It was a sunny, brisk, billowy-clouded Sunday… perfect weather for Gen Mai Cha. I headed over to Abbot Kinney, the cool boutique-and-café populated section of Venice, CA, for the seventh annual Valentine’s Tea Festival. The featured country this year was Japan, so I knew I’d find my fix.
Housed in the Electric Lodge, a solar-powered community space dedicated to artistic and environmentally conscious development, guests were invited to celebrate tea and culture Japanese-style.
Tea vendors were at the ready, and while my palate is a bit pampered by Art of Tea’s signature Gen Mai Cha, “Dragon Crisp,” my craving for the hot, roasted goodness of this so-called “poor man’s tea” was satiated.
The Valentine’s Tea Festival proved to be a lovely event with a wonderful feeling of community. Old friends coming again to see what this years festival had to offer as well as local walk-ins checking out what was going on in the neighborhood.
Creations by local artists were exhibited and performances were held to entertain guests. There were calligraphy workshops where you could try your hand at the art of sumi-e and origami lessons, with kids and adults alike delighting in the creation of paper cranes whose wings would flap at a pull of the tail. Sushi and mochi making demonstrations provided their own delectable appeal in the realm of edible art!
My favorite part of the festival was experiencing the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. Performed by Stinton Stranger, an artisan who crafts beautiful tea tables from reclaimed wood, this nearly 500 year-old tradition is imbued with appreciation for the moment. Every aspect of this exchange between host and guest is marked with grace and significance — from the way the ladle is handled, seasonal decorations that might appear on the various implements, to the kind of flower that might be displayed (like a delicate camellia, which would only last the day, as opposed to a heartier blossom, like the chrysanthemum). Hot water is ladled with care into the bowl to clean it, discarded, and then another added for whisking the fine, powdered matcha. The bowl is turned three times and then handed to the guest, a frothy, brilliant green. It is a sacred sharing of a moment in time, unique, honored and then relinquished like a cherry blossom carried away on the wind. Of course, the Electric Lodge had some thumping beats cheap generic viagra coursing through her P.A. system, so it wasn’t quite as poetic as cherry blossoms on the wind, but you get the idea.
The Valentine’s Tea Festival is a labor of love that began with Kulov, the event producer, throwing Valentine’s Day tea parties for his nieces. The fun and success of those parties grew to include more and more people and naturally evolved into the larger occasion now celebrated.
“Every year around Valentine’s Day we host a cultural event honoring a country with a strong tradition of tea,” says Kulov. “Last year, we celebrated India and the response was quite enthusiastic. Los Angeles enjoys a special richness in its various communities,” he continues, “yet they often seem isolated from one another. Part of this is because everything is so far apart and spread out. But we like to mix it up a little by creating community-building events that are both fun and informative. And probably the biggest compliment we received last year was that people wished L.A. was always like this.”
The success of the 7th annual Valentine’s Tea festival, with nearly 200 guests (double last years attendance!), surely points toward an 8th on the horizon of ‘08’s V-day, with rumors of expansion to an entire weekend of tea and culture! Stay tuned to find out which country we’ll be exploring next time!