Victoria Tea Festival: 2013

left to right: Jared Nyberg of Jaga Silk, the Tea Festival from above, Lisa Stekelenburg - Tea Festival Chairwoman

left to right: Jared Nyberg of Jaga Silk, the Tea Festival from above, Lisa Stekelenburg – Tea Festival Chairwoman

In a city that hosts many microbrew beer festivals, celebrates the bounty of British Columbian vineyards, and honours local cuisine, finding an event that ventures outside those three cornerstones (and has lasted more than five years) is a challenge. However, as a community, Victoria never ceases to find a way of catering to a specific niche. The annual Victoria Tea Festival, held February 9th at the Crystal Gardens, was a ripe example of marrying cause with celebration. Choosing the Gardens for their previous role in hosting tea parties at the turn of the century helped to incorporate historical and cultural associations for the Festival and for the city of Victoria. Established seven years ago as a fundraiser for Camosun College Child Care Services (CCCS), Tea Festival has naturally steeped into our city. With Victoria’s strong British influence and establishments like the Fairmont Empress continuing to serve Afternoon Tea, finding an audience for the event happened naturally. However, to imagine the event as merely a gathering designed to showcase the past role of tea in society is to limit its growing versatility. The festival provides an opportunity to learn about historical, traditional and modern approaches towards tea. This includes ceremonial and medicinal practices, and shows (through beer, jelly, and fudge infused with tea!) how the powerful and vastly varying dried leaves are becoming more commonplace in our food and drink.


Tea Fest was conceived through a committee hoping to create an event that was reflective of childcare, and subsequently one that was not centered around beer or wine. Lisa Stekelenburg, director of CCCS and Chairwoman of the festival, recalls how aptly the suggestion of tea was received. With the multitude of things to learn and encounter with tea comes a sense of wonder, much like the way children, the centre of the festival’s cause, see everyday life. For CCCS the goal has always been to help alleviate financial stress to students who are trying to balance studies with raising children. Eighty-five percent of the students who receive assistances from CCCS are single parents who have limited financial resources while in school. The funds raised by Tea Festival, through ticket sales, exhibitors, silent auctions, and raffles, are responsible for helping ease the financial burden towards childcare. As of today, the CCCS has raised over $143,000 through the Tea Festival, and the bursary set up through the organization has directly supported seventeen students.


Since its debut in 2007, the Tea Festival has grown exponentially in the number of visitors each year, seeing nearly 4000 people walk through their doors in 2012. However, the ripple effect on the local and national tea industry has been the most surprising. Other cities have tried to accomplish similar goals with their own versions of tea festivals, and the number of teahouse chains appearing around Canadian cities is climbing. Franchises like David’s Tea [], and Teaja [] are fast-becoming a popular alternative to mega-coffeshop-conglomerates, proving tea is growing trendy. However, in a city that aims to support local, businesses such as JagaSilk [] that import specialty maccha and offer products and educational classes, show that there are avenues available to discover quality tea within our city. The benefits of tea have long been known to be high contributors of anti-oxidants, the ability to help combat colds and ailments, and the more therapeutic properties of relaxation, stimulation, and, assisting those with trouble sleeping.


For the individuals who prefer the dark and rich fuel of coffee, this year the Tea Festival has decided to allow its often-contentious counterpart to exhibit what they have to offer. As a direct result of listening to their audience through surveys compiled at the end of every year, the most common request was to somehow integrate coffee into the festival. With only two booths dedicated to coffee, local business Discovery Coffee unveiled a way of appealing both to the coffee and tea lover. Through their collaboration with El Salvador coffee farmer Ernesto Menendez, they brewed Cascara, a tea made from the skin and pulp of the coffee fruit. With a delicate flavour unique to many teas, Cascara lacked the acidity and bold flavour some people dislike about coffee, without compromising the energizing components of caffeine. Although this year’s festival chose to bring in a drip of coffee, tea will remain the central and most prominent focus for future events.


While the Crystal Gardens was packed full on the day of the event, and wait times for Tea Leaf readings and samples of Spinnakers Nut Brown Chai Tea ale were longer than you would expect, the day turned into a stimulating and inspired journey through many takes on tea. Witnessing the passion behind the exhibitors, whether it was through extracting health properties, cooking, or incorporating the star of the day into ceremonial and cultural practices, it was near impossible to leave the Gardens without feeling as if you gained from the wholesome experience. With Victoria being a health conscious city and having a community that revels in the opportunity to engage in inspired and unique events, it’s likely that the Victoria Tea Festival will continue for all of the tea lovers and learners out there.






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