Over the last couple of weeks I've been in contact with the organizers of the Vancouver Tea Festival, learning more about this new event and figuring out how I can help to make matcha a rewarding part of the visitor experience.
My sense is that the main focus of the event is leaf teas, as this seems to be a growing specialty industry here in Vancouver and throughout Canada. Of course, matcha is heralded as an ultra-premium tea, and no tea shop seems to be able to claim any kind of legitimacy without carrying at least one variety of "ceremonial matcha." Even coffee shops these days can hardly be taken seriously if they don't at least offer a matcha latte.
I find, however, that even with the word matcha becoming a familiar part of the North American vernacular, very few people -- including, I'm afraid, the intensively trained certified tea sommeliers being cultivated by the Tea Association of Canada program -- actually know much about the culture of matcha, aside from being aware that matcha is very good for you and the formal procedures for making it take a lot of time and are very complicated ... I believe the interest, however, is there and it's high time that the general public was offered more insight into the broader culture of matcha.
Mrs. Sakaino of the Vancouver Urasenke Tankokai will be presenting abbreviated demonstrations of tea ceremony at the tea festival, and she always does a beautiful job, so rather than presenting another demonstration of tea preparation, I have offered to give a talk and slideshow explaining the "kuchikiri" (seal-breaking) celebration of opening the ceramic jar in which the tea leaves are stored for several months until they are ready to be ground into matcha. The timing is just right because the kuchikiri ceremony is held in November. Although few people are actually able to send tea jars to the packer to be filled and stored and returned to them any more, and few tea shops offer this service any more, the celebration of this start of the annual year of tea remains -- even if only symbolically -- an important part of the traditional practice of Japanese tea ceremony (chanoyu). I hope that highlighting this important moment in the transformation from leaf tea into powdered tea will provide visitors to the Tea Festival with a more familiar common ground from which to approach matcha and will also provide some insight into a seasonal aspect of Japanese tea culture they might not otherwise have the opportunity to experience or even know exists.
If you're in the area and have an interest in tea, I hope to see you there!