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Death to the teabag! 7 best things from the Melbourne Tea Festival

There are many positives to living in Melbourne.  In particular, I love that this city pretty much has a festival for every niche interest. If you’re a blacksmith you can pop along to Footscray to the Blacksmith Festival.  If you’re vegan and feeling lonely, no problem – head to Carlton for the Big Vegan Market. Or, if you’re feeling a bit frisky there’s the Oz Kink Fest, where you can engage in the Hellfire Resurrection down in South Yarra. For something (possibly) a little more sedate, join the Handknitters’ Guild for the World Knit in Public Day.

For tea enthusiasts, there’s the Melbourne Tea Festival, an annual event where the tea amateurs and tea connoisseurs share their joy for the humble camellia sinensis leaf. I love the Melbourne Tea Festival; it’s been circled in my calendar for months. It didn’t disappoint.

Here are the the seven best things from this year’s event.

1. Drinking Aboriginal Guradji tea

Aboriginal tea on bark

My first tea workshop of the day introduced the customs and taste of Aboriginal Guradji tea. As you’d expect from a culture that’s so old and so wise, this tea can pretty much cure anything. For thousands of years this humble plant has fixed toothaches, pain, nausea and inflammation. And judging by the number of people who bought this tea, it’s got a good few years ahead of it too.

2. Cherry-picking my chai

Chai is clearly THE thing right now and no wonder. A good chai can be hugely restorative.  There were loads of different chai stalls this year, so I planned to be super-picky about which one I’d take home. Mid-way through the day I approached the Original Chai Co and <bam> the choice was made for me.  Look at that packaging!  Spices in the top part of the tin, Assam tea in the bottom  – and it tastes amazing. Apoorv and Gauri, owners of the company, have nailed this one.

(The other thing which appears to be ‘in’ is Kombucha, which unlike chai is utterly vile. I tasted it for the first time at this festival and almost threw up.  Just so there’s no ambiguity, that WAS NOT a highlight).

3. Funky tea names

I love that tea is casting off it’s puritanical Victorian vibe and embracing the hip.  The Tea Garden manages to channel the cute as well as the cool with teas like Turkish to My Delight, If Rudolph Was a Tea, Pink Lemonade and Pyjama Party. You can even subscribe to have tea delivered quarterly.  I wish I’d thought of that.

4. Golden Spice tea

Turmeric is also a la mode.  Apparently it can tackle all sorts of ailments, including cancer, diabetes and depression, better than any western medicine. I’m like, whatevs, does it taste any good? This question was answered by Love Tea‘s very friendly barista making Golden Spice tea.  Oh my!  What a taste sensation.  It actually isn’t tea at all, just turmeric, ginger and cloves, made with honey and coconut milk.  By the end of the day, I had asked for an embarrassing number of ‘tasters’, but I did buy a packet as well.

5. Honey by postcode

Only want your honey from a particular postcode?  You don’t want to be eating honey from riff -raff bees, surely? Rooftop Honey allows you to be as selective as you like, and you’re still helping out the poor old honey bee. Yep, capitalism can cater for every need and sometimes can even make you feel good about it.

6. Getting spiritual with my tea

tea cup with leaves in it

Hanna from Storm in a Teacup held an excellent workshop about the benefits of a daily tea ritual with ‘bowl tea’ – a kind of mindfulness for tea drinkers.  She encouraged us to forge ‘a relationship with tea on a more profound level’ by taking 20 minutes every day to drink three bowls of ‘living tea’. This concept is about as far you can get from a hastily dunked tea bag, and I love it.

7. 40% discount for being one of the last suckers there

In my sixth hour of being at the festival, I realised that it was probably time to go home. On my way out though I saw these beautifully packaged balls of tea from Long’s Tea; how could I resist? With their whole range being discounted by 40%, I got a tiny tea pot and cups to drink it from too. Winning!

Row of pu erl tea spheres

So really, an excellent day. My challenge, which I most certainly choose to accept, is to drink this year’s haul before next year’s festival rolls around. I hope I’m up to it.

This is a site about books and about tea, and how we should read more books and drink more tea. Sometimes, it's hard to know what books to read and what tea to drink. This is where I can help out.

14 Comments

  1. This sounds wonderful – and the tea balls are gorgeous, I hope they taste as good as they look!

    • The tea is inside a sea-urchin kind of shell and I’m to put a bit of that in with the tea, apparently. I may well ‘break the ball’ tomorrow.

  2. Sounds like a wonderful day, if a bit overwhelming! So much choice… I do hope you get through all your tea before next year’s festival. I really should try chai. I’m a conservative black or peppermint tea drinker & rarely try anything else.

    • A lot of choice, but once you cut out the slimming teas or those kinds with hibiscus or rose petals (uggh), it’s much easier to focus! A good chai is really lovely, but there’s a lot of bad chai out there too. So if you decide to indulge, be suspicious.

  3. Can I just tell you how jealous my tea loving heart is <3 Finding the right honey is everything as well. I have discovered a local honey here at the farmer's/growers outlet that I adore!

    • I’m getting more into the local honey thing. I’d never thought about it before, but if I’m spending money on good tea it makes sense to extend my snobbery to honey too (and help out the bees).

      • Buying local, raw honey really benefits everyone! It is not too pricey here if you pick it up at the farmer’r market or grower’s outlets. And it honestly just tastes better <3

  4. I really wish the workshops had been a little more affordable – that’s the only reason I didn’t do any of them! But I very much agree with the Storm in a Teacup crew – taking your time with your tea is such an incredibly restorative process in a busy life!

    • I *completely* agree. That would be my one price if strong feedback. I enjoyed them, but I wouldn’t fork that out again. Last year’s workshops were more reasonably priced I think.

  5. I love a good tea ritual. I always think tea tastes better if I’ve warmed the pot, boiled fresh water, and allowed it to brew for five minutes before pouring.

    One of the most calming things I’ve ever done is Japanese tea ceremony. Not the full blown event, but the chakai style. And not the tourist rush job offered at most heritage sites, either! It’s the one offered by Uji City at their teahouse Taiho-An. We’ve been twice, in furō season, with the brazier, and in rō season, with the sunken hearth. Both were lovely experiences, with the tea brewed freshly before us, and the chance to use our bad Japanese in conversation with the hostess and other guests.

    Is kombucha seaweed boiled in water, like fish-free dashi, or is there more to it than that? I had an interesting tea at Brown Rice Café in Tokyo once: umesho bancha, which is black tea blended with Japanese plum and ginger. Really delicious!

    I need to know what the sea urchin shell adds to the tea experience. Did you do it?

    • Ob yes, the Japanese tea ceremony. Where it’s a race against pins and needles in your legs turning to dead pain. It’s quite a spiritual thing though, or at the very least, mindful.

      Here is a definition of Kombucha from Wiki. The mushroom part kills it for me: ‘Kombucha (also tea mushroom, Manchurian mushroom, formal name: Medusomyces gisevii) is a variety of fermented, lightly effervescent sweetened black or green tea drinks that are commonly intended as functional beverages for their supposed health benefits. Kombucha is produced by fermenting tea using a “symbiotic ‘colony’ of bacteria and yeast”‘. Bleurgh! Your ume tea sounds much, much more appetising.

  6. I simply can’t believe that you make this mistake: it’s “Camellia Sinensis”, not at all “Senensis”. And you type about it!
    (sorry for my poor english!)

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