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Foodie Friday: Indulge your senses at the third annual Ottawa Tea Festival

By Michael Stastny on November 22, 2013

Given today’s popularity of hipster cafes and artisanal coffees, it is easy to overlook that tea has also been seeing a renaissance that goes far and wide beyond the traditional afternoon cup of our forbearers. To a novice, the dazzling array of tea types, origins, techniques, and appurtenances at local specialty shops may be daunting indeed.

The third annual Ottawa Tea Festival, taking place at the Ottawa Convention Centre this Saturday (November 23) is a great venue to introduce first-timers to the world of tea, or to expand the knowledge and repertoire of devout tea-sipping connoisseurs.

The all-day festival features tea tastings, tea-and-food pairings, tea ceremonies, presentations and workshops by tea experts and sommeliers. Come prepared to indulge your senses while perusing the samples and displays, and learn about the rich culture surrounding the growing, harvesting, preparing and serving of tea. Whether you’re into Assam, Oolong, Matcha or Pu-erh, or appreciate gustatory and olfactory experiences, you will find your cup of tea – or delicious libations to go with it.

The variety of vendors and local artisans on site will likely help you shorten your Christmas shopping list with excellent opportunities for gift ideas.

But the festival is also a celebration of cultures, traditions, and connection. In many places, offering a cup of the local tea is one of the first gestures to welcome a stranger. A number of embassies will proudly display their own national tea heritage, and the day is filled with musical and artistic performances ranging from dance to music to drumming. “Some people spend the whole day at the festival,” says Michael Suddard, the festival manager.

The festival’s founder and local tea guru, Kimiko Uriu, started the event to give back to the community by sharing her knowledge and passion for tea and its culture. The organizers expect the event to grow from last year’s 1200 attendees, and hope to broaden its partnership with the local community and exhibitors.

The festival ticket ($15 in advance at Singing Pebble Books or on Facebook; $20 at the door) will get you in, but most workshops, including the introductory “Tea 101”, require an additional fee that covers the materials for the tastings – attendance is limited so book in advance.