7 Tips for Attending Your First Tea Festival

7 Tips for Attending Your First Tea Festival

Text by Bruce Richardson • Photography by John O’Hagan

The growth of tea festivals across America began 25 years ago when Harney & Sons Fine Teas hosted a two-day gathering of tea enthusiasts in Rye, New York. Nearly 200 tea lovers from across the country were in attendance. Jane Pettigrew, Norwood Pratt, and I were included in the list of guest speakers, mainly because we each had published a book on tea, which was a novelty at that early stage of today’s tea renaissance.

Tearooms and tea shops began popping up across the country along with a newfound interest in tea rituals. By 2002, the first large tea festival was being considered in Las Vegas. As Take Me to Tea was in the planning stage, organizer Faith Ann Bailes asked me to meet her at the Las Vegas Hilton where the event would be staged. I brashly suggested that tea people would never come to Las Vegas. Boy, was I wrong!

Five hundred enthusiastic tea fans attended the inaugural event. That much excitement about tea had not been seen since the Boston Tea Party. However, Take Me to Tea quickly evolved into a trade show for professionals with the new name World Tea Expo, and loyal tea consumers had no place to gather.

It wasn’t long before local festivals popped up in Seattle, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Portland, Kansas City, New York, Philadelphia, and Chicago.

These cities continue to host vibrant tea gatherings where students of tea—both novice and advanced—can experience new teas, garner tea knowledge, buy tea wares and books, and commune with fellow teaists. Seattle’s 2019 Northwest Tea Festival alone touted 45 speakers and welcomed 2,500 attendees over two days.