2nd Annual San Francisco Tea Festival – Educational and Fun

Roy Fong, James Norwood Pratt, Michael Spillane, and Rona Tison - Speakers at the Second Annual San Francisco Tea Festival

Roy Fong, James Norwood Pratt, Michael Spillane, and Rona Tison – Speakers at the Second Annual San Francisco Tea Festival

The Second Annual San Francisco Tea Festival was held on Sunday, March 10th at the Ferry Building by the Bay Bridge.  What a delightful, educational and special day.  I attended 3 wonderful talks by long-standing San Franciscan tea veterans – Michael Spillane, Rona Tison, and Roy Fong. James Norwood Pratt, whom I had heard just a few weeks ago at the Heather Gardens fundraiser introduced all three speakers. (His excellent “Tea Dictionary” is now my ‘go to’ book for tea information and research.)

The first talk, History of Tea in the US, was given by Michael Spillane.  Mr. Spillane’s family has been in the San Francisco tea business since prior to the Great Depression.  As the gateway to the Pacific, it is no surprise that San Francisco dominated the US Tea business up until WWII, when it moved east to NYC – my other favorite North American metropolis.  A couple factoids that surprised me:

  • 85-90% of the tea consumed in the US is iced
  • 85% of tea purchased continues is in tea bag form, not loose tea
  • Snapple, introduced in 1987, drove much of the tea growth in the US
  • In 1987 tea was a $1.2 Billion dollar business: in 2012 it was a $12 Billion business and is expected to grow another 25% in the next 3 years
  • Pre-WWII, most tea consumed in the US was green tea; During WWII and thereafter, it has been black tea.
  • The tea thrown overboard in the Boston Tea Party was green tea

The next talk was by Rona Tison, Sr VP of Corporate Relations for ITO EN (NA) Inc.  She spoke about Japanese tea history, processing, and culture.  I learned that Japanese teas are ‘steamed’ to stop oxidation vs. the pan firing or roasting that is done for Chinese teas. That steaming step is what creates the significant flavor difference between Chinese and Japanese green tea.  I’m used to keeping teas for a long time but she stressed that green tea is best consumed within 4-6 months of purchase.  I’m looking forward to tasting ITO EN’s  Ginger Tangerine Green Tea that can be purchased online.

Roy Fong and yours truly  - am I happy or what?  Great Talk!

Roy Fong and yours truly – am I happy or what? Great Talk!

Perhaps my favorite speaker of the day was Roy Fong, owner of The Imperial Tea Court (ITC) in the Ferry Building and in Berkeley.  Mr. Fong opened his first store on July 4th, 1993 in San Francisco’s Chinatown.  I lunched at the ITC in the Ferry Building -  a lovely Beijing pork stew accompanied by an even more lovely Jasmine Pearl Tea.  The fragrance was wonderful.  His talk was later in the day and when I learned about the commitment and hard work that goes into making a good Jasmine Pearl tea, I was even more in love with the tea and came home with a small pouch.  I purchased Mr. Fong’s book Great Teas of China and found that he takes a tour to China every few years.  If you are in the Bay Area and are interested in Chinese tea, Mr. Fong is speaking at the Commonwealth Club on March 11th.  Hopefully that will make it into a podcast for those who are interested.

Alex Harney at the Harney & Sons exhibit

Alex Harney at the Harney & Sons exhibit

Finally, I have to comment on the wonderful exhibition.  I got to meat Alex Harney, John Harney’s grandson, who had recently returned from India where he coaches ice hockey (you’ll have to ask him, not me).  IMG_0436I tried and purchased a delicious Soba Roasted Buckwheat tea – caffeine free and, yes, it tastes like buckwheat.  And also finally got one of the Ambessa teas – the Earl of Harlem – which I am looking forward to savoring at home.

Another delight was purchasing Glenburn Darjeeling Tea – bringing great memories of my trip to India with Dan Roberston’s World Tea Tours in 2008.  All in all, it was a most remarkable day and I am looking forward to the third annual festival next year.  These festivals are popping up in major cities around the country and well worth your time if you are interested in learning about tea history, culture, and trends as well as sampling wonderful teas from around the world.


10 thoughts on “2nd Annual San Francisco Tea Festival – Educational and Fun

  1. Wonderful post! Thank you so much for sharing. Especially loved the factoids…who knew green tea has had such a long history in the US!

  2. It was wonderful to meet you at the tea festival. I also enjoyed Roy Fong’s talk alot. I enjoyed this morning some tea from Glenburn and enjoyed talking to them at their table. It was a wonderful adventure and glad I could be there to meet special people such as yourself.

    • Thanks for your comment Marilyn. I also purchased some Glenburn as I found it delightful at the tasting and am saving it to savor this weekend outside in my early spring tea garden. I also bought some of the Tea’s Tea Matcha as I thought the idea with the ice cream was wonderful. I need to do a tea tasting with some friends soon. Very fun.

  3. Great FAQ-filled post. I had no idea that green tea was once so popular in the U.S. Not too surprised that 85%-90% of tea consumed in U.S. is iced nor that 85% is tea bagged…oh, what most Americans are missing not enjoying loose leaf tea brewed properly — can you hear the New Zealand influence? — in a China pot, in a China cup with some sentimental significance. In NZ, everyone — men, women and children — stop whatever they’re doing around 10 a.m. and 3-4 p.m. to have a cup of tea. As you might imagine, tea is more than tea, it’s a moment to stop and savor the people around you, the light conversation and the deep relaxation from the anti-oxidant brew.

    • Kathleen, thanks for contributing the New Zealand custom. How wonderful that such a pleasureful experience is so much a part of life there. I am stunned by how much literature there is about tea – poems, essays, travel logs, and the like – but mostly what significant role the beverage takes in people’s lives – spiritual, communal, reflective, etc. And the variety of types, regions, brewing methods, and on and on. A wonderful drink to study and learn about. Guest blogging is allowed!

  4. Diane….keep the fun and interesting news about tea coming! And, as always, I love the pictures of you! Crown and Crumpet is now open….we have to go! Laurie

    • Thanks Laurie. I, who have always been picture shy, am actually including myself. Entertaining from my side. Look forward to our next tea and/or garden adventure.

  5. I had no idea that green tea was the primary tea before WWII or that it was the type thrown overboard at the Boston Tea Party…learn something new every day!

    • It is so true. This past weekend I learned a lot about Craft Beers – and the stats are staggering similar – 90% of beer consumed is from the big breweries – Annhauser Busch, Miller Coors. 6% is from craft breweries of which there are 500+ in the US. 85% of the tea consumed is from big producers – still. I’ll be it is the same with coffee – most people go with the quantity off-the-shelf suppliers. Lots of money to be made in the ‘specialty’ or ‘craft’ suppliers. The green tea tidbit really surprised me. Might have to do a little more research on that one. Thanks for your comment Beth.

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