Tea Festival brews success, more than 3,000 expected Saturday

Tea lovers, brewers, steepers and those who simply cannot function before their morning cup of English Breakfast can drink their fill Saturday when the seventh annual Victoria Tea Festival takes over the Crystal Garden.

From a few loose leafs of tea, cups, saucers and the odd crumpet to feed 200 people in 2007, the festival has grown in seven years to a showcase of the tea world’s traditional and trendy that draws more than 3,000 people.

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“Our first year, it was just an idea to see where it might go,” said festival chairwoman Lisa Stekelenburg, who noted after seven years simply to still exist as a festival was an accomplishment. “We don’t take that lightly.”

Nor should the city.

Last year, the festival drew nearly 3,700 people, 26 per cent of whom came from outside Victoria just to see the latest trends in tea. That means spending for hotel rooms and hospitality.

Stekelenburg said there’s plenty of commerce going on under the glass roof at the Crystal Garden. The festival estimates $40,000 changes hands between attendees and exhibitors. This year, there will be 38 exhibitors plying their trade and selling their wares.

“There has been a driving tea market out there that has been growing substantially over the last seven years and even longer than that — the surge has been sustaining us, too,” she said. “There’s been a growing awareness of tea. The industry itself has exploded like coffee in the 1990s.”

But Jared Nyberg, owner of Jagasilk and one of the tea exhibitors who has been at the festival every year since it started, said it’s nothing new.

“It’s a resurgence,” he said, noting the Tea Festival has played a role in that. “It has helped to sustain and create the industry and support it. Before there was much less awareness of quality tea and tea as its own industry.”

Indeed, tea is old school. It is second only to water as the world’s most consumed drink, and Canadians drink almost nine billion cups of tea each year, according to Tea.ca, the Tea Association of Canada’s website. That’s 264 cups for each Canadian.

Nyberg said anything that has highlighted the industry has helped it build to the point there are myriad tea options around the city with some brewers offering unique experiences and products.

Even so, Nyberg, who will highlight his company’s macccha teas and fresh milk chais on Saturday, said the growth has been amazing.

“We see people at the event from Seattle, Vancouver ... even the Prairies. I think everyone involved with it has seen the growth as a surprise,” he said. “I was blown away the first year. Now we are thousands.”

Tourism Victoria CEO Rob Gialloreto said the festival, like the nearly 100 on the local calendar, adds to visitor experience in Victoria.

While Tourism Victoria doesn’t support it financially, it does promote the festival on its events calendar and through its social media channels.

The festival’s proceeds go to Camosun College’s Child Care Services. To date it has raised $143,700, and Stekelenburg expects to raise between $20,000 and $30,000 this year.

It also provides bursaries for Camosun students who have children to offset child care costs. To date, 17 bursaries have been handed out.

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