The World Tea Expo has come and gone, but I am still reveling in my memories of all of the wonderful people I met and the tea I slurped. I had a Japanese puerh for the first time, met with fellow bloggers who I have “known” for years and finally met in person, and was able to sit in on what I consider to be an epic and groundbreaking gathering – the first meeting of The United States League of Tea Growers. Fifty-eight people were in attendance, ranging from growers to retailers to consultants. Led by Nigel Melican (Teacraft) and Jason MacDonald (FiLoLi Farms), the gathering was to gauge interest in U.S.-grown tea and begin the conversation that will organize the growers.
Here’s a little background on the U.S. tea-growing scene:
- Tea is currently grown in the following states: California, Hawaii, Alabama, Mississippi, Washington, Michigan, Oregon, Louisiana, North Carolina, and South Carolina
- There are 30+ tea gardens in Hawaii alone
- Tea was first grown commercially in the U.S. in 1890 in South Carolina
There are more and more small tea farms growing in non-traditional regions. The United Kingdom, New Zealand, and Australia are a few that have recently entered the niche tea market. A trend to localism (buying from local farmers), a booming tea market here in the U.S., and a distrust of foreign markets have created the “perfect storm” for U.S. farmers. Projected tea sales in the U.S. alone are expected to reach $15 billion by 2014 and our tea growers have the opportunity to make a splash with high-end teas, diverse tea offerings (geography alone being a major player), and exclusivity due to smaller batches being created. All in all, tea growers have an excellent chance to be competitive with world markets in the category of artisan teas.
The meeting felt pretty epic to this tea nerd! The excitement of being a fly on the wall for that first meeting still has not worn off. It will be interesting to re-examine how the US tea-growing industry will have morphed and changed over the next 5-10 years. I will be examining ways I, as a retailer, can support the industry and I encourage tea drinkers to do the same!