Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Northwest Tea Festival 2017

The 10th annual Northwest Tea Festival was held in the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall on September 30th and October 1st.

Finding the new location can be confusing, so here are a couple tips for anyone attending next year's festival.  The Exhibition Hall is located on Mercer Street between McCaw Hall and the Seattle Repertory Theatre.  The entrance is on the lower level on the streetside.  The upper level is The Phelps Center, home to the Pacific Northwest Ballet.  The ticket booth including Will Call is to the left of the doors which don't open until the festival begins. Another change this year was the all-in-one pass.  Rather than juggling separate tickets for Saturday and Sunday, one price gets you one wristband that covers both days. 

Commemorative bags and tasting cups that are included with the price of admission were handed out at a table in the entryway, leading to the main hall.

The new festival location was much more spacious than previous years which resulted in more vendors and better traffic flow.  The stage was directly to the back and curtained off which helped to cut down on the noise and distraction of the festival during presentations.  Workshops and tea tastings were held in booths along the right side of the room.

The rest of the space was filled with vendors, vendors, and more vendors!

Tsuru no Maru made its debut at the Northwest Tea Festival. Sales for their flagship sencha, Kagayaki No. 10 comes from Izumo, Shimane Prefecture, an unusual region for tea growing.  The climate requires the plants to work harder to produce leaves which usually results in more flavorful results. Their website and sales opened on November 18th.

Sugimoto America offered tea ceremony demonstrations on Saturday and Sunday at their booth, performed by certified instructor Chiaki Ito of the Yabunochi School.  Tokara wagashi was available for sale at the booth and chef Chika Tokara was in attendance.

The Northwest Tea Festival Tea Bar hosted by Charles and Laurie Dawson

Charles and Laurie Dawson provided 5-minute drop-in tasting sessions throughout both days of the festival.  Their energy and enthusiasm is incredible!  I dropped in for a tasting of Lao Shan Qing Tea and Sichuan Green Needle followed by a game of Name That Tea.  The mystery tea turned out to be a 1960's aged black tea.

Day One

Ten Years of Tea Festivals with James Norwood Pratt

James Norwood Pratt kicked off the presentation with a thanks to Julee Rosanoff, Doug Livingston, Chris O'Dowd, and Annie O'Dowd for all the hard work dedication they've poured into the Northwest Tea Festival over the past ten years.  The Northwest Tea Festival was among the first of its kind in North America and a decade later, tea festivals are held coast-to-coast.  These festival offers the unique opportunity to communion with other tea people. 

Mr. Pratt discussed changes in the tea industry over the past 10 years as well as the UC Davis Global Tea Initiative which is progressing toward an eventual degree program.  They'll be hosting a symposium on February 22nd.  He also talked about the US League of Tea Growers and the tea festival in Prague.

Tea Blogger Roundtable moderated by Cinnabar Wright (Phoenix Tea)

I was honored to be included in the Northwest Tea Festival's first ever Tea Blogger Roundtable alongside Geoffrey Norman (Steep Stories of the Lazy Literatus), Char Gascho (Oolong Owl), Anna Mariani (Tea Squirrel), and Stephanie Lemmons Wilson (Steph’s Cup of Tea).  We answered questions posed by Cinnabar Wright (Gongfu Girl) relating to our tea review policies and processes as well as questions from the audience.  This was a great opportunity to finally meet fellow tea bloggers in person and interesting to learn how much our blogging styles varied.

Taiwan Formal Small Pot Ceremony with Betsy Meyer

Betsy explained the history of this form of tea ceremony, walking us through the steps while preparing tea.  

From the festival program:
This ceremony is based on traditional Chinese Gong-Fu (literally “making tea with skill”) dating back over 400 years to the Ming Dynasty. 40 years ago Grand Master Tsai of the Lu-Yu Tea Culture Institute realized that Gong-Fu brewing was headed for extinction as Taiwan society modernized. In response, Master Tsai modified traditional Gong-Fu service to create a formal ceremony that was not only elegant and relaxed but also neat and practical.

  • Everything is in a state of preparation.
  • Enter and bow to the guests.
  • Turn over the cups.
  • Pass around the dry tea (optional).
  • Prepare the leaves in a canister.  This is usually a green tea, but for the purpose of this workshop it was a Mao Feng black tea.
  • Warm the teapot and chahai (fairness pitcher) and add the leaves.
  • Warm the cups.
  • Pour water into the teapot in a circular motion as a greeting to the guests. 
  • First rinse.  "First cup goes to enemies"  Rinsing is not as important in modern days with the quality of tea.  
  • Dry the base of the teacups on a towel and place on coasters.
  • Save a cup for yourself and an assistant.  This is a good opportunity to verify if the tea is too strong.
  • Rearrange the cups so it doesn't look like you're getting the remainders.
  • If you are serving tea from the front, the guest and host will bow to on another.  If you are serving tea from behind there is no need to bow.
  • Drink with 3-6 sips.
  • Prepare the next round within a minute so the leaves don't get too warm.  The second brew will be 30 seconds and the third brew will be 45 seconds.

Aged White Tea with Char Gascho (Oolong Owl)

In this session, we tasted and compared white teas aged for different lengths of time.

2017 Turtle Dove (White2Tea)

2006 Shou Mei (Chinese Tea Shop)

2000 Fuding Baicha

All About Oolong Tea Baking with Thomas Shu (JT & TEA Inc.)

During this workshop, we learned about the reasons and methodology for tea baking.  We also tasted and compared a non-baked tikuanyin (floral, astringent, butter), a baked tikuanyin (floral, cocoa), and a master baked oolong (buttery, light roast/toast, moderately floral).

Oolong is partially oxidized and still contains polyphenols which makes it a good candidate for baking. Don't bake green tea or it will no longer be green tea. Black tea is already fully oxidized, so baking would be a waste of energy with no change in flavor or aroma.

Thomas advises professionals in the industry is to bake their own tea before trying to grow their own tea. The purpose of baking is drying, touching up (removing unwanted aroma and moisture), and enhancing (bringing out a toasty flavor that might not come through in the first roasting). It changes the taste and character of the same tea, providing retailers with a custom flavor. Baking greener oolong will add more value.

The FDA doesn't require an expiration date on tea, so the expiration dates are there to create faster sales. If your tea picks up moisture, bake it.

Bake at 212°F/100°C for a toasty aroma. Baking at 176°F/80°C will provide some development with not much color change and 248°F/120° will burn the tea.
  • Understand the process of baking. 
  • Understand the methodology of drying versus baking. 
  • Select the appropriate tea to add value. 
  • Create a schedule and plan for baking specific teas. 
  • Limited supply means you set the price.
  • Understand the history of the tea estate. (It may be known for specific characteristics.)
Most of the workshop attendees are tea consumers rather than professionals in the tea industry, so Thomas provided tips for oolong baking at home.
  • Heat a sauce pan over low heat, add the leaves and stir. If you see smoke it means it's getting rid of moisture and the tea will be like new.
  • Expose the tea to room temperatures for up to three days.
  • Keep the tea in the original foil pouch, squeezing out the air, and store the pouch in 1-2 ziploc bags.

Day Two

Yellow Teas: Seldom Explored, Nebulous, Tasty with Joshua Brock

During this tasting event, Joshua introduced us to three yellow teas, discussed the rarest Chinese yellow tea, Jun Shan Yinzhen, and the differences between Chinese and Korean yellow tea.

Mo Gan Huang Ya (Mo Gan Yellow Buds) from Zhejiang Province

Meng Ding Huang Ya (Yellow Buds) from Sichuan Province

Korean Yellow Tea Balhyocha (Hwangcha)

Rare & Artisan Teas of China with Catherine & Ned Heagerty (Silk Road Teas)

All teas for this tasting session were harvested and minimally processed before April 5th.  They are unblended and meet the local standard rather than the market standard.  

Wild Green from Fujian Province

Gardenia Fragrance (Huang Zhi Xiang) from Fenghuang Shan (Phoenix Mountain)

Black Fragrance made from the Mei Zhan varietal in Fujian Province

Thanks to all the volunteers  and presenters for making the 10th anniversary of the Northwest Tea Festival a success!  I hope to see you there in 2018!


  1. Great post, pictures and stories are terrific. I can't wait until 2018!