Adventures with Sherlock Holmes and the Toronto Tea Festival
At the start of this year, I found out that the Toronto Public Library is renovating the usual location of its quite extensive Arthur Conan Doyle collection and has put a number of the pieces on exhibit at the Toronto Reference Library. I was a pretty big Holmes fan as a kid and even made the trek out to Reichenbach when I was in Switzerland.
I have started critiques of several of the recent adaptations and homages for this blog only for them to turn into an absurdly long, disorganized mess. So Adventures with Sherlock Holmes seemed like a great opportunity to explore more Holmesian goodness. In particular, this past Saturday the library was scheduled to show Murder by Decree and tour the exhibit afterward.
I went to a local blog to see if I could find more details for the event, particularly whether tickets were needed, and I found out that Saturday was also the Toronto Tea Festival. How could I not have known? I was torn between two of my great loves. But as fate would have it, the Tea Festival was also happening at the Toronto Reference Library. So I hurriedly packed a bag and headed out earlier than planned in the hopes of getting as much tea festivizing in as possible before the movie.
And, well, I might have gotten a little distracted by the tea. It was fairly busy, but not bad by Toronto Festival standards (You could still move, for example). Although I often had to wait a while to get to the tables, I certainly managed to make it around the exhibit hall in a reasonable time, stopping for a few samples:
I don’t live right downtown, but I get around enough that I was surprised there were so many great vendors I wasn’t aware of. Really this is my own fault for sticking with David’s Tea because they are in my ‘hood (with the occasional House of Tea side trip), but I guess they are sort of the “big chain” now, which seems so strange because I remember when they opened and I think they only had a few other locations in Toronto and Montreal and now they’re all over. Anyway, here are a few highlights from the festival.
Tao Tea Leaf. According to the info booklet, they actually organized the festival, which was the first in Toronto, so kudos to them. This is presumably how they ended up in the prime spot right by the door, so it took a while to get to them, but it was very worth it. They had a High Mountain Green that smelled great. A lot of booths had small packets for decent prices, but I think Tao really nailed the price point, offering very small samples at 1 for $2, 3 for $5 or 8 for $10. I was trying to pace myself, so I stuck to three, adding Tangerine Ginger and a Blueberry Rooibos to the green, although I haven’t had a chance to try them yet.
A bit different was Cha, a tea subscription service that hasn’t actually launched yet (that’s on the 23rd apparently), but you can take their survey now if you click through. The idea is that you answer their questions and are then assigned a “type” and each month they send you three samples (1 x 100 g and 2 x 40 g) based on that type. I got “traditionalist”, which I can’t say I feel to be wholly accurate, but it’s probably my own fault for opting for space on question 9 when secretly I do believe I could best Robocop in an arm wrestle. I’m informed you are free to choose whichever subscription you want, regardless of how the survey comes out. Anyway, it’s a pretty fun idea, although I may be moving out of the country, so I’m not sure I will be signing up. If you’re on the fence, you may be swayed by the fact that the sample they gave out for taking the survey came in an adorable test tube format:
Speaking of my maybe not being a traditionalist, I must discuss T By Daniel, whose flavoured blends just smelled fantastic. I wanted to eat them. I can’t help drawing comparisons to that aforementioned tea shop with a man’s name that begins with D in it. They both are pretty into the flavoured tea blends and they both have a philosophy of making the tea world accessible to new people and, at least in my brief experience at the booth, they are very friendly and enthusiastic (I assume I spoke with Daniel himself, although I could be wrong). Anyhow, they were sampling Jamaican Me Crazy, a coconut flavoured green (I pretty much had to stop myself from buying every coconut-flavoured blend on the floor. I didn’t know I had such a thing for it, but there were at least three coconut oolongs I
ran out of cash for sensibly did not purchase). And it tasted as good as it smelled, which is not always the case with that other shop. Everything else smelled great too (The woman in front of me almost passed out over the espresso-flavoured Italian Stallion). I limited myself to two flavours for the moment, but they’re an online company in the GTA so lots of potential for more in the future.
I then decided to attend a talk on Tea in the Himalayas, which was fascinating. The speaker described the tea-growing regions, with particular focus on the Darjeeling area, and how, through various political events and trade difficulties, tea had ended up planted there and flourished. He apologized for going over information “most of [us]” already knew, I guess assuming that the bulk of people there were in the tea business rather than just casually interested. And that’s how I spent Saturday afternoon listening raptly to explanations of the growing season and unions of tea harvesters in Darjeeling, the different flushes and the tea scandals where Nepal has been trying to sneak their leaves into blends from some of the Darjeeling gardens. Also, this guy set up a “tea exchange” between a renowned Japanese green tea maker, who had been trying unsuccessfully for years to start manufacturing black teas, and one of the most famous (former?) managers of a Darjeeling garden, where they are trying to start making green tea. That story involved all the inherent translation issues and humourous cultural differences you might imagine.
So after suppressing my sudden desire to sell all my worldly possessions and move to a beautiful mountain bungalow in the Himalayas, I deduced that I was in fact too late to see Murder by Decree. This was fine since I’m sure I can track it down later and the tea talk was well worth it. Fortunately I was still able to wander the exhibit, which was smaller than I expected, but lots of interesting stuff, including a copy of The Hound of the Baskervilles inside a dog’s head figurine. And I found out that the earliest well-known Holmes parody, The Great Pegram Mystery, was written by a Torontonian. It was hard to choose a favourite non-ACD Holmes story. Sherlock Holmes Saved Golf? The Victorian Undead comic book? But I think the shirtless jungle man taking front stage on The Adventure of the Peerless Peer puts that a cut above the rest.
The only way the day could have been better was if I’d discovered an homage where Holmes investigates those Himalayan tea scandals.