Teafest PDX Recap July 22 2019

A fair number of you first encountered our tea company at NW Tea Festival, an awesome Seattle-based festival that launched in 2007 and has only grown bigger and better each year since. Newer to the tea festival scene is Tea Fest PDX. This Portland festival only just had its third year, but is so put-together and well structured that I would have thought it was an event with 5-7 years under its belt already. I don’t have access to the attendance numbers, but we def got hit with a long line waiting to enter and it was tight moving between all the booths once we got in. I’m glad this was mostly an outdoor event, as the indoor booths were struggling to get folks to stop without completely blocking the pathway.

I have to admit, being at a vendor fair/convention without working a booth of my own was a super weird feeling. We (my bestie Nat and I) kept running into people we knew and almost every person asked us “So where is your booth,” to which I gleefully replied “Nah, we’re just here to play!”

First stop once we were in the door was Minto Island Tea. Super cool booth setup with dramatic piles of tea leaf in various stages of processing, which made my lil farm nerd heart squee. They also had live tea plants for sale, but it was early and I didn’t want to lug them around all day, so I planned to come back after all our workshops to snag a couple (they were sold out by the time I got back, my one regret of the day).

Next up was Prana Chai, an Australian tea company taking a super cool and weird approach to loose leaf masala chai. Their chai leaf and spice blend is actually sticky, having been coated with honey before packaging. Big ol bags of sticky chai were open on the table with scoops resting on them. Obviously, I stabbed the tea repeatedly with the scoop. This stuff was super yum and they were selling with the option of bundles for hot or cold-brewing. I took home two bags, but neither the hot nor the cold brewing equipment, as my cupboards might collapse if I tried to shove any more tea wares into them. The turmeric chai and the classic chai are now cold-brewing in my fridge at home. So yum, and the bags are fun to squeeze! 

After these first two booths we bopped around, trying a ton of delicious teas from all the vendors we could get to through the crowd, but most of our day was spent in workshops. Remember the workaholic farm nerd thing? Yeah, I 100% signed up for all the classes I could pack in. I’ll be posting future blogs and YouTube videos to share what I learned more in-depth, but here’s a rough overview of each workshop we attended:

  • Sacred American Tea Revival: A fascinating discussion on Yaupon Holly, the only caffeinated plant indigenous to North America, led by Yaupon Brothers American Tea Co. We learned a lot about the history and biochemistry of this fascinating plant. The speaker had some serious beef with the marketing smear against Yaupon made by the Brits in the late 1700's, which was both hilarious and educational.
  • Latin America Happening: The Rise of New Markets: I expected more of an industry analysis of the rising tea popularity in coffee-led Central and South America, but this turned out to be a recounting of one Mexican man’s discovery of tea and journey from miserable government official to tea importer and shop owner in Mexico City. Sweet, but nothing really learned. Personal stories are super valuable, I just had to turn off my business admin and econ analysis nerd brain.
  • Tea, Tourism, and Social Change: This lecture and tasting focused on the history and product of Nepal's first co-op tea farm and was led by the son of the farm's founding couple. Nishchal Banskota, originally of the Kanchanjangha Tea Estate, was our hilarious and charismatic speaker, and from him we learned a lot about the way agrotourism has facilitated transcultural connection and how the co-op project has benefited the lives of rural farmers in Nepal.
  • US Tea Farming 101: I was super excited for this more technical class on the practical and behind-the-scenes reality of farming tea in the contiguous United States (Hawai'i is the US's biggest tea growing region, but operate under seriously different conditions than the lower 48). Colonel Jason McDonald, founder and operator of The Great Mississippi Tea Company, had prepared a mountain of information. He thought his time slot was 1.5 hours, when in fact it was half that amount of time. We blazed through as much information as possible on soil nitrogen levels, germination, irrigation practices and so on, but we didn't have even close to enough time to get through all the material. Fortunately, Jason was kind enough to supply us with packets of information so we could continue our own exploration after his class.
  • Conservation by the Cup: A Tea Tasting Tour of Elephant-Friendly Farms of Asia: I'm particularly thrilled about this one, as this organization is doing wonderful conservation work with a focus on transparency and trackable data. Friday Afternoon will be partnering with a number of farms in the Elephant Friendly Teas network to bring you super yummy, more thoughtful and ethical Assam tea than we had previously been able to access. We tasted three at this class and two more at their Teafest PDX booth and I'm happy to announce that we don't have to sacrifice a bit of quality in our pursuit of more ethically-sourced leaf! Expect to see the Elephant Friendly stamp on our Assams in the near future. 
Bonus points: the Elephant Friendly farm network and the Nepal co-op we mentioned before put an emphasis on empowering women-run farm operations. In a lot of agricultural regions, women aren't given a lot of opportunities beyond picking, so this is a big deal. Overall, I'm pretty excited about the surge of social responsibility upgrades we're seeing the past few years. I'm optimistic about social trends in the worlds of tea, coffee and chocolate!

All in all, Teafest PDX was super fun and definitely worthwhile. You may see us vending there next year, or just walking around enjoying ourselves! Either way, I'll be back for sure.

Happy sipping!

Tasty Teas for Thirsty Nerds indeed!