Now in it’s second year, the Melbourne Tea Festival is a congregation of 53 stalls and specialty tea vendors who are out to challenge coffee’s supremacy in a town otherwise besotted by the brown bean. For a day, the Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre is overrun by folks more enamoured of the humble cuppa. In short, for Melbourne’s tea aficionados, the Tea Festival is bigger than Christmas.
All attendees receive a miniature tea bowl for sampling the extensive array of teas up for grabs. Every flavour and variety imaginable is represented, spanning from standard black, white and green teas to matcha and therapeutic herbal blends, as well as exotic tisanes.
Dedicated Chai Wallis (the peeps responsible for expertly blending up the spicy and warming concoction) are also on hand to demonstrate what chai tea is meant to taste like (and it bears no resemblance to the powdered and sugary version passed off as the real deal).
All of the specialist tea vendors, including Brunswick’s tea-house fave Impala + Peacock and The Fermentary (which is doling out it’s good-for-the-guts fermented tea, AKA kombucha), are up for a yarn about their brews and the health benefits of teas and herbal tisanes. All the while, strangers united by their love of tea engage in animated exchanges about their new favourite blends.
Throughout the day, attendees can also book in for workshops ranging from the medicinal and ceremonial purpose of Australian Indigenous sun tea ceremonies through to blending your own tea.
This year, I take out an hour from near frenzied tea tasting for the “Bowl Tea” workshop with Storm in a Tea Cup’s founder Hannah Dupree. Dupree takes us through the history of tea, explains the concept of “living tea” (which, amongst other things, are teas that are grown from seed without irrigation or chemicals with ample space to grow, in stark contrast to most commercial plantation teas) and introduces us to the gentle and beautifully reflective practice of bowl tea. Participants are invited to select a hand-crafted ceramic bowl, one of four living teas (I go for the smoky Bi Lo Chun green tea – which resembles mini-fragrant snails – hailing from the Wu Lang Mountain in Yunnan). In silence, we proceed to drink three bowls of tea in what turns out to be a profound meditation, engaging all of the senses.
Other highlights include the return of a previous favourite Annie O’Reilly, of Tea With Annie. O’Reilly demonstrates the art of Tasseomancy (ie. tea-leaf reading) with gentle humour, kindness, insight and imagination.
Meg Crawford is a freelance journo and full-time rockabilly. A rock dog to her core, she also likes Ghostbusters a little bit too much. Follow her on @rockabillywriter.