Recently I went to my twelfth tea festival since I started Tealet in 2012. The LA International Tea Festival was a lively congregation of local and national tea merchants, tea educators, and energetic tea lovers. I’ve attended tea festivals in three different countries and I have come to the conclusion that they are what is needed to help spread the love of tea and build a strong future for the tea industry. Friends on the tea festival tour, such as James Norwood Pratt, reflect on the connections they have made during these events and say the tea network is becoming stronger and stronger with each one of these festivals.
The main benefit of tea festivals is that they provide a very comprehensive education of tea to a mass audience in the market. Each merchant at the festival more than likely has their own tea shop or online tea brand where they provide education, but with the vast amount of information it is impossible for one merchant to communicate the entire tea story. A merchant can have a very diverse range of teas and tisanes but few details on each product or she can be highly specialized in one type of tea or origin but can offer a great deal of detail on their products. A bazaar with several different merchants will give a much broader perspective of the tea story as each merchant brings their own specialty to the room. The tea lovers leave the festival with a bagful of products to increase their education and to show them that there is much more to tea than what is available on the grocery store shelf.
A benefit that is near to my heart is the camaraderie that is formed between the merchants at the tea festival. Hundreds of cups of tea are served and merchants must be on their feet all day to answer all the attendees’ questions. As much of a tiring experience as it is, by the end of the day merchants are often sharing teas and exchanging stories of their day. I will often meet up with tea friends after the festivals for dinner and drinks; this is where some of the most valuable conversations happen throughout the year for everyone’s respective business. This last time a small group of us went to check out a hip boba place in downtown LA. When I introduced the group to the shop owner he asked, “So, you are all competitors but you are all here together hanging out?” Someone in our group explained that the tides are rising and there is opportunity for all of us. If we work together we can make change together.
I look forward to many more tea festivals. Tony Gebely at World of Tea put together a list of tea festivals and trade shows for 2016. Right now my company is helping put on the Southwest Tea Festival that will happen February 27, 2016. Applications for vendors, sponsors, and presentations are still open on the website. See you all in Las Vegas!
I have experienced exactly what you’re talking about. There is a feeling within the tea industry that it benefits all of us to work cooperatively, rather than competitively. I feel very encouraged by this atmosphere and see it as something that is quite unique in business settings. That’s not to say that there aren’t unscrupulous people selling tea. There are unscrupulous people in every industry. I’m talking about the general atmosphere vs specific vendors.