Bitter Gourds and No-Pants Awards – World Tea Expo, Day 2
The day wasn’t off to the best of starts. I had to be up at 5:30 for a site tour . . . or so I thought. The day prior, I had agreed to a tour of the QTrade Teas and Herbs facility. Alas, I had my days wrong. The tour was for the next day. Tired ol’ me showed up at 7:30AM, and confused many an employee. Oh well . . . I snapped a picture of the interior anyway.
After that tired mishap, I ventured back to the Long Beach Convention Center. I arrived far too late for two focused tastings I wanted to partake in. Both were oolong-related. That and my stomach was growling at me.
I looked at the World Tea Expo schedule booklet and decided upon another focused tasting to purchase. Wize Monkey – the coffee tea leaf guys – were doing a demonstration in a couple of hours. Well, that sounded nifty. I approached the counter to buy it . . . and . . .
Credit card declined.
Apparently, even after giving my bank a travel notice, they still thought a charge from “World Tea Expo” sounded suspicious and put a fraud notice on the card. I seethed. Thankfully, I had a cup of Assam to take my frustrations out on.
My stomach growled in frustration, again. Luckily, I ran into Jo “Scandalous/Gift of Tea” Johnson, who graciously imparted a red bean moon cake for me to munch on. That appeased me for about a half hour, and then my tummy demanded more.
I wandered the halls like a veritable zombie until I heard my name from one of the rooms. Kathy Robson – Gary’s wife and co-owner of Red Lodge Books & Tea – peaked out of a Tea & Dessert Pairing demo, hosted by Roger Wemischner. They had leftovers and were urging passersby to partake. My breakfast was a fabulous peach mousse with marigold flowers.
Tummy satisfied, I found that it was time for the Expo floor to open. I wasn’t sure if there were any vendor booths I needed to hit, but I decided to poke around, anyway. Maybe there were a few hidden gems I missed during my first survey. Tea For Me Please‘s Nicole Martin also joined me (again) in my wanderings.
Amidst our meanderings, we happened by a North American Tea Championship demo. Several vendors were hawking some of their winning wares for the tasting. Distracted patrons were allowed to taste, ponder, and place a token for whichever winners they considered a favorite. My favorite was . . . drum roll . . .
Fitting, eh? I missed the facility tour, but their green tea was my top choice. Serendipity, I love thee.
Once buzzed off of that minor event, we happened by a tea booth. Chris “Teaity Tea-Guy” Giddings was parked at the tasting tables, and he admitted to having been there for two hours. The company was one I hadn’t heard of before – The Finest Brew – owned by two Sri Lankan brothers. The sommelier doing all the tea prep was dubbed “Gee” because . . . well . . . of course he was.
Gee had us sip a range of their black teas – two fascinating ones from Fujian province, China. As well as a couple of Sri Lankan offerings that were just majestic. But my eyes eventually turned toward (what I thought was) a strangely shaped heicha tea log.
Well, it wasn’t a tea log, nor was it heicha. Gee explained that it was the husk of a bitter gourd vegetable, and the contents within was twelve-year-aged oolong. Then he offered to brew some up. If I wasn’t tea drunk before . . . I was after.
Two hours went by.
In passing, we mentioned that Nicole was up for a “Best Social Media” award at the upcoming World Tea Awards that night. Gee said for us to swing by their booth the next day, for he had some special oolongs in his pockets for the occasion – if she won. Oolongs that were over twenty years old, no less. And, thus, the term “pocket oolong” was born.
Once we could pry away from The Finest Brew booth, Chris, Nicole and I made the mad dash for the panel we were supposed to be on – the third annual Tea Bloggers Roundtable.
It was my second time being on the panel. Gary “Tea with Gary” Robson was this year’s moderator, and was – per our online agreement – adorned in a kilt. Subjects put before the panel ranged from our individual blogger identities, what worked for us, how we (attempted) to garner traffic, and best practices. Nicole “AmazonV” Schwartz live-tweeted the proceedings. The turnout was fair, and the engagement was good.
Following that, we dipped into a celebratory cupping of some Scottish grown tea I brought. Gary was particularly festive about it.
I, later, made the run to the U.S. League of Tea Growers. I remember attending the first annual meeting three years. The fledgling organization had come a long way since then. They were sounding all official-like, now. I even had the pleasure of meeting a tea grower from Texas I never knew of – Josephie Dean Jackson of the East Texas Tea Company. Very charming and enthusiastic woman; I was excited to see what her progress would be in the coming years.
The Expo day finished with reasonable smiles, and it was time for the main event. An awards dinner . . . on a giant boat.
This year’s World Tea Awards took place on the Queen Mary, parked on the port of Long Beach. I’d never been to an awards dinner before. I had no idea what to expect, or who would win what. Rachel “I Heart Teas” Carter had booked our entire blogger group a table. Sitting at the nicely decorated table, overlooking the nicely decorated room, I felt like, “Huh, maybe there is something to this blogging thing.”
Then I saw Gary wearing his formal kilt and re-evaluated that thought.
The stand-out at our table, though, was Jo, who wore a bedazzled “Tea Bloggers Roundtable” shirt to the proceedings.
Way to represent.
The event itself was quite a deal. Dinner was decent. (I ate all my vegetables.) But the real treat was this.
Nicole Martin won for Best Social Media Reach. One of our own had won a tea industry award. You know that feeling you get when your team wins a major sporting event? It was something like that. I nearly cried tears – actual manly tears. It couldn’t have happened to a lovelier human being, too.
Once the pomp and circumstance concluded, it was on to revelry. People mingled. Some drank (a lot), and others (like us) got our photos taken. Sometimes as Avengers . . .
As one does at formal events.
Two very intoxicated, older Australian women even dragged me to the photo booth, and one groped me in a not-so-appropriate place.
So. Not. Okay.
By 11:30, my reserves finally tapped out. I was running on fumes. A few of my fellow bloggers had the displeasure of seeing me when I was tired and cranky . . . and driving. That said, it was easily the most rewarding day at Expo.