Toronto is the place to be for tea lovers this weekend, as the city's annual tea festival gets underway at the Toronto Reference Library on Friday.
The event brings together tea drinkers and sellers, as well as experts like David O'Connor and Sarah Wilcox, who own a company called Genuine Tea. They travelled the world studying the beverage and are committed to educating consumers about where their tea comes from.
Their business also supports environmental conservation efforts.
The pair say that a lot of tea sold in North America is poorly labelled, and consumers don't know anything about the drink they are consuming.
A talk they will give this weekend will focus on their travels, as well as on what they call "third wave tea."
The first wave is tea bags, the second wave is flavoured teas, and the third wave is natural teas without added flavours.
"It's about closing the gap from the tea in your cup to where it's coming from," said Wilcox. "I'm fascinated by how every culture enjoys tea in their own different way. Part of our journey is to discover the world through tea."
Wilcox credits O'Connor with introducing her to tea after they met at a ski resort in B.C. in 2008. Together they spent four years in Taiwan (what they call the Champagne of tea-growing regions), where there are about 100 main growers who still make their tea by hand.
Developing a 'nose' for fine tea
Experts there develop a "nose," they say, much like wine sommeliers do.
In the end, they completed their MBAs in Taiwan, focusing their work on tea, learning as much as they could. They travelled to rural China and to Sri Lanka before returning home to start their business.
"The North American tea industry is headed in the same direction as the specialty coffee and wine industries and we are excited to be leading this movement in Toronto," Wilcox says on Genuine Tea's website.
"By practicing direct trade and focusing on attributes such as region, elevation and harvest date, we are helping to close the gap between the tea in your cup and the people who dedicate their lives to producing it."