How do tea festivals emerge? Who are the visionaries behind these great tea assemblies that bring together entrepreneurs, educators, folk artists, and bother veteran and aspiring tea drinkers alike? We reached out to Portland Tea Fest founder and organizer Jenn Brenner to learn a little 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 the time to answer our questions. Here is what she had to say:
How did you get the idea to start the Portland Tea Fest?
The idea to start the tea festival 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 community organizing experience 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 so we have worked diligently to have each year be an improvement on the last. But sometimes expansion and excellence cost more than the budget.
What has been most challenging about organizing/establishing a tea fest?
The most rewarding aspect of creating and running a festival is having a hand in the actualization of 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, 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 they 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 do you think the future of tea is in Portland, and in 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 options 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 the US 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?
This year I am excited that we already have our cups and a solid team of volunteers. Last year our cups were stuck in customs and we didn't have them for the festival. That was super stressful! I sigh in relief as I write this, knowing that isn't the case this year.
Anything else you would like to add?
What I also love about this festival is that we have been able to have an indoor and outdoor aspect, which brings nature into the equation of tea and thereby creates the full circle from growth to harvest to processing to cup. This festival also facilitates growing connections between vendors and consumers, teachers and tea students, and all who love tea in its many forms. It is above all a celebration of tea, and one heck of a tea party!