Attending Tea Fest PDX is always one of our favorite times of the year. We enjoy connecting with so many of you, pouring tea for new faces, and meeting the folks behind other incredible tea companies. We reached out to Jenn Brenner, founder and organizer of Tea Fest PDX to learn more about the origins of one of the country's newest festivals. Between cups of tea and preparing for this year's event, she took time to answer our questions...
How did you get the idea to start Portland's first tea fest?
It came from a combination of several factors. The tea culture in Portland had reached a point where we felt that the city could support a festival, and the Seattle tea festival organizers offered their support and experience. I had never organized a festival before, but I had a lot of history of community organizing, and one of the gifts I bring to the world is the ability to create experiences.
What has been the most rewarding/biggest surprise in the process?
The most challenging aspect of organizing a festival is, of course, finding capital and then making enough to fund the next year. We have a standard of excellence that we work to bring to the festival, and we have worked diligently to make each year be an improvement on the last. But sometimes expansion and excellence cost more than the budget allows.
What has been most challenging about organizing a tea fest?
Having a hand in actualizing a dream into reality, and seeing how all of our hard work translates into joy on the faces of our participants. I also really love working with our core group of volunteers, and they are all such rockstars! None of us are paid to do this work. It's all for the love of the leaf.
The biggest surprise initially was how big of a response we had the first year. We started out as a full-fledged festival and that was a bit overwhelming but also amazing. Much of that was due to the support and advice we got from Doug and Julee of the Northwest Tea Festival in Seattle.
Where does your personal interest or relationship with tea originate?
My personal tea origin story started in Niger, West Africa, where I was a Peace Corps volunteer for three years. I would sit under the neem trees in the afternoon with my Tuareg friends, and they would perform a modified Moroccan tea ceremony. They used Chinese gunpowder tea and made three rounds of tea. The first round was strong and bitter, or as harsh as death. The second round is strong and sweet, or as sweet as life. The third is weaker and sweet or as light as love. This was my introduction to the ritual of tea, and how tea facilitates relationships and connection.
What is the future of tea in Portland and in other cities around the US? How will it compete or differentiate itself from the coffee scene?
I think that tea and tea culture will only continue to grow and flourish in Portland and around the US. With a greater focus on alternative lifestyles and healthier alternatives to coffee, tea isn't going anywhere. It's been around for a 1000 years, and I think it will only continue to gain a foothold in the US. The next horizon for tea in this country is growing and processing tea to industry standards I think. Tea will never replace coffee in Portland, but there is a place for both in a city as vibrant and self-aware as Portland.
Anything you are particularly looking forward to with respect to this year's tea fest?
For myself and many of us, we are looking forward to the joy of being with other people, of celebrating tea together, and the feeling of community that many of us have missed the past two years. Personally, I hope to see many familiar faces and to meet some new ones. We have such good people in our tea community, and I have missed them.
Anything else you'd like to add?
The most challenging aspect this year has been turning the crank to get the machine going again. We are in a new venue, so we have recreated the festival and are all a bit slow on the organizing uptake, as we didn't know if we would be able to have an event. We organizers have all lived life for two years without the festival, and we filled the gap with other things (I started a candle company, Eric started a teahouse). This festival comes from the passion and love we organizers have for both tea and for creating an experience. I hope you all enjoy it!