Sunday, March 24, 2013

NYC Coffee and Tea Festival

After coming down from my caffeine-induced high, I can finally form clear thoughts about the Eighth Annual NYC Coffee and Tea Festival! With over 75 vendors, there was a lot of coffee and tea to be had and some knockout companies to discover. 

The first stop on my journey was Tea-rrific! Ice Cream, which was definitely worth waiting in line for to get a taste of each flavor. Sampling the four flavors they currently offer, Ginger Matcha and Masala Chai were the clear winners. The subtle (but not too subtle) ginger flavor and kick of matcha made for a well rounded ice cream. Having always been a fan of chai tea, their re-creation was satisfying and had prominent Indian spices that you would expect from this tea. My friend enjoyed the Masala Chai and London Mist (earl grey with vanilla notes) flavors so there's no doubt everyone can find at least one personal favorite.

After starting off the festival on such a high note, it was great to try a completely different representation of tea at The Owl's Brew table. In my head, tea and liquor sound like a winning combination. After trying Owl's Brew #01, Coco Chai brew (3 parts) mixed with Captain Morgan's rum (1 part), my thoughts were confirmed. The Coco Chai brew had a very prominent coconut flavor, followed by hints of pineapple, and the rum gave the beverage a nice kick. Although I'm not usually one to drink a lot of cocktails, I would definitely pick this up for a nice treat and to show my friends something different (and better for you - 1/3 of the calories in a typical cocktail!).

Finally, it was time to sample one tea on top of another coffee on top of an even better tea. As we made our way down the first few rows of vendors (it took us almost 2 hours to get through two rows!), we came across Everlasting Teas. Fostering relationships with tea farmers in Taiwan, all of the teas the company offers (primarily oolong and green teas, with one black tea) are directly traded from these family farms. Sammy Levine, the co-founder who provided a great interactive tea tasting of five of their teas, personally visits all of the farms and develops relationships with the farmers. Of the five teas we sampled, my favorites were Bao Zhong, a light oolong tea with a subtle floral finish, and High Mountain Oolong, which I purchased.

It was great finding a company that really appreciates the relationships they develop with the farmers and are so focused on producing the highest quality teas possible.

We quickly came across another inspiring company, Ajiri Tea, whose main focus is educating and empowering women, farmers and orphans within the west Kenyan community of Kisii. The black tea produced within this region is very bold with a very smooth finish. The best part of the packaging is that the women within the community handcraft each label from banana leaves, which produces a one-of-a-kind package for every customer. The company name is very appropriate as Ajiri means 'to employ' in Swahili. 

Great tea packaging and passion for the product can win me over almost any time. This was quickly evidenced when we came across Andrews & Dunham Damn Fine Tea, a DC based tea company, that has a very distinct style (look at those awesome labels!) and delicious tea to boot. Before I even had a chance to try the tea, I was greeted with a button, temporary tattoos, and info about the company and teas. What's better than that? After chatting with the co-founders, I couldn't wait to try the tea and boy, was I in for a treat. My favorite was Caravan Resurrected, a smoky black tea from China. I was hooked just from the smell, and knew I had to buy it once I sampled it. 

As we were nearing the end of the festival and buzzed beyond belief, we finished the day with pressed tea, a concept I have never heard of, but am so excited to try more of once they open in NYC. Press Tea is a brand new company (they don't even have a store yet!) that produces pressed tea beverages, a unique idea that is the first of its kind. The samples we had were all equally delicious, from the iced passionfruit tea to the caramel tea latte. I can't wait for the grand opening on May 1 in the West Village!

All in all, the NYC Coffee and Tea Festival was a complete success and a heart-pounding experience (who knew I'd still be jittery 8 hours later). I'm already excited to attend the festival next year to see what new and exciting companies have popped up. 

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