The San Francisco International Tea Festival, open to tea lovers outside the professional tea trade, has succeeded for the second year in a row. Housed in the historic Ferry Building in San Francisco, the festival sold out before the event began, in its first year (2012), and was similarly popular this past weekend. Attendees received a small bag of promotional handouts, a few samples of tea, and an official tasting cup, at the festival entrance.
Tea vendors from all over the United States, and some international tea merchants, set up exhibits of their newest and most popular products and offered tastings of their teas to the attendees. Experts, including San Francisco’s Roy Fong of Imperial Tea Court, and James Norwood Pratt, author of The Tea Lover’s Treasury and other books, gave lectures and hosted private tea tastings. Various vendors downstairs in the Ferry Building Marketplace featured tea-related products as well, and tea books and magazines were offered for sale in the festival area as well as the Ferry Building Marketplace’s permanent bookstore. Authors James Norwood Pratt and Babette Donaldson, author of the Emma Lea’s Tea series of children’s books, were available for autographs.
While the festival was a really fun and interesting event, it is still in its “baby” phase when it comes to certain aspects, like pricing and tickets. It cost $20 per person to attend, but the attendance fee didn’t cover any of the lectures or private tea tastings, which were $5 each, and then a $5 processing fee was added to each ticket, and a $2.50 processing fee added to each lecture or tea tasting cost. Paying $25 to get in to see 16 exhibitors and vendors – and do nothing else but shop – is a bit steep for a lot of those who aren’t making money from tea! People were also disappointed that it cost a minimum of $32.50 just to get in and attend a 30-minute to one-hour lecture or tea tasting, because the increased cost wasn’t publicized until you got to the online ticket order form.
Tickets were sold through an online service from the San Francisco International Tea Festival website, and the service had several bugs in its workings that made it difficult for some people to purchase their tickets: it wouldn’t process some credit card transactions, and charged some people twice for the same event. The service also wouldn’t accept PayPal or any other type of payment, and it prevented me from purchasing my own ticket! Last year they only provided for 1,000 tickets – and had to turn some people away – and this year’s attendance seemed about the same or a bit less.
All in all, however, the San Francisco International Tea Festival is a great event for Bay Area tea-lovers, and it’s small enough that you can see everything in about 2 hours. It is easily accessible by BART (Embarcadero station) and MUNI, and while it takes 2 hours to get there from San Jose on public transportation, the festival makes for a fun day out in The City, meeting and chatting with other local tea lovers. The festival is expected to return to The City in 2014, and it looks like the organizers are limiting attendance to 1,000 tickets, so buy yours as soon as they go on sale next year!
Copyright 2013, Elizabeth Urbach
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For more information:
San Francisco International Tea Festival website
Ferry Building Marketplace website
2012 San Francisco International Tea Festival
James Norwood Pratt website
Imperial Tea Court website
Babette Donaldson website
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