For twenty years, the World Tea Expo has been the premier tea event in the U.S. Not only a gathering place for tea entrepreneurs, a training ground for new tea businesses, and a way for the specialty tea niche market to grow. And many readers are asking for our T Ching report. While it is a B2B event, the inevitable trickle-down effect affects every tea lover. Now that WTE does not stand alone as an independent platform, things are understandably different from the early years of the show. Let’s first look at some of the features and then consider conclusions and what it means going forward.

How Will Tea and The Bar Scene fare in a combined Space?

This year, World Tea Expo shared the convention space for a second time with Questex’s Bar and Restaurant Show(YouTube Video) It’s an interesting concept but perhaps a bit controversial. Tim McLucas, Vice President and Market Leader of the Hospitality Division of Questex, owner of both shows, spoke at a Meet and Greet Event for vendors and speakers about his vision for the future. Questex is in transition with both shows. What had been a Bar and Nightclub Show is now a Bar and Restaurant show. How Specialty Tea will fare in this partnership and out-of-the-box thinking remains to be seen. The 50 vendors in the tea area included herb specialists, teaware, tea associations in addition to specialty tea wholesalers. It will be important to hear from them as to their interactions with a very different attendee crowd. But we should also look at how tea businesses must adapt to succeed in this space.

Belly Up To The Bar On the Trade Show Floor

Speaking to the dominant theme of this event – the needs of Bar and Nightclub owners – our tea community created a Tea Bar where attendees sampled some of the best teas from vendors. This is an event originally developed by the Seattle Tea Festival – always popular at their annual event. And it worked well to attract potential newcomers to sample whole leaf teas. 

Tea Business Bootcamp Becomes Tea Business Incubator

A slight name change reflects a new approach but many with the same goals. With 148 attendees attending this marathon all-day event, it was exciting to see the diversity and creativity of new tea businesses. The six speakers and there presentations were: 

  • The Big Picture a ‘reality check’ – by Chris MacNitt
  • 50 Ways to Attract and Keep Loyal Customers – by Babette Donaldson
  • The Must-Haves to Start Your Business –  Tim Smith 
  • Nitty-gritty operations stuff that can make or break your business: Packing, shipping, and unboxing! – Nishchal Banskota
  • Breaking Even Instead of Breaking Bad —  Don Ho
  • Why a Business Plan? –– Sherolyn Sellers

Heroes of the Show – The Prep Room!

Try to imagine for a moment what’s involved in preparing teas and demonstrations for the various classes and the Tea Bar. The essential equipment is stored on 12 pallets and requires a full day to set up. Multiple boilers and other water heaters are required to be able to sample teas at an optimal temperature.

The team managing this magic has been doing so for many years now – providing the perfect filtered water at the perfect temperature synchronized to the presentation timeline. Instructors deliver teas and instructions for weights and temps. The team serves brewed tea to the classes. Some events, like “Tea Flights,” span more than five hours and as many as 30 different teas for about 100 guests. 

While the public-facing names and faces, the presenters of educational sessions and the vendors on the show floor are names you see and are certainly the people you want to meet, none of this would be possible if you couldn’t be served a cup of tea that was brewed well so that it became an important part of the overall educational experience. And that all happens behind the scenes.

Tea Tycoons

Think “Shark Tank” for tea businesses only!

For a second year, WTE hosted a contest where three categories of new businesses compete for recognition, prizes and advice from some of the Specialty Tea Industry’s mentors.

This year’s categories and winners are:

Tea Tycoon Judges

 Judges included Gail Gastelu of The Tea House Times, Reena Shah of International Tea Importers and Chado Tea Room, and Kevin Christiansen of Cafe Barnabus. (Photo by: Questex / World Tea Conference + Expo)

20th Anniversary Celebration

Of course, WTE is a place where tea people gather as a community; a family. And one of the most immediately recognizable spokespersons is James Norwood Pratt. His role this year was to recount the memorials at the 20th Anniversary Celebration for the people who helped build the industry but are no longer with us. Infused with the joy of celebrating accomplishments were the tears for those who contributed so much but are no longer with us. Repeated throughout the evening was the phrase, “. . . if it weren’t for them we wouldn’t be here today.” 

And if it hadn’t been for Norwood Pratt, author of The Ultimate Tea Lover’s Treasury (and more) the ceremony might not have touched so many hearts. He helped us remember them with gratitude. His warm southern drawl was both soothing and insistent that we carry on. The emotional breaks in his voice quieted the room and gave us pause and a few tears.   In the same ballroom where Expo was launched originally as Take Me To Tea.

Conclusions and Considerations

Now that we’ve shared the stage with the bar and restaurant industry, a case can be made that this partnership also serves the most profitable trending tea market well. Will it be that restaurants are inspired to add more than big-brand teabags served in mugs to their menus? Will bars and nightclubs incorporate more tea and herbal infusions into their cocktails? That is certainly the goal and the dream.

But, comparing the experience with past shows that were exclusively tea, it is virtually impossible to control the larger and louder event to where the subtleties of tea can be appreciated. We used to be greeted by the fragrance of tea on the trade show floor. It was exhilarating. Those aromas must now compete with the aromas of alcohol and bar foods.

So, while the specialty tea industry may be benefitting from this increased exposure and will be participating in a broader marketplace, the pure tea experience may become limited to the various tea festivals around the world.

Is this the best of both worlds? Or, have we lost something in translation?