carbon subtractive, according to McCauley, meaning it may alleviate the effect of greenhouse gases.

Adrian Bronson of Serendipity Tea Company, a Victoria-based wholesaler, offered samples of nine different teas including his newest blend, Kansai Cherry.

“The Japanese custom of Hanami—flower viewing—begins in spring with the arrival of the cherry blossoms. Join the celebration with a cup…” reads the pouch of a blend so new it is not yet listed on the website. Steaming samples of the green tea with maraschino and rose hip infusion were on hand for tasting.

“The balance between the rose and cherry, besides visual beauty, creates a refined flavour,” Bronson said. Made from steamed rather than pan-fried sencha (Japanese Green tea) means it has “a more subtle taste.” Serendipity Tea Company offers certified fair trade and organic teas.

Liz Bandelin of Tega Tea offered a rare green rooibos tea, which is not a blend of rooibos and something resembling sencha as some might think. Green rooibos is the fresh Rooibos bush plant before the drying process turns to its familiar copper colour. Both loose green and red radios were on display to see and smell.

TAKING TEA: The Empress Hotel's Rob Anderson and Mandy Kray of Walkabouts Historical Tours share the English tradition of afternoon tea.     (Sara Hembree/The Epoch Times)
TAKING TEA: The Empress Hotel's Rob Anderson and Mandy Kray of Walkabouts Historical Tours share the English tradition of afternoon tea. (Sara Hembree/The Epoch Times)
Bandelin shared pictures and stories of the African orphans her company supports. The farmers on the Tega Rooibos farm are descendents of the South Africa Khoisan bush people. The Tega Rooibos farm provides transportation and housing, and allows the workers to set their own prices and receive education while living and working in their traditional homeland—something that would otherwise be out of reach for them.

Rob Anderson, Afternoon Tea Manager at the renowned Empress Hotel, told The Epoch Times that he has the best job in all Victoria, and seemed genuinely delighted to be part of the festival.

“This is my first tea festival. It’s so beautiful I can’t believe it,” he said.

Among other English teatime treats, Anderson offered tiny scones topped with cranberry jalapeno jelly and Devonshire cream made by the same Empress baker since 1982. The baker turns out half a million scones a year.

Serious Coffee, a favourite Vancouver Island chain, exhibited a variety of loose-leaf tea choices to remind festival goers that while they’re serious about coffee, tea is also an important part of the equation.

“We want to show people that we are seriously getting into tea, too. We want to reach a larger range of people by offering better quality tea than you can buy at the grocery store. We want to be part of the connoisseur community,” said Candice MacGregor, a presenter with Serious Coffee. So where was their great coffee? “I don’t think that’s allowed,” MacGregor said.

The tea purveyor Silk Road has been a presenting sponsor since the festival’s beginning. Besides the cultural and material connection to the tea festival, “we like to help the community,” said Daniela Cubelic, Silk Road co-founder and local tea expert. “[The festival] was a very clear winner in terms of a great idea.”

“People are getting into tea the way that we’re into wine,” said Cubelic. “And it’s really related to the fact that we have good quality tea available. In order to become a connoisseur you really need as a starting point access to good quality teas, something that’s going to excite your taste buds.”