The San Francisco International Tea Festival is a pleasant environment for learning about the sort of tea available beyond the supermarket teabag. Or, at least, it used to be.
This year, despite the change in format where casual tea tasting was supplemented by a series of talks and tastings by tea professionals, I managed to find fewer high quality teas to taste and purchase than last year. Some of the teas were, frankly, lackluster. On the other hand, I did discover at least two excellent purveyors of tea that were new to me.
My favorites this year:
- Fox & Moon: Complex Japanese and Chinese teas, primarily, including white, green, black, and puerh teas as well as masala chai. I bought a box of masala chai and a sort of spiced Japanese genmai cha. This tea company also sells chocolate bars by Vice Chocolates, one of my favorite local chocolatiers based in Oakland.
- Red Circle Tea: Very complex teas, mainly Chinese from a specific terroir, categorized by variety and year of harvest. I tasted a 1996 Ti Kuan Yin, I believe, which the Red Circle website says is a type of oolong. This was one of the few teas I sampled that multiple flavor notes. It was the sort of tea that makes you stop whatever it is you’re doing, and enter a sort of meditative state while your brain attempts to name and discover the myriad flavors washing over your tongue. This is the sort of tea you want to drink quietly in solitude, staring out a window overlooking a cherry orchard while a trickle of rain becomes a pour and the cherry blossoms fall from the branches. No, really. (I’m only half kidding.) This really was very good tea.
- Midori: Decent hot matcha. My two year old rather liked the cold matcha.
- Ito En: This Japanese tea company makes–hands down–my favorite bottled iced tea. Ito En’s Oi Ocha (“Hey, there! Tea!”) is just good green tea steeped in spring water. The flavor is crisp and clean, with a sort of lightly toasted aftertaste and a pleasing undertone of tannins. Perfect on a hot summer day, or as a refreshing eyelid prop at work after 3pm. You’ll find Ito En teas at Asian and international markets.
- The Meaning of Tea: Bought a pleasant, but not entirely exciting masala chai from these Vermont-based tea sellers.
I look forward to next year’s tea festival, not least because it’s one of the few food and drink related San Francisco festivals that doesn’t leave one gasping for air, elbows raw and bloody, yearning for the relative comfort of a packed elevator. Also, I like tasting tea. I’d really like to taste a variety of excellent tea, from a variety of locales, with a variety of tea-centric snacks to go with it (tea biscuits, shortbread, tea sandwiches, high quality chocolates). Some beautiful tea crockery would be great, too. Looking forward to next year’s gathering.