NYC Coffee & Tea Festival 2014

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This past weekend I went to the New York City Coffee & Tea Festival with my friend Stephanie. We were given press passes from Starfish Junction Productions and booked our transportation.

Fellow tea-lover Stephanie was travelling over 8 hours from Pittsburgh (and I was 5 hours from DC), so I was worried that the festival would be a waste of time or lame. We weren’t able to make the VIP session on Saturday (due to travelling), but we got there around noon Sunday and we were so happy with the festival!

I think it would have been even better if we made the VIP session since my only complaints were: too crowded at times and more food needed.

One of my favorite things about the festival was learning about new teas, tea companies, and meeting the people behind the teas. A great example of this was Yezi Tea. After walking through aisles for a while and snacking on a crepe, we happily plopped down on two stools in front of this booth and watched them prepare their teas in traditional Chinese style. We paged through their impressive booklet of what teas they have and sampled around 10 different teas and learned about their company and different teas.

Yezi Tea - Long Jing, Da Yu Ling, Jin Xuan

Unfortunately, we fell in love with almost all of their teas. Stephanie & I have a soft spot for Taiwanese tea and I especially love oolongs because they’re so nostalgic for me.

Together we got: Da Yu Ling Oolong, Jin Xuan Oolong (Milk Oolong), Tie Guan Yin High Grade (Goddess of Mercy) Oolong, Wen Shan Pouchong Oolong, Gao Shan (High Mountain) Black, Long Jing High Grade (Dragonwell) Green, and Mo Li Hua (Jasmine Pearl) Green.

Another company that really connected with us was Ajiri Tea. It was one of the first companies we visited and we were drawn in by the packaging.

Here is some more information:

Women in the Kisii region of Kenya design and handcraft each label using dried bark from banana trees. […] Each label is unique, and often features a scene from day-to-day life. Inside of each box of tea is a twine made from banana tree bark and decorated with bright paper beads. The women hand cut, roll, and lacquer long, triangular strips of colored magazine paper to make the beads, and twist dried banana bark to make the twine.

In Kenya, it is especially difficult for women to find employment. […] Currently, five different women’s groups, totaling over 60 women, are creating artwork for the Ajiri Tea Company.

After hand-picking our favorite labels for coffee, I also picked up some Kenyan Black Tea with Ginger. Once I found out the profits went to educating orphans in Kenya, I felt even better about my purchases.

Before we went to Yezi, we stopped by Jeni’s Tea. They had put their loose leaf tea into wine glasses for smelling purposes, which I thought was a great idea. They also had a lil’ old Taiwanese Grandpa in the corner measuring out teas with a scale, which was endearing (and cute!). We tasted some of their teas (Stephanie got some Gao Shan Mountain Tea and Bao Zhong I believe), and I zeroed in on a nice, red oolong named “Buddha’s Palm”. Their packaging was very beautiful, though the tea was a bit expensive. I also thought it was a bit odd that their logo didn’t match the aesthetic of their packaging or the elegance of their tea, and since they don’t have a website, it is nearly impossible to find out more about their teas.

Though we met with them at the tail end of the festival, I really enjoyed learning about Chai Diaries. I talked with the owner about their teas, Ami, and loved the flavorful and strongly scented teas. I picked up some Passionfruit OolongKashmiri Green Chai, and Chocolate Kisses. I was given some teas to sample, including Blood OrangeAssamDarjeeling Second FlushDragonwellJasmine Green, and Masala Chai. I was drawn by the youthful, colorful packaging, as well as the owner/founder’s passion for her tea.

I was instantly drawn to Joseph Wesley’s tea. We swarmed to the booth like moths to a flame. The packaging is simple, colorful, elegant, and modern. We both enjoyed meeting and talking to Joseph and learning about his teas. Stephanie picked up some Lapsang Souchong and I received a few samples, including: Dian Hong Congfu, Bai Lin Congfu, and Lapsang Souchong. I tried a little bit of the Bai Lin Congfu (#6) today and it was a very pleasant cup of tea!

What really surprised me is that so many of the teas were close to me! Damn Fine Tea (pictured above) was a pleasure to talk to and they’re actually located in Maryland. Stephanie & I both were drawn to their friendliness as well as their great artistic packaging. I had to grab the limited edition Chinese New Year Yunnan Gold Tips tin, as well as the smoky smooth Caravan smoked tea. Stephanie nabbed the Mount Gray which I fully intend on pilfering from. The whole vibe of their stand reminded me of a Wes Anderson film in a quirky and artistic way.

In addition to Damn Fine Tea, Capital Teas (Maryland/DC/Virginia), and Sahpat Teas (Maryland) were also representing the Washington DC Metropolitan area.

I met some great companies and tasted some amazing teas and coffees while I was at the festival. I do wish there were some more food options (other than a $10 crepe), since tasting all the teas and coffees can lead to some caffeine jitters. While it was a bit over-crowded at some points, I really enjoyed myself in the afternoon once the crowd had cleared.

If we would have got there earlier or went both days, we might have been able to attend some of the informative seminars or workshops. But, maybe it’s for the best because then we would have spent more money and not been able to explore New York on the other days.

Regardless, Stephanie & I both enjoyed dumping our loot out onto the floor and seeing each other’s piles. We then, in a post-trick-or-treating Halloween-style, proceeded to swap and barter with each other.

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The Persimmon Tree® Tea Company: Lychee Burst & Jasmine Passion

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One of the great things about the Steepster community is not only keeping tracking of the teas I have in my cupboard but also finding out about new teas and tea companies.

One of the new companies I’ve discovered is The Persimmon Tree® Tea Company. From the name I thought they would only have a few teas based from dried persimmons, but they are a full-grown company that has many teas!
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About The Persimmon Tree®

The Persimmon Tree®, whose mission is to “enrich people’s lives through the pleasure of tea” (a motto I can get on board with) is a little different than most other tea companies I’ve encountered.

Their teas are “hand-blended and organically grown”, but some are also fair trade which makes me feel even better while sipping on them. They also have an emphasis on the health benefits of tea, as well on the sustainability of the tea process because their “passion is to instigate and experience positive change through the simple things.”

You can head on over to their Facebook or website to learn more about them, or browse their teas.

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Lychee Burst Tea

I don’t usually reach for lychee teas because they can be too astringent. This one is just right. It’s pleasantly juicy and fruity without tasting artificial orfloral. It is clean and the two stars (lychee and black tea) really shine through.

I would highly recommend this tea for those that have been burned by off-putting lychee flavored teas. I can’t find anything wrong with this tea and I enjoy drinking it. I love when teas that smell good have a matching taste, which this does.

Jasmine Passion Tea

This tea is more floral and delicate than the lychee burst. The first taste and smell is the green tea and jasmine. The end of the sip is sweet from the passion fruit. I could see this getting a little astringent if overbrewed, but I brewed it just right & it tastes well balanced.

Disclaimer: I was given these teas by The Persimmon Tree to review. All opinions and thoughts are my own. 

COCOZIA® Organic Coconut Water

Coconut water is supposed to be good for you, right? Then why do they all taste so horrible? I’ve tried several different types of coconut water and my absolute favorite is Harmless Harvest Raw Coconut Water. It is the only coconut water I’ve tried that actually tastes like fresh coconut water, BUT it is quite expensive at around $5 per bottle.

My second favorite brand of coconut water is COCOZIA. It as strong of the odd, sour, artificial taste that other brands have. I think that it is the pasteurization process that modifies the flavor, which is why the raw coconut water tastes much better. I also like Coco Cafe Coconut Water & Coffee as well as Zico’s chocolate flavor, but that’s because they’re loaded with sugar and flavorings. COCOZIA ranks higher than Vita Coco, Zico, and Trader Joe’s Coconut Water for me in terms of taste. I also like the packaging since it seems more economically friendly than plastic bottle (though the individually wrapped plastic straws negates that a bit).

From their site:

COCOZIA® Coconut Water is exactly that: a pure, natural hydration source containing not only water from the green coconut, but essential electrolytes too.

ELECTROLYTES
COCOZIA® contains a natural abundance of potassium and magnesium, as well as other electrolytes. Electrolytes are directly involved with body hydration and muscle function. Better to get yours from a natural source like COCOZIA® than from a sugary, synthetic sports drink alternative.

COCONUT WITH A STRAW
That’s how they drink coconut water in the islands, but fortunately, COCOZIA® has made it a little easier for you here! All the natural elements and flavor, without the need to carry a coconut to your work-out!

Unfortunately, the only place that I have seen this coconut water is online on Amazon. $25 for 12 cartons of coconut water is not too bad of a price, especially if you’ve tried other coconut waters and haven’t cared for them.

Disclaimer: I was contacted by Epicurex and provided a case of Cocozia Coconut Water free of charge. All opinions are my own.  

House of Steep

House of Steep, a tea house and foot sanctuary, is a spot that has something for everyone. It is not too intimidating for those new to teas, but it also offers interest for tea aficionados. The staff is very nice and all of the teas smell and taste great.

The menu has tea on the front and “everything else” on the back. There are house blends, which I highly recommend. I almost always opt for the blend of the month since it’s always changing. They offer tea by the cup, pot, or tasting flight. You get unlimited hot water refills on your tea and it comes with a hourglass and savory lavender tea cookie.

The edible part of the menu has room for improvement, but they are keeping with the “tea time” feel. Think – fruit & nutella sammies, rice bowls, and creamy quiche from local LeoNora bakery.

There is a separate menu for foot soaks, which take place in the sanctuary towards the back of the space. The chairs are comfy and the copper basin filled with warm water, rocks, and your “steep” of choice hits the spot. Refills on water during the 20 minutes keep your feet from getting too chilly.

The staff is very friendly and the chief steeper knows all the properties and uses for the ingredients used in their teas and soaks. I stopped in for some anti-inflammatory remedy and she was full of recommendations.

House of Steep | 3800 Lee Hwy, Ste D, Arlington, VA 22207 | (703) 567-1589

Thai X-ing

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This review of Thai X-ing is a good companion to my review of Little Serow. It is also the first (and so far only) BYOB I’ve been to in the District.

I had heard rave reviews about the Salmon Pumpkin Curry, so when I called 2 weeks in advance to secure a reservation I meant to ask if it was still on the menu. I left a voicemail and followed up a few times before I got a call back a few days in advance. I confirmed the curry was available and showed up to our Saturday reservation with empty stomachs and cold wine.

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At first I thought we were lost, but the converted home in the middle of a residential street really does house this sought after restaurant. The interior and exterior were decorated like a well-loved Asian Mother-in-Law’s home. At first it was distracting, but it really served to transport us. I felt like I was zipped to the other side of the world, especially since most dishes were served on bright green leaves and the sunlight was pouring in through a large window. The staff shouting to each other over their walkie talkies–ahem–added to the “atmosphere.”

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The menu changes seasonally so it will always be a bit different. The price and menu type also change depending on what day of the week you choose. We started with a sausage-stuffed cucumber soup, a spicy and sour chicken larb, a refreshing green papaya salad, and rice.

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We were then served 3 courses in quick succession – pork in green curry, fried string beans and chicken pad see ew. 

All of the flavors were very well balanced and complementary. They had a brightness, freshness, and complexity that I find lacking in my local casual Thai restaurants. They were also easier to eat and enjoy than the extreme-ness that I experienced at Little Serow.

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Our meal ended with a simple but satisfying mango sticky rice. We hadn’t finished the salmon curry and the chef was nice enough to pack up our leftovers and even gave me some extra curry sauce when I proclaimed how delicious it was.

For $45 a person, this is a unique experience that you can’t have anywhere else in DC and I highly recommend you visit there soon. It’s more fun and exotic than many of the drab downtown pre-theatre menus with the same price!

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