On February 27th, 2016, the Southwest Tea Festival was born as the weather guaranteed a bright day to shine through the skylight on the vintage Downtown 3rd Street’s Farmer’s Market building. Local vendors, musicians, and tea experts shared their wares and creativity to over 600 hundred attendees. The excitement was evident in the spirit of the local participants and those visiting from California, Arizona, and many other states. The iconic downtown building was filled to its limit with people and energy around tea, music, and niche crafts.
Tea products were available for sale from Las Vegas companies Tealet, Joy’s Teaspoon, The Tea Shack, Tea Folks, Desert Breeze Afternoon Tea, and Little Candle Tea Company. Other tea companies from the Southwest brought their wares such as Hankook Tea, Ringtons, Teasopia, T&Co., and Waterfall Tea Company. Support was provided by tea culture and education organizations ITMA, Las Vegas Tea Club, Clay Arts Vegas, and Sky Ceramics. To help participants have a visual memory of the event, support was provided by Lavendar Llama who provided the sign art and Viva Photo Booth, where participants could go with their friends on a journey to the tea mountains of Nepal or on a gongfu tea table.
Every second of the festival was filled with conscious live music. A full lineup of the music can be seen here. The headlining performer was Youssoupha Sidibe, a Grammy nominated kora player that plays a sacred blend of Sufi and contemporary music. Other highlights were local favorites the Unifield Tribal Theory, City Folk, and The Rifleman. With all the dancing and movement, it was great to stretch it out with three different yoga sessions provided by local instructors Billy Hoveke, Kayla McLeod, and Marija Minic.
In addition to tea tastings and vendors, attendees were also fortunate to learn about tea direct from experts. The Las Vegas Tea Club did both a gongfu tea ceremony as well as a meditative Wuwo ceremony where attendees got to see the silent and intimate sharing of tea. Throughout the day there was a series of presentations that ranged from the growing of tea to the appreciation of tea.
Direct Trade Tea
A long road to the dense jungles of foreign countries seemed to place itself right in front of the audience at the Southwest Tea Festival as Elyse Petersen shared her experience from her ventures as a food scientist turned Peace Corps volunteer. Her speech was an intense subject of transparency, product handling from the producer to the consumer, quality control, health benefits, and the origins of raw tea materials. A full and robust communication gave the acute listeners a handle on what’s happening behind the scenes. She shared the good news that the situation can change for the good if all appreciate “the value of the connection that we all have with the origin.” Petersen is also concerned with solutions for the future in the Global Tea Industry. She inspires change by uncovering the truth about large tea corporations and working to resolve the differences by sharing extensive knowledge of the supply chain.
The Sensuality of Tea
James Orr sets his tea discussion on a lighter topic using the basics; sex and comic relief. He freely discussed a diverse topic guided by sensual humor. He started first by explaining the consumption and aging of tea in comparison to wine; explaining the tea ritual by using many sensory descriptions. He also paralleled the two artist agricultural products thru the connection of people with the tea ceremony. Just as wine can affect our senses, tea can heighten our senses and can be used for social benefits that were all poetically described in his talk. James is reminiscent of the musings of James Norwood Pratt, always fast to compare his love for tea with that of wine and tobacco.
US Grown Tea
Rie Tulali, Media Coordinator of the US League of Tea Growers (USLTG), educated attendees about current and future tea farming in America. The USLTG is a three year old small niche group of growers and advocates excited about tea education, production, and supplication of tea. Rie had the audience asking, “Where’s our organic material coming from?” She spoke on tea farms in Texas and Louisiana that have received inspiration and resources from the more experienced Japan or China. She told the story of tea growing in Hawaii where the growing culture is much different than traditional tea from places like China and Japan. A fine example was Bob Jacobson who plants his tea ‘Spring White’ in harmony with the rainforest to preserve the fertile biodiversity. By speaking of growing tea in the US Rie helped make tea education more relatable as it was simplified and less exotically subjected.
Match – Fact & Fiction
Noli Ergas of Sugimoto America is an experienced seller of matcha tea, so it is no surprise that he was able to give the Southwest Tea Festival audience a solid knowledge of the powdered Japanese green tea as well as dispel several myths. His presentation was a fun mixture of comedy as well as science-based facts of the beverage that is quickly growing in popularity in Las Vegas and the rest of the US. We learned that matcha must come from shade-grown tencha from Japan. There is a lot of “matcha” in our cups that may not be this and could be depleting us of the true health benefits of real matcha. Immediately following his presentation he did a demonstration to show the proper ways to brew and enjoy rich Japanese green teas.
By the end of the Southwest Tea Festival there were smiles all around as attendees got to experience what tea culture is all about. The spirit of the festival was community as you could see from the grassroots infrastructure and lack of commercial sponsors. Vendors were sold out of product by the end of the day and attendees left satisfied with their new-found tea knowledge. It won’t be a surprise to see this event growing much larger in the coming years and February 27, 2016 was just the start of this community!