It’s no secret tea has become a big part of our culture and I guess you could say we have experienced an explosion in the tea industry over the past few years. This is very evident in the creation of the Toronto Tea Festival, now in its third successful year, and taking place January 31 to February 1, 2015. According to the Tea Guild of Canada, tea is one of the fastest growing segments of the beverage market. This is probably due to a number of factors such as immigrants from around the world coming to Canada, many of whom have come from tea-growing regions, and the fact that the majority of our society are looking to live healthy lifestyles. Tea itself has proven to have a variety of health benefits and can help with a variety of health conditions. The key is finding the right tea for the different health conditions and this is just one thing you can discover at the Toronto Tea Festival.
Held at the Toronto Reference Library located in the center of Toronto’s downtown core and easily accessible by TTC, this event draws crowds of all ages and backgrounds.
Admission to the event includes a one-of-a-kind Toronto Tea Festival canvass shopping bag, a program for the day listing the many free seminars, demonstrations and ceremonies, coupons from a variety of vendors, and a small glass cup for tea-tasting at many of the exhibitor booths.
The festival offers up a mix of trendy and traditional teas, and a large variety of wholesalers, retailers and professional tea sommeliers on hand to explain how to brew a perfect pot of tea, which one discovers depends on place of origin, processing technique and preparation style of the tea. It is absolutely mind boggling how many different varieties of tea are produced throughout the world and the many methods of processing, preparing and packaging, all of this giving each tea an appearance, fragrance, health benefit and flavour of its own.
Besides being able to learn about the many varieties of tea, their history and characteristics, you get to taste a large selection from various exhibitors and purchase tea at special rates offered just at the festival. One of my favorite exhibitors was Grosche who offered a huge selection of teapots, presses, mugs, and on-the-go cups for your favorite tea. Their offerings ranged from funky, cool, colorful, modern designs to traditional. As a tea lover, you become part of the tea culture and what better way to showcase your variety of beautiful loose leaf tea and flowering teas than with beautiful teaware. Many of the pieces are made out of clear tempered glass so that you can see the buds flowering or see the colours of your various teas.
Tea is more than just a beverage; it is a lifestyle that has been woven into many aspects of our everyday life such as cocktails, cooking and beauty products. I had the pleasure of speaking with Raelene Gannon, founder of tea and all its splendour, and a certified tea sommelier. Raelene has been selling tea for years and knowing all the health benefits and the variety of flavors available started adding tea to her cooking and baking which led to her first book, Cooking With Tea. The book made its debut at the Tea Festival this year and Raelene was autographing each one sold. The book was full of recipes from main courses to desserts, easy to follow instructions and beautiful, large photos of each creation. This book is a must have for the tea lover!
Another vendor that caught my attention was Bare English & Co. where I met Frank and Rachel, two knowledgeable and delightful individuals. Truth be told, I have always had a difficult time finding a lip balm that I liked and I felt worked for me so I was surprised and happy to see they had a table full of flavoured tea infused lip balms. After hearing how they processed and created their lip balms, I had to get some, four actually. They had so many varieties to choose from it was hard to narrow it down to just four for starters. This year, they were also debuting their new product, a tea infused all natural body butter called Passion Fruit. Yep, I had to purchase one of those as well. I have had the chance to use both these products and so far am thrilled with the results. Their lip balms can be found at Shoppers Drug Mart, London Drugs and Rexall locations and online.
teaBOT is a new invention by Rehman Merali that is like a vending machine for loose leaf tea. You can choose up to three types of tea and the machine blends a small amount of each, then steeps it through hot water and dispenses a hot cup of your own personal blend within seconds. Rehman and his friend came up with the design to help handle the line-ups during lunch hour at his friends’ parents’ tea shop.
I had a wonderful talk with Louise Roberge, President of the Tea Association Of Canada. Established in 1954 as the Canadian Tea Council and formed as a result of tea producing countries uniting for the common goal of promoting tea consumption and awareness in Canada, they offer education, research, statistics, advocacy and regulatory support, media relations and promotion for all things tea. The Tea Association of Canada currently offers the TAC Tea Sommelier programs online and in person at colleges and face-to-face industry sessions.
If you are a tea enthusiast, this festival is a must visit for an entire tea experience. It can help you choose the best tea for you or give you the opportunity to try teas you may never have tried or even knew about. One booth I’d like to give a shout out to was Lemon Lily, whose bricks and mortar location is 410 Dundas St. E. in Toronto. Their teas are available at more than 50 locations across Canada. Lemon Lily makes 100% natural and certified organic teas which are free of artificial colours, flavours, glutens and GMOs. They work with top tea estates and organic farms from around the world, adopting modern and traditional practices that have created some of the most exciting and delicious teas on the planet. From classic favourites and orthodox teas to herbal and fruit infusions, Lemon Lily have crafted more than 100 teas for you to enjoy and share. Jason Johnston, founder of Lemon Lily, was a pleasure to speak with. He spoke with such knowledge and enthusiasm about tea, I could just imagine how wonderful his teas taste and look forward to trying them.