Guest Contributor, Julee Rosanoff
The Inspiration For the Northwest Tea Festival
Around 2005 Norwood Pratt came to Seattle to autograph his seminal tea book The Tea Lovers’ Treasury, during that visit we discussed the 400th anniversary of the arrival in tea in Amsterdam and ways to celebrate it. Over the next several months a group of like-minded tea businesses decided to do a festival and the following year we presented our first event. It was so popular that we chose to do it annually with not much thought about it. Each year proved our dedication to be correct and indeed the festival has grown into one the largest festivals in the US, certainly on the west coast.
The rumors that there will NOT be a NW Tea Festival in 2023 are wrong!
There WILL be a festival on September 23 – 24, 2023 in the Exhibition Hall at Seattle Center. Not only will there be a festival, but we are doing our very best to make this return as grand an event as we have provided over the past 16 years, even though this will be chronologically our thirteenth festival the past three years have not dimmed our imagination or commitment to maintaining one of the premier festivals in the United States.
The last three years have been difficult for everyone. The first year of Covid saw everything locked down and no events taking place at all. The second year saw more of the same with some breakthroughs, but not many. Too many people were still getting sick and the idea of providing a festival dedicated to education about tea and tea culture to a much reduced (and masked!) community did not sit well with any of us. By the third year, the tea business owners who help organize the festival were exhausted from trying to stay in business with customers and staff in lock down mode. One of our members had to close her tea business. No one had the energy to work on a moderated plan for an event we were not sure enough people would attend. To put on a festival that did not have the workshops, speakers and tea tastings we consider basic, and to risk fewer attendees could mean the financial end of the festival. So, we decided not to have it.
It takes a number of people to plan a festival. It is not something one can decide to do in a short amount of time and do well. However, three members of our committee decided they couldn’t wait or didn’t want to wait to share tea with the northwest tea community and so in seven months put together a small, one day festival they called Cascadia. They had some local vendors, some electrical glitches and a reasonable number of attendees. They were so delighted with the success of their event that they did another one in April, 23 which had 350 attendees. All of these were connected to the NW Tea Festival and the April event was posted on our website, in our email announcing the festival dates, and on all our social media pages.
It looks like there will be another one next April, also sponsored and supported by our governing body Puget Sound Tea Education Association (PSTEA) going forward. We have worked in the past to have local events sponsored by PSTEA but have not been successful. It now seems that this new adventure in mini-festivals will become another development of PSTEA and there will be two (or more) events a year.
Now, we are back, we are energized and developing ideas for programs, speakers, workshops and tea tastings as if it were our first event! We are fortunate that Seattle Center has been extremely supportive and understanding during our hibernation. We are able to step right back into the venue we have enjoyed for the last several years. We will be working with the same staff and it will be as if there had never been a glitch. We are also proud that most of our vendors stayed with us over the years. We refunded funds to about 10 exhibitors during year two and three of our hibernation and most of them are returning this year again! To those who were able to keep their funds with us we are grateful and delighted.
We are looking forward to presenting some of the following tea-related events at this year’s event. There will be approximately 47 vendor booths. Most of whom are tea merchants. Some will be food providers, tea ware manufacturers, a honey manufacturer, books and more. Our Tea Bar will be back with open tasting of some of the most interesting teas available. There will be two stages (at this point) with speakers every hour both days. There will be scheduled tea tastings by merchant/importers on a scheduled basis. Twenty people in a booth tasting one or more teas in half an hour all day, both days. There will be workshops about specific aspects of tea: cupping, etiquette, tea 101 for those seeking more information, delving into detail about green, white, yellow, oolong, black and herbal teas with authorities who have made it their career to learn about all aspects of their favorite brew. To do less than this would mean a festival we could not be proud of.
WHY DO A TEA FESTIVAL
The reasons for doing it can be nuanced or simple. Our mission is to educate the interested tea public in all aspects of tea, tea culture, and production. That is the simple answer. To delve into it more, we love tea, we want other people to love tea and it is a very big treat to have 40 tea vendors in one room all providing their best teas for attendees to sample, to have a tea bar where attendees can sit for twenty minutes and try something that is not available in any of the booths, to sit with a nationally (internationally) know tea expert for an hour to learn about a specific piece of the tea story from his/her own experience. To see slides of tea plantations around the globe, to have access to books about tea that are not available through most book stores. To sit with friends, family, tea sellers and experts and discuss the status of tea in this climate and population changing world and the potential options for ensuring that specialty tea as we know it will be maintained. To be with people who love their work, share their passion for tea wholeheartedly and who will come across the country, or up the coast, from Ireland, Canada, Japan willingly to share their ideas and love of tea. This is why I do it. To see people leaving at the end of each festival day exuberant about their experience and ready to learn more or to have found a new tea provider who can provide them something new to expand their tea palate. These are reasons to have a festival. To fold our tents and say it’s too dangerous or not enough interest and walk away is not an option. I know that isn’t true. I invite everyone to come to Seattle to confirm my belief that tea festivals are unique events and are worth attending. Maybe you can use our concepts to start your own festival wherever you are. Let us know, we will support and help in whatever ways we can.
Lastly, but not least, I want to identify the vendors who have stayed with us over the past three years. Their faith in our return has kept us both emotionally and financially ready to be at our best this year.
Thank you to all of you for your continuing support of us during the past three years. I am hopeful that this will be the new beginning of a long stretch of NW Tea Festivals. I also invite everyone to explore these vendors and make use of their expertise in your own search for new and interesting tea experiences.
Most of all, I invite you all the attend the NW Tea Festival, September 23-24 2023 at the Exhibition Hall Seattle Center, Seattle Washington.
Photos Contributed by Andrew Goodman and Babette Donaldson