One of my goals for 2024 was to travel more, and things are off to a good start because I finally made it to the Toronto Tea Festival. This was the 10th annual event and I’ve been waiting to go for just as long. It was an amazing experience and I definitely plan to go back next year. It’s taken me some time to put my thoughts together. In this post, I’ll share some of the festival’s highlights and my trip to Toronto.
Getting to Toronto
I was both nervous and excited about traveling to Toronto. This was my first time leaving the US. Thankfully Traci (aka Tea Infusiast) was on the same flight from New York as me so we were able to travel together. It was a short and uneventful flight. I had heard that clearing customs in Canada could take 1-2 hours, but we breezed through.
Since I couldn’t check into my Airbnb yet, I stashed my bags at Traci’s hotel. We met up with Soo of Soocha Tea. She was our generous guide to Toronto, offering helpful tips before and during our trip. We had a delicious lunch at a vegan restaurant called Planta where I ordered a delicious mint blueberry jasmine iced tea.
After lunch, we headed to Chicha San Chen to meet up with Taniya (of yogateapoetry), Marco of Steap’d, and Jeff and Cassandra of UNYtea. This award-winning bubble tea spot was intriguing because they fresh brew the tea for each order using a special teapresso machine. I ordered a hot cassia black tea with cream and no sugar. It was delicious!
The Toronto Tea Festival was held at the beautiful Toronto Reference Library. I stayed in a different part of the city, but it was a short Uber right from my Airbnb. I’m a bookworm who loves visiting libraries when I travel so it was the perfect double whammy. I loved the bright and sunny atrium with glass elevators. It did feel like I was breaking a rule by drinking tea in a library. Thankfully the areas used for the festival were safely away from any books.
Drink Your Tea and Eat It Too
My presentation, Drink Your Tea and Eat It Too was first up on the schedule. I had the honor of being introduced by Linda Gaylard of The Tea Stylist. I shared some of the different culinary uses for tea along with some recipes from The Tea Recipe Book. It has been a while since I presented at a consumer tea festival, so it felt good to get back out there. The audience was kind and asked some really great questions
I tried to record my presentation but unfortunately, someone knocked my phone over about halfway through. I’ve embedded my slides below so you can at least see that part.Drink Your Tea and Eat It Too! by teaformeplease
Immediately after my presentation, I was invited to be a special guest at the Tea Guild of Canada‘s booth. It was great to be able to speak with so many new people about The Tea Recipe Book and what I do. I brought stickers, magnets, and pins of my logo and book cover to give away.
A lot of people were filtering in and out of the demo stage room where the booth was located, but nothing could have prepared me for the mass of people that were in the vendor area of the festival. I couldn’t believe that they had all shown up for a festival solely dedicated to tea.
Upon entering the festival, I was handed a bright orange tote back, a small glass teacup, and a cute little glass bottle with the logos of the festival and its sponsors. I really liked that they did not have all of the vendors use disposable plastic or paper. It was VERY crowded, but everyone was generally very nice about the whole thing. A crowd like this would not have worked the same way in NYC or back home in New Jersey. Maybe drinking all of that tea kept us all calm and happy. It was overwhelming at times, but stepping out into the library periodically helped to recharge my batteries.
I was impressed by the quality of the vendors at the Toronto Tea Festival. Teas from all over the world were represented without a ton of unrelated fluff taking up space. There was something for every kind of tea drinker. I was particularly excited to see familiar faces like Zhen Tea, Soocha Tea, and Tea Rebellion.
One of the things that I enjoy most about attending events like the Toronto Tea Festival is getting to attend different talks and workshops. The programming was divided between a speaker’s room downstairs and the demo stage upstairs. Here is a bit about the talks I was able to attend.
Nadia De La Vega from DAVIDsTea presented ‘The Power of Partnerships & CommuniTEA’. The main focus was their partnership with Tea Horse, an indigenous and woman-owned brand, to create their Manoomin Maple Blend. Denis and Mark were able to video call in to tell their story and answer questions from the audience.
Rikko Osaki of Hokusan Tea presented ‘Japanese Tea Auction and the Sustainability Challenge’. She shared some fascinating insights from her experience as the first female staff member at the Shizuoka Green Tea Auction. Rikko also addressed some of the challenges the Japanese tea industry is facing, such as the increasing average age of tea farmers.
Taniya Gupta presented a workshop called ‘Slowing Down with Tea and Poetry’. Only a few people were able to directly participate but she skillfully guided a very crowded room through a meditation. It was a welcome moment of peace during a very hectic event. If you haven’t already, I highly recommend checking out her new book, What Will People Say.
Marco Namowicz of Steap’d presented ‘Steeped in Community’. He started with an exercise asking audience members to share what community means to them with the people around them. It was incredible to see everyone so engaged. He then provided some frameworks that he has developed while leading community initiatives like the Chicago Tea Collective.
Linda Gaylard of The Tea Stylist presented ‘Tea, Through Time and Tradition’. Tea has an incredibly rich history and I couldn’t think of anyone better to share it. Linda packed hundreds of years into a succinct and engaging presentation without getting too bogged down by facts and dates. It’s no wonder that she is the instructor for George Brown College’s Tea Foundations course.
Kevin Gascoyne of Camellia Sinensis presented ‘An Inside View of the Tea Studio Project’. There were some technical difficulties, but he was quick on his feet and regaled the crowd with stories of Nilgiri. Once the video was working we were able to watch a live interview that he did showing some behind-the-scenes of making tea at Tea Studio.
I tried not to buy too much at the Toronto Tea Festival because I have too much tea and will be moving soon. One of my goals was to get a piece of teaware from Secret Teatime. I fell in love with a fun polka dot and diamond patterned chawan. I also bought a tin of Manoomin Maple from DAVIDsTea as well as two of Tea Studio’s teas from Camellia Sinensis.
I spotted an adorable t-shirt at the Sakao Japanese Tea booth that needed to be added to my collection of tea-themed shirts. Jeff from UNYtea kindly handed me a packet of gyokuro when we passed each other on the festival floor. That will definitely need to be saved for a special occasion.
What a whirlwind weekend in Toronto! I’ve always dreamed of planning a real tea festival in NYC, so it was inspiring in many ways. I cannot thank my Canadian tea friends for being incredibly welcoming and generous hosts.
Did you go to the Toronto Tea Festival this year or in the past? What was your favorite part? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below.
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