Sabrina Chen shows a pair of tongs used to hold hot dishes during a demonstration of a Chinese tea ceremony at the Toronto Tea Festival. The second-annual festival ran Feb 1–2 at the Toronto Reference Library's Bram and Bluma Appel Salon.

Hot beverage celebration is Toronto’s cup of tea

Tea enthusiasts of all ages flock to expanded Toronto Tea Festival, now in its second year

It was brewed, poured, sampled and bought.

Tea enthusiasts of all ages eager to learn more about tea culture and specialty loose leaf teas from around the world filled the The Bram and Bluma Appel Salon at the Toronto Reference Library Feb. 1–2 for the second annual Toronto Tea Festival.

“Tea is no longer your grandmother’s drink,” said Bill Kamula, co-chair of the Tea Guild of Canada, a festival sponsor. “Many of the people here are more youthful than you would’ve had in the past.”

The festival started in 2013 by Tao Wu, owner and founder of Tao Tea Leaf.

“He participated in tea festivals in Ottawa, and he thought we should have one in Toronto,” Kamula said.

That first event was so successful, it was extended to a two-day festival this year.

“It’s cold, and it’s a hot beverage,” Kamula said, joking about the festival’s popularity.

“There’s always the healthy qualities of tea. That’s an aspect that appeals to many people,” he said. “Special quality teas from around the world being available on the market is a very fascinating aspect of tea for the younger consumer.”

That’s what drew first-time participants Taskeen Imrit and Sumayya Khan, both 25.

“There’s a lot of things I didn’t know about, like the blooming tea. I knew about it but I didn’t know it could get that big,” Imrit said, referring to a tea made with leaves and dried flowers that expands to look like a blooming flower when brewed.

Imrit and Khan are no strangers to drinking tea.

“We were exposed to tea culturally. It’s in our culture. … But some cultures don’t have it,” Khan said. “If you took a health approach, more people would be attracted to it. More young people.”

Austin Wong agreed but added the practice of drinking tea is also important.

“I think it’s good to introduce Western culture to Eastern traditions, whether it’s Chinese, Korean or Japanese,” said Wong.

Wong performed the festival’s first Japanese tea ceremony, one of three tea ceremonies demonstrated this year.

“The tea ceremony and tea culture is a very important part of Japanese culture,” he said.

Wong is the only person in Canada able to teach the Ueda Ryu style of Japanese tea ceremony, a style developed in the early 15th century for the samurai class.

The other two ceremonies featured at the festival were the Korean tea ceremony, performed by Sun Choi, and the Chinese tea ceremony, performed by Sabrina Chen.

“Everyone knows now that tea is good for you,” Wong said. “And I think it’s good to also appreciate the artistic part of it, and not just drinking it.

“The guests themselves have a role to play in the ceremony itself. It’s not like a one-way street. It’s a mutual relationship. So I think this kind of being polite and taking care of each other’s needs and doing whatever you can to help please the other one and help out is a very important part of tea culture.”