It was a bright Saturday morning on November 3, 2018, when we set out for the  SF International Tea Festival. Located in the historic Ferry Building, the festival's aim is to connect local and global tea producers with tea aficionados and to celebrate the culture of tea.

Ariel Yue

Upon entering the Ferry Building, we were immediately greeted by the aroma of fragrant tea and the sight of rows of vendors, with stalls artfully presented. The festival had only begun, but there were already lines forming with people eager to try the different varieties and talk to the vendors. 

Wize Monkey: Coffee Leaf Tea

Ariel Yue

Our tea journey began at Wize Monkey, a unique company that brews tea from the leaves of the coffee tree.

Unbeknownst to many people, the leaves of the coffee tree are similar in composition to those of tea trees. In addition to having a smooth taste and being light in caffeine, tea made from coffee leaves has numerous economic and health benefits. Coffee bean farmers are able to sell products that would normally be discarded, creating year-long jobs, and the tea itself contains a plethora of antioxidants.

Try the original coffee leaf tea or one of Wize Monkey's other assorted flavors—the fruit flavors are exceptional. 

Matcha Love: Matcha

Ariel Yue

Matcha is a specific type of tea that is made from powdered Japanese tea leaves. Because the entire tea leaf is consumed, all the nutrients can be absorbed. It is a startling vibrant green color—an indication of high quality.

To make the tea, water is boiled, then allowed to cool down to 175°F, lest the tea leaves burn. The water is slowly added to the matcha powder, and the mixture is briskly whisked to combine the two.

The matcha we tried at Matcha Love had a slightly bitter note, but also a warm, full-bodied taste. It was almost creamy in texture, with a slight granular taste from the powder.

JusTea: Kenyan Purple Tea      

Ariel Yue

You’ve heard of green tea and black tea, but have you heard of purple tea?  

Purple tea is a new variety of organic tea, grown exclusively in Kenya. Unlike regular tea leaves, the leaves are purple in color and contain anthocyanin, the same pigment that makes blueberries blue. When brewed, the tea has a green tea and fruity plum flavor.

My personal favorite out of all of JusTea's teas was the Purple Chocolate tea, made from purple leaves, cacao shell, and rose. It had a strong cacao taste, similar to eating a cacao nib. So if you ever want a “hot chocolate” suitable for lactose-intolerance, you should give Purple Chocolate tea a try!

For more information, check out this Spoon writer's in-depth review of the brand. 

Birouren: Sencha and Hojicha

Ariel Yue

Sencha is tea made from the baby leaves (or sprouts) of tea trees. The leaves are small, green, and piney, and the tea is typically more bitter. Hojicha is made from the mature leaf and has a more developed flavor profile.

Tasting the Hojicha from Birouren was an interesting experience. At first, I couldn’t describe the taste—it was almost savory in nature but had a warm, filling effect. The tea had a slight umami and seaweed flavor, which may sound weird, but was actually quite good. This was a tea that would be good on a cold, winter day.

Imperial Tea Court: Hong Kong Milk Tea 

Ariel Yue

Our final stop was Imperial Tea Court, which also has an in-store location at the SF Ferry Building. Though it had a wonderful selection of traditionally brewed teas, we decided to opt for the Hong Kong milk tea—it was delightfully creamy and sweet, with a slight astringency. We had it cold but it can be enjoyed either way, depending on the weather and your mood.

For those craving something more solid, the Imperial Tea Court also offers a variety of assorted goods made with tea leaves, such as Earl Grey cookies and Chinese tea leaf eggs. 

Ariel Yue

Buzzing with caffeine, we emerged from the festival with swag bags full of packets of tea and a commemorative SF International Tea Festival teacup. Through experiencing the festival and interacting with fellow tea-lovers and passionate vendors, I was able to learn about the different types, varieties, and ways of preparation of tea. I gained a new sense of appreciation for the beautiful art of tea: the delicate taste and fragrance, and the wonderful people it brings together.