Chicago Tea Festival 2019

First Annual Chicago Tea Festival

Day One:

Located at Holiday Inn Express Merchandise Mart in the River North neighborhood of Chicago, I was thrilled to discover a view of the Chicago River from my hotel room.  This is the first time there has been a festival like this in my hometown, so I really wanted it to be a success.

It Begins:

After gathering with my fellow tea blogger friends, we set for the 15th floor of the hotel. On the 15th floor was registration and information areas.  Along with the Livestream conference room.  After a tiny snafu with our badges (quickly fixed) we got our goodie bags, tasting cups, and set our way to the first event.

The Champagne of Tea” Movie Screening with Kevin Gascoyne of Camellia Sinensis. 

We had the opportunity to travel with Kevin himself on his annual journey to the many tea farms of Darjeeling.  We were educated on how he selects and tastes teas, the many challenges he must face to even get to some of the far-off places.  Watching him interact with the local farmers showed us how important those relationships really are in this business.  The movie really gives you an insight into what goes into getting you that cup of tea.  If you’re interested in the behind the scenes I suggest watching this movie.

On an unexpected side note, later that evening Nicole and I ran into Kevin.  He then introduced us as “Famous Tea Bloggers.”  Imagine our delight.  Of course, I had to throw in that juicy bit. How could I pass up an opportunity like that?  Shameless, I know but keep reading and you will see why I did.  Maybe something of a theme. Wink…wink.

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Pictured here with me is of my most favorite people to listen to. @jamesnorwoodpratt spoke at the first annual @chiteafest last weekend and I had the pleasure to hear him speak on the subject of “Wine & Tea: A Comparative History.” I have often thought there was a deep history of similarities between tea and wine and the lyrical explanations of just that was very insightful and in-depth. I would definitely suggest listening to him talk if given the opportunity and in addition research his many books. . . . . #chiteafest #chicago #chicagoteafestival #teatime #teasage #afternoontea #teainthecity #wine #wineandtea #teahistory #history #winehistory #education #teawriter #teabooks #teablogger #influencer #publicfigure #publishedauthor #winesommelier #teasommelier #iheartteas #jamesnorwoodpratt

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Wine & Tea: A Comparative History with James Norwood Pratt

A tea poet to the end this man can make learning about history a romantic affair.  His lyrical approach paints such a rich tapestry of colors and texture.  I wish my history teacher made it that much fun to learn.  Of course, the topic of wine and tea and their similar histories was already a captivating topic.  He was able to provide a correlation of the histories of both beverages and the significance they played then and how they still do today.  This topic is evidence of why he is such an interesting author and speaker.

Day One Conclusion:

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a lot of time to visit the vendors on the 14th floor.  With the presentations I had attended, catching up with friends, and my late arrival there wasn’t much for tea on the first day.  Never fear that was soon rectified.

Day Two:

Today I was happy to invite my entire family to the festival.  So often they haven’t been able to see me in my element, but the stars finally aligned.  Today I was speaking on two different panels.   The first took place in the Live Stream Room.  Let’s just say I stocked up on tea before my speaking engagement.  After getting my family registered and goodie bags in tow we set forth for a little tea.  Some black oolong from Jing Si Books & Café.  Quite delicious and a fan favorite at the festival.  After a quick sip we headed up to my first panel discussion.

What Do Millennials and the Next Generation Want as a Tea Experience?

I’d like to tell you it was a smashing success, but I am sure as anyone can expect it is difficult to pass judgement on a discussion for which you weren’t a spectator.  That said I can tell you this Live Stream event consisted of five panel members.  From the left you have Kevin Christiansen Owner of Café Barnabas, Bianca Shah CEO of International Tea Importers, Ben Richardson Co-Owner of Elmwood Inn Fine Teas, myself, and Nicole Wilson Owner and Writer of Tea for Me Please.  Together we each had a unique perspective on this particular subject.  As a Health Coach my perspective often gravitated towards the health-conscious needs of the millennial generation.  We tackled issues of sustainability, ethical practices, organics, transparency, ethics, fair trade, building relationships with consumers, how to use social media, and unique tea uses.  For example, tea infusions, including now very popular CBD, functional mushrooms, nitrogen infused tea, cold brew, and more.  Based on the feedback I received after the discussion it seemed a very important topic of conversation, one that we definitely got the ball rolling on.  I suppose keeping the conversation going is success indeed.  On a side note and certainly unable to find the right time to squeeze this notable sound bite.  It was quite the shock and pleasure to be recognized in my own hometown.  I specifically want to mention a woman that took the train all the way from Detroit.  She made it a point to attend both events Nicole and I participated in.  At the conclusion of this event, she referred to us at the “Beyoncé’s of tea.”  No greater or unexpected compliment I assure you. It brought me such joy knowing that we were able to offer her value during her tea pursuits.  A reminder of why we do what we do.  I am humbled.

Between Panels:

Another quick trip to meet friends and drink tea or even in this case eat tea.  That’s right, I discovered a booth serving up some up sweet and savory snacks.  They go by “Eat More Tea” and I certainly followed their directive.  They make wonderful tea spices using a variety of teas such as lapsang souchong.  It was probably my favorite blend.  Not without a little negotiating by Daniela of Tea Cachai we got our hands on a package of seasoning on our final day.  My intention is to make plant-based chili.  It was during this break my son discovered a delicious keemun he couldn’t resist and my daughter a jasmine pearl that sent her taste buds all a frenzy.  It brings me great satisfaction to see the next generation of tea drinkers fall in love with tea the same as I did.  Not even sugar laden teas or strictly tisane but real loose-leaf tea.  Makes a mother proud.

After some mind altering sencha from the Sonogi Tea Farmers, a delicious white tea from Tea Leaf, a wonderful meeting the with owner of Bellasia Tea that focuses on tea and children, it was time to get started with the Tea Bloggers Roundtable.

Tea Bloggers Roundtable: Chicago Edition

After a quick game of musical chairs and a minor signage issue we were finally seated. This year the panel consisted of Geoffrey Norman (far right), our moderator and writer for The Lazy Literatus, next a new edition Marco Namowicz of Steapd (second in from left), Nicole Wilson of Tea for Me Please, also new edition Danielle of Tea and Me Blog, and finally myself (far left).  Again, being a part of the panel my prospective is different.  What I can certainly say is this room was nearly packed with an audience looking to learn not just about blogging but the what the life of a blogger is.  This was my first time participating in the roundtable outside of World Tea Expo which is a business to business event.  That said the audience is clearly different.  At WTE the focus is driven around how a blogger is or a blog can be beneficial to a business.  However, Chicago Tea Festival is a public event with a great mix of tea enthusiasts and businesses.  Much of the audience appeared to want to learn about the person behind the blog, what keeps them going, and why do it at all.  This very different conversation from what I was used to.  I found it wonderful and refreshing.  I feel that the diversity of the panel was advantageous as well.  We had a wide range of older bloggers, those that mostly focused on social media, and younger, fresh new bloggers and faces.  This infusion of new and old offered a wide range of perspectives making the engagement a successful one.  I am looking forward to next year.

2020 Tea Bloggers Roundtable: Chicago Announcement

I am humbled and honored to announce that I will be the new moderator and coordinator for the Tea Bloggers Roundtable in Chicago.  Thank you for the opportunity Jo Johnson, Chief Operating Organizer of the Tea Bloggers Roundtable.  As such, I would like to take this opportunity to encourage anyone interested in participating in the 2020 Chicago Roundtable to please reach out.  I am looking to secure multiple panelist with varying tea blogging/writing experiences and focuses.

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After hours highlights at in Bucktown. So much tea and so much fun. Tonight we all celebrated a successful second day at the @chiteafest. The Millennium Panel that is available to Livestream was successful. Lots of positive feedback. I believe the information provided by all the panelists was insightful when working to target a younger generation into tea. The Tea Bloggers Roundtable was a rousing success. So thrilled that panel was included on the official schedule. We were truly near capacity. Grateful to those in the tea industry and enthusiasts for seeing the continued value of tea writers/bloggers and influencers. Can’t wait for for 2020. . . #chiteafest #chicagoteafestival #teagschwendnerchicago #easthillteaco #bucktown #chicago #teaissexy #teawriters #teabloggers #influencers #teainfluencer #iheartteas #tea #teatime #tealover #teaaddict #teainthecity #afterhours #teafancy #teafamous #teayonce

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Day Two: Afterparty at Easthill Tea Co. Bucktown – Chicago

I wish I could say the tea culture was rich in Chicago.  We certainly have our tea gems.  However, after traveling around the country and speaking just from my own experience I believe Chicago can do better.  Then enters Easthill Tea Co.  Easthill is exactly what I was looking for in an Asian inspired tea house.  Clean esthetics, well trained employees that legitimately appear to love the leaf.  I promise you your teacup will never be empty.  The employees embody peaceful gongfu practice even when a whole contingent of ours arrives from the festival and takes over the entire bar.  Not a hair out of place, not a bit of stress on their faces, absolute professionals.  The experience is social, mindful, and delicious.  The teas they have curated were definitely done so with thought.  They even have the cutest tea pets you can adorn your tea tray with during your stay.  They offer delicious small bites if you so desire.  The neighborhood is super cute and has tons to offer.  I am proud to have a tea bar so close to home that does tea right.  Even more proud to bring my friends from far flung places to experience what Chicago has to offer.  I had the keemun, my son shared it with me.  He loved the one from the festival, so I had to do that for him especially since as a six-year-old he sat there quietly through two of mommy’s boring talks.  We paired it with a delicious pear cake.  Best decision.  Made a lot of wonderful new friends that night and caught up with a lot of old friends too, and all over my favorite beverage, tea.

(At EastHill Tea Co.)

Day 3: Final Day

The New Transparency: Logan of Hugo Tea

Today started with a controversial but needed talk on transparency.  A talk led by Logan.  Sighting that the coffee industry is lightyears ahead.  He along with Tony Gebely believe that there needs to be some sort of standard and pledge companies should make to build trust in the industry.  Exactly how will of course be a learning experience but for the moment a foundation is believed to be needed.  The argument is that the coffee and tea industry usually are seen together, and we should be adapting similar practices.

Finally, today was the day I could focus on the vendor floor.  Much to my pleasure majority of the teas were not flavored teas.  We saw many wonderful examples of unaltered loose-leaf teas.  My favorite was likely the matcha and sencha I sampled from Sonogi Tea Farmers.  The flavors were intoxicating, rich, and complex.  If I had more cash, I would have purchased their variety pack of sencha and at least one package of matcha.  But alas I was only able to purchase Sencha number two.  Note, most vendors accepted credit cards, just not this booth.  I also enjoyed the Darjeeling and Matcha Nama Chocolate from Royce.  The tea flavors were prevalent and not a sideshow.

Next, Nicole and I had planned to attend the Tea and Bourbon Tasting with Bruce Richardson of Elmwood Inn Fine Teas.  Unfortunately, I mixed up the times and we missed the event.  We were so disappointed.  Now as luck would have it many of the tea blogger contingent happen to converge on the Elmwood Inn Fine Teas booth and wouldn’t you know it, Mr. Richardson himself was there.  Sharing with him my disappointment in missing his class he quickly offered a private tasting for Nicole and myself.  Talk about a stroke of luck.  A private class just for us.  It was a wonderful learning experience.  He taught us the correct way to drink bourbon, including the proper way to breathe and swallow and when and how to drink the tea together.  It was a truly unique experience that I will always be grateful for.

Finally, one more pass through the vendor booths and sharing a few goodbyes.  The event was now behind us.  As an overall impression, I felt the event was well organized and diverse. I am so proud to have this event in my own town.  Congratulations go to organizers Nicole Burriss and Babette Donaldson.  Can’t wait to come back next year.  Hope to see you there.

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