Wednesday June 18, 2014 | 4 comments
No, this is not about the caffeine in tea. It’s about walking the floor at World Tea Expo, to see what we could see. And there was a lot to see, hear, smell and taste.
Others who have written about it here were participants in the Expo as speakers, booth hosts, or involved in some other way. In contrast, my observations are as an attendee who returned after a ten year absence – sorry to say. And a lot has changed since Take Me2 Tea, as it was called in the beginning, debuted in Las Vegas.
Ten years ago, it was a newer industry. I can remember a more traditional tea shop theme, although I also remember some companies – which I didn’t see this year – that were thinking futuristically about where tea was going. I remember the Tealuxe booth, with their franchising team and a color-board of interior elevation design options, along with Cirqua water filtration President David Beeman at his booth. He graciously directed me to the Walters Bay Booth where I tasted the most amazing Earl Grey I’d ever tasted – and probably ever will. This exquisite tea is no longer available in small amounts, loose. Darn! But there they were this year – that very positive and friendly Walter’s Bay team. Company culture still gets an A+, Sanjay!
There was a lot more food, as I remember, at the first expo. One example was a company from New York offering such delicious French hot chocolate that I was persuaded to try it. Although I was glutted from other samples, I ended up bringing the hot chocolate in to our store. There were cookies, and scones, and lots of tea shop-friendly goodies to munch on and various tea samples to wash them down with.
Combined with the Healthy Beverage Expo, it was more streamlined this year, less ‘cozy’ and personal-feeling, and reflected the new sophistication and bigger business trend of specialty tea. There was more of an international flair, with vendors like Teapigs from the UK, and Zojirushi. I was fortunate to make some great new contacts and meet in person people at the top of my ‘must see/do’ list like Rajiv Lochan; Beth Johnston of Teas Etc.; and Maria Uspenski of The Tea Spot. I missed Elyse Petersen of Tealet, who was away from the booth. These people, in my book, are ‘tea-lebrities’ for one reason or another, whether building a company from their garage to great proportions, or caring about tea estate workers, or having a grand vision for making the tea industry a better place. If you haven’t met Beth Johnston – she is the definition of the word ‘energy.’ You literally feel the buzz she generates.
And, because, as a former post indicated: I am concerned about the plight of the honeybee, and I was thrilled that Zeke Freeman of Bee Raw was there because he is doing more than almost anyone I know to try to help these wonderful food-enabling pollenators. His honeys were simply crazy good, reflecting names like California Wild Black, Sage, and Wild Raspberry Honey, which were as different from big box grocery chain honey as a great first flush loose leaf Darjeeling is from a tea bag. I also enjoyed meeting a true veteran in the tea industry’s accessories niche, Annelise, of Thistledown Cozies who, after twenty years, still calls her company a cottage industry, employs local workers and has given cozies a whole new image with her sleek, contemporary design line. She told me these amazing well-made (and beautiful) cozies keep tea piping hot for an hour and drinkably hot for an hour longer.
Because we have been working on our brewing technology for years, it was interesting to see the three that were showing at the Expo. Others have written about them, such as Jason Walker and Dan Bolton, (Dan, by the way, survived an almost fatal hiking mishap just days before the Expo this year). There was also the New Product Showcase, with winning items behind glass to take in. Over at the Healthy Beverage expo area, lots of bottled Kombucha and other bottled energy drinks were in evidence. I’m not a fan of bottled, as per this post awhile back, but ReadyTo-Drink (RTD’s) are huge and, you know you can’t fight what the public wants, which is convenience. To try to do battle on this front is exhausting as well as fruitless.
All in all, the best part of World Tea Expo, for my husband and I, was feeling like being part of it all, knowing we are at home in the career path we are passionate about, and meeting people who share that passion. Thanks to George and Kim Jage for the sacrifice and hard work of planting a seed a decade ago that will continue to grow as specialty tea growth accelerates rapidly.