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.

 

February Teas: Gardens at Heather Farms Fundraiser and Downton Abbey Valentines Day

In mid February I enjoyed two delightful teas – a fund raiser for the Gardens at Heather Farms in Walnut Creek and a most delightful afternoon at my long-time friend, Laurie Callaway’s home.

At the fundraiser, the Garden Club members made the tea sandwiches and used their own china tea services making it a wonderful, personal, and charmingly eclectic event. The highlight of the afternoon was the speaker – James Norwood Pratt.  I thought Mr. Pratt’s gentle suggestion to the Garden Club that they plant Camellia sinensis – the tea bush from which all tea is harvested (green, black, white) – at the Gardens at Heather Farms was spot-on. I already knew of the tea plantation in South Carolina and had recently learned about the tea plantations in Hawaii, but was interested to know that tea is now also being grown in Oregon and Washington states.  Hear, Hear.

James Norwood Pratt signing autographs

James Norwood Pratt signing autographs

In his talk, Mr. Pratt mentioned that his first published book about tea was Tea Lover’s Treasury (101 production series) first published in 1982.  Coincidentally it was the first book that I purchased about tea.  He mentioned that over the years he has updated the book multiple times as his knowledge and experience has broadened and deepened. At the event I purchased his newest book, James Norwood Pratt’s Tea Dictionary, and am so glad that I did.  Today we think we can find everything on the internet but the information, maps, timelines, history, and terminology contained in this book is both useful and delightful to inquisitive or serious tea lovers.

Laurie's signature sandwiches - chicken salad, egg salad, and, of course, cucumber

Laurie’s signature sandwiches – chicken salad, egg salad, and, of course, cucumber

My second tea was the very next day, a ‘Valentines Day at Downton Abbey’ themed party, at Laurie’s lovely home.  We all dressed in Downton Abbey outfits (of sorts), drank wonderful champagne, and dined on Ms. Callaway’s  signature chicken salad, egg salad, a cucumber tea sandwiches,  chocolate covered strawberries, and her superbly delicious heart-shaped coconut cake (Ina Garten’s recipe from Barefoot Contessa at Home: Everyday Recipes You’ll Make Over and Over Again) colored a lovely pink for Valentines Day.

Personalized table setting including the charming engagement cup and saucer - think demitasse size.

Personalized table setting including the charming engagement cup and saucer – think demitasse size.

Laurie’s tea parties are always delightful but I must say this one was all the more special for her Valentine’s Day theme, decorations, and the thoughtful favors she made for each of us  – large personalized heart shaped cookies, hand-made note cards for each of us, and gifts of engagement cups and saucers, each one carefully selected from her personal collection, for its recipient.

 

My outfit for the tea - yes the cape is real but from the 30s, not the 20s.  Hat is from Hats on Post.  Dress is ebay

My outfit for the tea – yes the cape is real but from the 30s, not the 20s. Hat is from Hats on Post. Dress is ebay

Each of us wore something to pay homage to Downton Abbey.  My outfit was from ebay, collectible stores, and my closet.  As I shopped for my dress and gloves, I was stunned at how ebay and the collectible stores have Downton Abbey sections making it easy and fun to create one’s costume.  We discussed the series (the last episode of Season 3 had not yet been shown) and, like so many others, were amazed at how much we love the drama and care so deeply for the characters.

February was a stellar month for tea in my life – including redoing my displays, sorting through my teas on hand, visiting with friends, and visiting the Japanese Garden in Golden Gate Park (my first time there).  As March unfolds and spring slowly arrives in northern California, wishing all of you a warm and delicious pot of your favorite brew by yourself as well as with your friends and family.