After reading my tea buddy Naja’s post today, I was inspired to write about the World Tea Expo from another perspective – that of someone who had to miss it this year.  The year 2004 was my first Expo and then it was called “Take Me 2 Tea.”  This year, I lived vicariously through Naja and others who/ attended, but some of my tea business buddies and I have a new mantra on Twitter: Next Year! 
Back in 2004, the space was smaller and there were many fewer booths and vendors, but it was still a thrill for me – a newbie to loose leaf – to get to meet so many others who shared my passion.  The Jages are heroes to all of us for putting together this immense undertaking every year … and for their own passion for loose-leaf tea.  I especially love George’s dislike of the use of “tea” with politics.  George, have you heard that Rush Limbaugh has his own tea brand?
Since I didn’t get to attend in person, I’d love to hear answers to the following from those of you who did:

  1. What was the most exciting thing you saw?
  2. Who were you hoping to meet?  Did you get to meet them?
  3. Where did you see the biggest trend – loose, bag / sachet, bottled, concentrates?
  4. What was the biggest surprise?
  5. Did / how did the Expo change your ideas about tea and the tea industry?  And did / how did it change your ideas about your own tea or potential tea business?

After my first visit in 2004, I could have answered these questions as follows:

  1. The most exciting was the absolute open frontier and no big frontrunners (that has changed).
  2. I was hoping to meet someone who was already growing as a tea retailer and I met the guys who were franchising Tealuxe.  As I remember, they had previously been doing franchising for Blimpie’s Subs. 
  3. I remember that Tealuxe was the most “modern” tea concept showing; the others were small, more traditional tea shops without any apparent plans to franchise or grow into a chain.  I don’t remember a huge emphasis on RTD or concentrates back then, but maybe others who attended do.  Walters Bay had a chai concentrate they have since discontinued.
  4. The biggest surprise was how many people there were even seven years ago already in or looking into specialty tea! 
  5. The Expo opened my eyes to the incredible opportunity for the right concepts and products to become extremely successful.  Since then, we have seen tea chains that are in the double digits in number of stores and one that is about to IPO with over 100 units.

Somehow, some way, the World Tea Expo 2012 is going to the top of my “get out of the store” must-do list for next year.  Want to join us in the mantra?  “Next Year!”