Tea is a religion and I am an ardent disciple, worshipping all leaves from the smoky Lapsang Souchong to the grassy Sencha. So when The Ferry Building and the Center for Urban Education and Sustainable Agriculture hosted the San Francisco International Tea Festival this past weekend, I just had to attend. As a tea lover, this was a great opportunity to try out different varietals side by side and discover purveyors that I normally would not find in the local store.
There were about a dozen or so exhibitors, some with wide distribution like Republic of Tea and Ito-En and others that were less mainstream. Every attendee was given a goodie bag filled with tea samples as well as a little porcelain tea cup for sipping the various offerings. I had a great time going from table to table sampling different single leaf varietals and custom blends. There was a lot of tea to go around and my palette started getting fatigued. Thankfully, there were three teas that broke through the amber fog and shone clear and bright.
The first was the aptly named Paris, an Earl Grey blend from Harney & Sons that starts off strong with hints of black currant and ends up in a slow dance with vanilla and caramel. If anything can evoke the effortless charm of a Parisian afternoon, this would do it. I immediately wanted to find an overstuffed armchair with a gilded frame to sink into. Luckily for us, we don’t have to fly across the ocean for a little taste of old world luxury. Harney & Sons is based in Millerton, New York and you can visit their Soho tea room for a tasting if you are ever in New York City.
A tea purveyor that I fell in love with was Oakland based SkyTea, fronted by the friendly and knowledgeable Jeni Quigg. I started with the Jade Bao Zhong, an organic oolong sourced from Nantou, Taiwan. The flavor was clean and light unlike the bolder presence that you typically get in more well known oolongs like Tie Quan Yin. It was love at first sip.
And finally, the tea that blew my mind was the Masala Chai, a custom blend from SkyTea. It was spicy and invigorating with ginger and pepper sharing center stage with cardamom when most in most other blends I’ve tried, cardamom plays the diva. This drink was so very amazing and so very delicious. I can’t wait to try out their other teas!