Sunday, February 26, 2012

San Francisco International Tea Festival - Year I

I kind of want to keep this a secret, but how can I?
This was the first annual (yes, they are planning on doing it next year) San Francisco International Tea Festival.  Though I love coffee, I am now seriously considering converting to being a 100% tea drinker. All, if not the majority, of products were from (or have North American HQs) in the San Francisco Bay Area and New York--an added thrill for me.
The display at Oakland's own  Sky Tea
Over a course of four hours, I learned about how tea is processed and sampled 15-20 varieties (green, black, red, white) including:

Black teas from Indian and British companies

There was also, oddly, one chocolate and ginger ale booth each, both marvelous.
From Pure Puer
  • Masala chai (blended with brown sugar and 2% milk) from Oakland's Sky Tea . It had a gentle kick to it, and its creaminess reminded me of the delicious chai I had in India which was made with buffalo milk.  
  • Ito En's matcha.  To be fair, we didn't see other pure matcha teas there so they didn't exactly have competition. But we were told that Teas's Tea Matcha won some kind of taste award...and that is quite believable.  This booth had at least a dozen varieties of their chilled teas as well, which were clean tasting and refreshing.  Ito En also produces green tea bags under the Kirkland (Costco) brand. They are the best tasting green tea bags I have had and contain a bit of matcha in them.
  • Claudio Corallo's chocolate with raisins in liquor.  Absolute seduction.  However, I did not buy it because a small package (< 6ounces) was $25.  But in case I regret this, I needn't travel to Italy as I can find them in Gourmet Ghetto thank goodness.
Claudio Corallo's soap-sized packages of chocolate.
  • Red Circle Tea was delightful and wins my award for friendliest and most informative service.  Sky Tea, with its enthusiastic crew, was excellent too.
Also from PurePuer.
Did you know that:
  • Unlike wine, all tea (we aren't talking about tisanes here) comes from one plant, but that its processing distinguishes them from one another? 
  • The difference between Japanese green tea and all the rest is in the processing.  Japanese green tea is steamed whereas other teas (including Chinese green teas) are roasted during production.  
  • Matcha, ground tea leaves, is the purest kind of green tea. For optimal brewing, do NOT use boiling water.  This is really important!
  • You can use the tea leaves you used for making tea and throw them in your stir-fry to get more anti-oxidants out of your meal says Ying Compestine.
  • "Kung fu" means something that is achieved through dedicated effort. (Imperial Tea Court's Roy Fong said so.) The reference isn't just to Bruce Lee et al.  Why he mentioned this in his talk, I cannot remember. But Roy Fong also believes that tea lowered his blood pressure (he had a heart attack at 41),
These were some of the bits of info that we were told.

Since this is their first year, the festival had some first-year glitches. For example, an intimate Japanese green tea ceremony, which I had won a ticket for, was way overbooked.  I couldn't get in as a result.  I was disappointed.   (But I got over it.)  All the volunteers we ran into (and there were many) were friendly and accommodating, if a little lost.  The crowd was also manageable and small enough that you could move around, but I would strongly recommend the festival stock their booths with double the number of staff next year. This would make traffic even better and reduce wait times.  

But for a debut, nice job, tea festival!
From Roti Roti.  Not a vegetarian sandwich! Hunk of porky inside. 
Of course the venue, on the second floor of the Ferry Building, is a gem. Before entering the tea festival, we got a bite. At the Ferry Building on a Saturday morning, the options are luxuriously overwhelming.  Miraculously, there was almost no line at Roti Roti and J was able to get one of their famous porchetta sandwiches in no time.  This was possible only because it is still officially winter and tourists haven't yet taken over the place.  Just a few more precious weeks before they do...

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