I’ve just returned from another exhilarating and exhausting week of tea industry immersion, starting with the New Business Boot Camp and ending with the World Tea Expo. It was a very productive trip – recharging my mental batteries (while draining my physical ones), discovering new opportunities, and re-connecting with old friends. Five-thousand industry attendees (the general public is not allowed to enter) make for a fascinating platform. Here’s a brief recap of the highlights:
The market is maturing
There have always been profitable businesses in this industry, but in the past few years, it has struck me how many of the small business owners I talked with were struggling on the edge of survival. Even if they were entirely up-beat and loving their business, many could not afford to pay themselves, and victories were few and far between. THIS year, there were still those struggling to find capital or searching for that first month of profitability, but SO MANY MORE were telling stories of success. I met people who were expanding into additional stores, opening warehouses, and even selling their businesses and retiring on their earnings from our beloved industry.
The RTDs are coming
It doesn’t take a statistical study to figure out that Americans love bottled iced teas. What surprised me was to hear that more than 1,000 RTD brands have been launched OUTSIDE the U.S. in the past 24 months.
Necessity is the mother of invention
Struggling with a finicky drier, Sherri Miller from Moonrise Tea Garden in Hawaii tried drying her Silver Needle in a warm wok. The resulting tea was an incredible mix of the bright, clean notes of cucumber and sugar-snap peas common to Silver Needle and the rich mouth feel and slightly buttery finish of a Dragonwell. The unusual flavor profile culminated in a distinctly peachy flavor that I’ve never seen in either Silver Needle OR Dragonwell. She also had an overly oxidized Pai Mu Tan-style white that offered distinct mineral and plum notes. I must say that the unique finishes were far more interesting to me than a hundred perfect, but expected, samples.
Clash of the titans
Teavana has signed their first Canadian lease in a mall in Edmonton that is already occupied by David’s Tea. Sources report that in the few locations in which Teaopia and David’s Tea are in close proximity, both are being bloodied.
Had the privilege of meeting Zubin and cupping his fabulous Iranian First Flush tea from the mountains along the Caspian coastline. The flavor profile was fascinating, opening up with notes of cocoa and green pepper and finishing with the muscatel expected of a fine Darjeeling. Interestingly, a 10-minute steeping with boiling water and extra leaf yielded an even less astringent (yet pleasingly bold) cup than the five-minute steeping. I’ll be sending samples out to Cynthia, our master taster and buyer, to see about adding this tea to the Adagio collection, or at least getting a small amount for our customers to experience.
Guayusa is coming
After making a huge splash at last year’s Expo with the Amazonian Guayusa, Runa Amazon Guayusa fizzled thanks to astronomical wholesale pricing. This year they returned much more aggressive and I’m excited to see this amazing and tasty new herb make its way into the Adagio collection.
The Adagio Teas team may well be the most diverse and unusual grouping of individuals I’ve ever worked with.
It was a good week, and now I’m looking forward to Expo East in Philadelphia in September.