Midwest Tea Festival 2016 - Kansas City, MO #MidwestTeaFest

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. 

Yōki Booth: Matcha Kit Kat bars - Midwest Tea Festival | Not Starving Yet

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.

Tealet Tasting Cafe: Experimental Teas - Midwest Tea Festival  | Not Starving Yet

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.

Bimi Bakery - Midwest Tea Festival  | Not Starving Yet

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.

Bimi Bakery Treats - Midwest Tea Festival | Not Starving Yet

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.

Japanese Tea Ceremony Presentation - Midwest Tea Festival | Not Starving Yet

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.

Steepster Meet-up - Midwest Tea Festival | Not Starving Yet

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.

Pi Ceramics - Midwest Tea Festival | Not Starving Yet

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.

Tea-Rex T-shirts - Midwest Tea Festival | Not Starving Yet

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.

Anna Tea Shop Tea Plant Giveaway - Midwest Tea Festival | Not Starving Yet

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.

Bruce Richardson - Midwest Tea Festival | Not Starving Yet

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.

 

Disclosure


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.

 

Tea Places - St. Louis Bubble Tea - Saint Louis, MO

Description:

St. Louis Bubble Tea provides a unique experience.  We are the first to offer authentic bubble teas in the St. Louis area.  We offer many different types of drinks, from milk teas and flavored teas to icy slushes and snows (smoothies), our menu has over 150 items to choose from!  We also offer a wide selection of food plates and snack items.  Fun atmosphere for all ages.  Visit us soon!  

Other Information:

Address: 12865 Olive Boulevard | St. Louis, MO 63141
Phone: 314.878.1668
Hours: Sunday noon - 8pm | Monday - Saturday 11am - 9pm (subject to change)

Review:

I worked across the street from Saint Louis Bubble Tea for almost 5 years and made this a weekly stop for lunch every Saturday. They have an area just inside the front door where you can sit around with friends and talk, or just wait for your order. They also have a few tables on the other side of the building, but I forgot to photograph them the last time I was in.

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The food is pretty standard Chinese food, but the crab rangoon is probably the second best in the STL area (Green China in St. Peters wins the gold). What I really love about the crab rangoon is that it is more savory than sweet and it has a lot of black pepper in it. I’ve never seen it made this way at any other place. The food portions here are very generous so you can split between 2-3 people depending how hungry you are. They give you a mountain of fried rice so it’s always a good thing to order when you’re splitting.

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The bubble tea menu is extensive and takes up most of the wall space behind the counter. Even as long as I’ve been a customer I still haven’t made it all the way though the menu.

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I've become a creature of habit lately so I've been ordering either the almond milk tea with boba or the lavender milk tea. As you can see from the menu they have a lot of choices, some are more tasty than others. A few might make you pause and ask why? There are some odd choices, but there is something for everyone.

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The building is pretty sad looking from the outside, but don’t use that as an excuse to not stop in. This is one of those hidden gems in St. Louis and I always make sure to stop in as soon as I get into town.

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My Rating: 95/100

Would I visit again? Absolutely! I try to stop by every time I'm in town since we don't have anything quite like it up where I'm living right now.

Tea Places - Verdant Tea Tasting Room & Tea Bar - Minneapolis, MN

Description:

Verdant Tea has a new home in the Seward neighborhood of Minneapolis. More than a tea house, our Minneapolis Tasting Room and Tea Bar is a cafe, neighborhood hangout and collaborative event space, all-in-one.  Whether you’re meeting friends over a cup of tea, enjoying seasonally inspired breakfast and brunch, attending morning meditation and qigong, or indulging in local ice cream and chocolate, you’ll find our doors open, ready to welcome in new friends and neighbors.  

Other Information:

Address: 2111 East Franklin Avenue | Minneapolis, MN 55404

Phone: 612.223.8907

Hours: Sunday - Friday 8am - 8pm | Saturday 8am - 11pm

Important things to know:

Full menu, current specials and events are listed on their website. They offer ice cream from Sweet Science, chocolate from Real Deal Chocolate, and food curated by Birchwood.

Review:

My husband and I celebrated our 5th wedding anniversary this past weekend by taking a road trip to Minneapolis while my mother babysat for us. I'll admit, I had ulterior motives for choosing to make the five hour drive to Minneapolis, I wanted to check out the new Verdant Tea Bar and Tasting Room. I was told ahead of time by many other Steepster members that I would be spoiled and they were absolutely correct.

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The location:

I'm not at all familiar with Minneapolis, this was my first visit to the great state of Minnesota, but I'll have to say that I think Verdant picked the perfect location when they made their home in the Seward neighborhood. The area reminds me a bit of Willie Street, here in Madison and I think a business like this one would do wonderfully there. It's probably a good thing that Verdant isn't in my neck of the woods, I'd spend all my time there.

Anyway, back to the location.

It wasn't far off the interstate and incredibly easy to find, even to an outsider. The building itself was located on the outside corner of a strip containing several other business that I would have loved to check out if I hadn't been there at 8am on a Sunday. It didn't seem like much else was open that early (I don't blame them, I'm not a morning person either, especially on a weekend.) Parking is available in the connecting lot, which is convenient during winter, or on the street.

The building itself is absolutely perfect and I love all the windows letting in natural light. Rather than having a dark space like you often see with many businesses, the windows letting in the morning sunlight created a very inviting atmosphere. It would have been perfect if there hadn't been a moving van parked outside my window the whole time, ruining my view of the neighborhood. This same moving van prevented me from taking a good photo of the exterior, I hope you can forgive its absence.

The ordering process and menu:

I was greeted as soon as I walked in the door and since this was my first time visiting the gentleman behind the bar (in my sleep deprived state I completely forgot to ask his name, so he will have to be referred to as the the gentleman behind the bar from here on out) explained the offerings and gave me a menu to peruse.

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I quickly settled on a pot of Zhu Rong Yunnan Black and a Pumpkin Chai-Spiced Gluten-Free Doughnut.

I should mention something just so the vertically challenged are aware. Verdant has been very sneaky in their placement of the pastries, they're kept at our eye level. This makes it impossible not to order at least one and in my case one of each. This isn't going to be an issue for anyone over 5'5". Short people you have been warned!

Rather than using a traditional tea pot Verdant gives you three items when they bring your tea to the table. A hand made ceramic cup, a Finum brewing basket, and a metal hot water pot. When you run out of hot water you just take the pot back up to the bar and water refills are free. I was able to steep my tea six times before I felt the need to switch to something else. The directions were easily explained to me including how to pour the water without spilling all over myself (incredibly helpful for a klutz like me), how long to steep the tea, and how the tea basket worked.

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A little arm twisting went on when I later went up to order for my husband. The wonderfully helpful gentleman behind the bar made me order a second doughnut. He was ruthless I tell you, absolutely ruthless! Ok, not really, I'm just feeling a little guilty about eating one of everything. 

What is probably closer to the truth is that I was told that it was morning happy hour until 10am which included $2 tea and $2 pastries. 

I split a Vegan Blackberry Pear mini-muffin with my husband and had a Pumpkin Green Tea Glazed Gluten-Free Doughnut for myself. They were just so good! In fact, the chai spiced doughnuts were so good I forgot to take a good photo before I tore into mine. They had a slightly grainy texture to them and you could tell they were gluten free, but they were moist and melted like butter in my mouth. This is perhaps one of the best examples of gluten free baking I've seen in awhile, although I did wish there were a few standard options as well. Still, I think it is cool they offer both Vegan and gluten free options, those can be hard to come by in many places.

To go with my green tea glazed doughnut I decided on a cup of hot chai made with almond milk. I probably should have asked for it to have been made with whole milk instead. I discovered one new thing about myself, I just don't like chai with almond milk, which is odd because I love almond milk.

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Other nifty things about Verdant:

The geek in me squealed at the fact that they had Munchkin and a bunch of other games to play. I could absolutely see myself sitting here with a group of friends for a game night. I love playing Munchkin!

If you like to take your laptop with you and work like I do, then Verdant is the perfect place. They have free wi-fi, you'll just need to ask for the password. There were also easily accessible power outlets that weren't hidden under the table. That meant I didn't have to go fumbling around in the dark trying to plug my laptop in. 

I really liked the music that was playing. It's nice and mellow, perfect for an early Sunday morning. I also loved the fact that I could rarely recognize a single song that was played. I download the indie rock playlist every month and pretty much ignore popular music, so this really appeals to me. Even better, the music was kept low making it easy to hear a conversation.

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I've save one of the coolest aspects of the Tasting Room for last. See the photo above? That is what greeted me as soon as I walked in the door. I don't even know what to say, other than it is such an amazing gongfu (tea ceremony) setup and I wish I had been able to take advantage of it this time around.

Price

My entire bill for 2 ended up being around $12, which I felt was more than reasonable. Had I not come in during morning happy hour it would have been a little higher, but I would have easily spent nearly $20 for 2 had I gone to a coffee shop instead. Keep in mind that this provided me with roughly 6 cups of tea, 2 doughnuts, 1 muffin and a hot chai. At the coffee shop I would have been lucky to come out with 2 medium cups of fancy coffee and 2 sub par pastries for twice the price. 

My Rating: 99/100

Would I visit again? Absolutely, but it would be so dangerous for me to live anywhere near here. If I ever make it back to Minneapolis this will be one of my stops. There were so many aspects of Verdant that I didn't get to take full advantage of and I really want to sample some of the ice cream and chocolates.