Maybe it has something to do with being in such close proximity to the birthplace of Starbucks, but there is a definite coffee culture in Vancouver. And it extends far beyond Starbucks to include Caffe Artigiano, Caffe Divano, Bean Around the World, Elysian Coffee, and 49th Parallel, among countless others. While coffee certainly maintains its widespread appeal in this city, we’ve seen a shifting trend in recent years toward tea. And just as all these coffee joints have made for a complex menu beyond the double-double, the rising popularity of tea has also expanded its offerings well beyond orange pekoe.
The one-day event was not particularly large, occupying the gymnasium and multi-purpose room at the community centre, but it was wildly popular. The Vancouver Tea Festival was fully sold out, likely because of the already low price ($5 online), coupled with social group-buying deals that made the price even cheaper. Because it was the first year, I did find the event was poorly organized. Even though we did buy our tickets ahead of time (along with everyone else), we still had to stand in line for over half an hour to get through the door. And when we did, we were shoehorned into a very crowded gym.
In the room, we saw some 20+ local area vendors, like DoMatcha, David’s Tea, The Teaguy, Tea Sparrow, Shaktea Tea Lounge, Zen Tea, and The Chinese Tea Shop. Many of them were giving out free samples of their tea, but because each booth did not have an organized line, it just became a free-for-all for who could navigate their way to the front. We were each provided with a small ceramic cup at the door for the purposes of sampling, but that meant that we got barely a sip out of each sample.
While some people choose to drink tea for the taste, many others concern themselves with the purported health benefits. Some teas have antioxidant properties, others provide a gentler boost of energy than coffee, and other still can be good for the skin. The “healthy living” paradigm is perfectly in line with the growing health-conscious community in Vancouver.
In addition to the exhibitors themselves, the Vancouver Tea Festival also hosted several informational sessions and demonstrations. These included Matcha for Beginners, Making Fun and Delicious Tea Cocktails, Beyond Fair Trade, and Chanoyu Demonstrations, among others. The sessions were supposed to be ticketed on a first-come, first-served basis one hour before each session, but by the time we arrived at 1pm, all the tickets had already been distributed for the rest of the day. I hope that the sessions are better organized next year. Thankfully, we were able to sneak our way into part of one session.
This was an inaugural event and the organizers likely underestimated the response that they would get. It certainly has potential, given the huge interest in the sheer variety of teas from around the world and how to properly prepare them, so it will be interesting to see what changes are made for next year’s event. I would suggest both a larger venue and a higher ticket price to better control the crowds.
I’m still much more of a coffee drinker at heart, but there is definitely something to be said about the centuries of tradition surrounding the growing, brewing and consumption of tea.