Last Wednesday I packed the cooler, loaded up the car, strapped in the kid, and started making my way towards Kansas City, MO for the 2nd Annual Midwest Tea Festival. I had a ton of fun last year, so as soon as the date was set I started making plans to attend. As luck would have it the festival took place on Mother's Day weekend, so I made a quick stop in St. Louis to pick up my mom as I was passing through.
There were a few notable changes to the festival this year, the biggest being the new venue. The Ararat Shrine Auditorium, located on the outskirts of KC, is a much more convenient location for non-KC natives who may not want to navigate the traffic of downtown. There was plenty of free parking available and despite the long line to get in the door things progressed quickly. The volunteers handling check-in kept things moving, so in less than 10 minutes I was able to jump right in and start sampling tea.
My very first stop was at the booth for Yōki where I sampled my first cup of tea and discovered numerous tea related treats including pocky, mochi, and matcha kit kats. I've been keeping my eye out for those kit kats, so I picked up a bag to take home. They managed to make it back to Wisconsin unmelted, so I'll be sharing the review of these tasty gems later this week.
With tea in hand I headed over to one of the first tasting cafe presentations of the day. Rie Tulali the General Manager at Tealet gave a brief talk about experimental teas. I was hoping to catch her later presentation about Direct Trade Tea as well, but time got away from me and I completely missed it.
After Tealet's session I headed back over to the vendors where I stumbled across more great tea snacks. Bimi Bakery was handing out samples of their lavender earl grey cake when I stopped by. As many of you know I love all things Earl Grey, so my mom treated me to a full size piece which I munched on during the ride home.
They also had a large assortment of matcha-based treats to choose from. The matcha chocolate with raisins, coconut, and nuts was tempting, but I wanted to save room for tea.
I visited with a few more vendors before heading upstairs for the Japanese Tea Ceremony presentation given by Ayako Mizumura of Bimi Bakery. She gave a brief talk about respect, tradition, and how they relate to different aspects of tea ceremony before showing a video from the NHK, Japan's national public broadcasting organization.
It was fascinating to learn the reasons behind some of the smallest details of the ceremony; every action is meant to add to the comfort of the guests. Something seemingly innocuous, such as where the tea pot is placed, can have a huge affect on how comfortable a guest is. In the winter the pot is placed closer to the guests to provide added warmth and it's placed closer to the host during the summer to keep guests cooler. It is small details such as these that make tea ceremony so fascinating, but at the same time it is this attention to detail that makes Japanese tea ceremony a very time-intensive tradition to learn.
For those of you who are interested in learning more you can find the video that was shown during the lecture on YouTube.
After the presentation I headed downstairs again, this time to meet up with a group of Steepster members that I've been chatting with for years. We spent the hour sampling an aged oolong and chatting about various tea-related topics. Amanda from My Thoughts are Like Butterflies, Andrew the mad-genius behind Liquid Proust Teas, and an Oolong Owl were among those who attended the meet-up.
Afterwards I had meant to stop back by Liquid Proust's booth to pick up some of his Rummy Pu, one of the teas he was sampling during the festival, but it slipped my mind. It ended up being my favorite tea of the day, so I ordered some as soon as I got home along with his Watermelon Baozhong. I'll be sharing both of these teas during one of our upcoming Tuesday Tea reviews, so keep your eyes peeled.
After more than three hours of sampling tea I needed a short break, so I decided to check out Pi Ceramics. Yvette brought along some truly breathtaking pieces this year, I really love these patterned tea cups and vases. My one regret from the festival is that I didn't take one home... maybe next year.
Next stop was over to check out these lovely ladies who were hard at work making t-shirts. Who could pass up Tea-Rex on a shirt? Speaking of Tea-Rex, we saw him wandering around the festival throughout the day. I tried to get my dinosaur-loving little man to pose for a picture, but he was having none of that... go figure.
Later on I discovered that Anna Tea Shop was giving away a tea plant every hour. I have a black thumb, so I didn't enter, but I'm pretty sure my mom slipped my name in the bowl while I wasn't looking. Fortunately the baby tea plants went home with someone else, if one had come home with me it would have been lucky to survive the trip home.
I am death to anything green.
This shop was one of my favorite discoveries from last year due largely in part to their Lemon Souffle Rooibos tea (which we reviewed a few weeks ago.) It's easily one of my top five favorite teas, so I usually end my day with a huge cup before I head off to bed.
I stopped in for a quick chat with Bruce Richardson, the tea master for the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum and co-owner of Elmwood Inn Fine Teas. He gave a lecture on the Five Teas That Launched a Revolution which was on my list of presentations I wanted to attend. Unfortunately it was going on the same time as the Steepster meet-up, so I missed out on hearing him speak.
Someone really needs to invent a time machine so I can attend all of the presentations during the festival and stop missing out on so many great lectures.
I spent another hour wandering around the various booths before I decided it was time to head back to St. Louis. After more than 12 hours in the car to arrive in KC and facing the fact that there were still 12 more hours of driving ahead of me I decided I was ready for a good meal and a nap.
Want to see more photos from the festival? Look for us on Instagram or check out #MidwestTeaFest.
I am in no way affiliated with The Midwest Tea Festival, it's just a really cool event I'd like to see succeed. Upon my request I have been provided with a press pass for the event, admission for one guest, and samples from several of the vendors.