Last weekend, the Coffee and Tea Festival returned to New York City for the ninth year and more than 80 exhibitors were welcomed with open arms, mouths, wallets and pocket books to the 69th Regiment Armory. Like last year, the event sold out fast and those who were unable to acquire tickets beforehand missed out—tickets were not made available at the door.
Fortunately, I was able to attend this year’s event for the first time. Don’t worry, I won’t make this about me, but rather, the 25,000 square feet of tasting nirvana—both caffeinated and decaffeinated. It wasn’t all coffee and tea, however. Participating exhibitors included a wide array of delights ranging from those catering to biscotti aficionados to artisan soaps and gifts, fine cutlery to decadent baked goods, organic coffee purveyors to energy drinks … and so much more. It was information overload of the very best sort as festivalgoers rushed frenetically from one booth to the next, sipping on this, slurping on that and sampling first and foremost coffee and tea, but also delicious raw honey, Mexican hot chocolate, rainbow hued cupcakes and beyond.
Exhibitors came from as near as our own back yard in New York, as far flung as California, and others have found their niche audience online in the absence of a brick and mortar store. With such geographic diversity in one immense space, the room was crackling with kinetic energy.
Many booths were buzzing with excitement, not the least of which was New York based Bee Raw Honey. I credit Bee Raw with providing me with one of many “aha” moments throughout the Festival when I was schooled with the knowledge that a) honey has a much longer shelf life than you would think, b) not all honey is amber hued, and c) some honeys have the consistency of smooth and creamy butter. Bee Raw’s Colorado Sweet Yellow Clover immediately comes to mind, and it is a jar that now proudly sits in my kitchen cupboard.
Several booths had long queues which begged the question in my mind, “What’s everyone waiting in line for?” HiLine Coffee Company, another New York based company that carries coffee capsules to fit Nespresso machines, was one such booth doing a booming business with a line 30 or more people deep that snaked around a corner and wormed its way into the path of other festivalgoers.
Another popular heavy-hitter also happened to be a sponsor of the Coffee and Tea Festival, Capital Teas. This D.C. based fifth generation fine tea merchant was offering one of the more unique samplings at the Festival: tea infused beer and wine. Don’t scoff; the taste is uniquely favorable and I found myself purchasing several packs.
Capital Teas’ VINO TEANO (TEA + WINE) Wine Mixers and TEA LAGER (TEA + BEER) Beer Enhancers were hot commodities that found a special place among the travel tumblers, Magic Tea Makers, tea infusers and many other items that Capital Teas had on display. Each VINO TEANO and TEA LAGER bag is packaged with 6 sachets to infuse beer and wine and adds a burst of flavor for a decidedly different cup ‘o tea.
Other standout exhibitors were Bare Tea (opening photo) and Chai Mookie. Both local endeavors, Bare Tea was borne out of late night conversations amongst friends shared over cups of tea. In business for a year, Bare Tea carries a variety of loose leaf teas, whole leaf sachets and two kinds of matcha (finely ground tea leaves). Chai Mookie offers organic and fair trade chai tea blends. The aroma that wafts from an unopened 2 oz. bag of the Coco Mookie Blend (with cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cacao, cloves, black pepper and fennel) is intoxicating enough to almost compel one to eat it. I shall, instead, enjoy the 24 cups of chai that this lovely tiny parcel will produce.
The Festival also featured a variety of seminars, both free for festival attendees and a half dozen special seminars that required a nominal fee in addition to the festival ticket price.
On Saturday morning, Jeni Dodd, CEO and founder of Jeni’s Teas, presented at a free seminar titled “Taiwanese Tea 101.” Ms. Dodd was infectiously giddy as she launched into a discussion on the five basic types of Taiwanese tea. Later, she handed over the reins to Thomas Shu, a third-generation Taiwanese tea specialist. Mr. Shu spoke briefly about the traditional practice of calling workers in from the field at break time. So that the voices would carry over the mountains and into the fields to be heard by the workers, instead of talking or yelling, they would be notified by songs. Mr. Shu then proceeded to launch into an eloquent tune, his voice booming on the lows and reaching a melodic crescendo as he concluded.
Other seminars included “Milk Craft,” a lecture on the art of, well, art … liquid latte art, that is, presented by Jessica Bertin of Joe New York, as well as “Woman & Tea Through The Centuries” presented by food historian and certified tea specialist Judith Krall-Russo.
For anyone who may have found themselves feeling less than enthusiastic about being jostled about the Festival and were seeking a modicum of true entertainment, author and playwright Robert Galinsky presented “Coffee Curtain Call – An Entertaining Look at Coffee” on Sunday afternoon. Robert’s seminar was a mini-Broadway staging as he read excerpts from his book, “Coffee Crazy,” and invited audience participating to read from the book as well. His caffeine accomplice, the lovely and talented Shannon Hamm, belted out several tunes from Robert’s upcoming play, “Coffee The Musical” and kept the crowd thoroughly entertained.
If this year’s 9th Annual Coffee and Tea Festival is any indicator, the coffee and tea drinking public is in for a treat next year. Whether spending time at the Festival for an hour or making it an all-day affair, this year’s event was well worth the excursion.
Photos by Valerie Albarda