For Day 1, go HERE.
For Day 2, go HERE.
I wouldn’t say it was a bad day. Heck, far from it. So many wonderful things transpired – dare I say, epic, even? However, I was off step from the natural rhythm of the day’s events, and it all started the moment I thought I lost my press pass. It took me a good ten minutes of panicking and cursing to find the damn thing. Fittingly enough, it was hidden amidst the spoils acquired from World Tea Expo Day 1. Correct…amidst a pile of tea.
After finding that, I made a mad dash to the Las Vegas Convention Center, and I still managed to get horribly lost in the interim. Even with my GPS. That’s gifted, I tell ya. Luckily, I made it just in time for the “Steeped and Brewed: A Comparative Tasting of Tea and Beer” focused tasting. Another ten minutes passed before I actually found the room I needed to get to. Jo Johnson met up with me a few moments later to get me in.
Once we entered, I took a seat at the front of the class. (It’s beer and tea, why wouldn’t I?) And waited to start. In the meantime, Jo introduced me to the proprietress of an online op, and she took a seat next to me. A few moments after that, Tea with Gary sat at the same table.
The hosts of this tea-‘n-beer comparison workshop were Kyle Stewart and Chris Beard of A Cultured Cup, and master wine sommelier James Tidwell. The teas used for the comparison were a pre-QingMing Long Jing, a Phoenix Dan Cong, and a Keemun Hao Ya B.
(Un-related Sidenote: Why does it always have to be Keemun Hao Ya B?!? Why can’t people splurge on Hao Ya A?!? It’s the only Keemun I haven’t tried yet! Okay…gripe over.)
On to the beer.
Selected for the Long Jing pairing was a Kölsch-style ale. Both bore similar color palettes but differed on the palate. Whereas the Long Jing was grassy, slightly winy and buttery. The Kölsch was pungently sweet, thicker-bodied, and possessed a floral (almost heathery) mouthfeel. While I’m loathe to say it, I think a lager would’ve been a better pairing.
Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the woman next to me mixing the two together. I exclaimed: “Dude! Why didn’t I think of that?!” And gave her a high-five.
Seriously, I’m surprised I didn’t think of it first. Usually, that’s my thing. Both together tasted…oddly superb.
The second pairing was much more successful: The Dan Cong with a Weihenstephaner Vitus weisen (read: “wheat”) beer. Both the oolong and beer were bronze in color, floral on the tongue, and evenly light-bodied. The only area where they differed was mineral aftertastes – the oolong had one, the beer did not. However, both were very floral and sweet dance partners.
Last, but definitely not least, was the best paring of all. The Keemun Hao Ya was pair-mated with a Taddy Porter from Samuel Smith – a macrobrewery out of England. I’d had some prior experience with that very porter, and with Keemun. So, I had a rough idea of how well they would get along.
Pairing both was better than I could have imagined. Following up the wood-smoke-sweetness of Keemun with a burly/chocolaty porter was like Christmas delivered on monster truck wheels. Gary and I both groaned like honey-satisfied bears in our seats. And when the tea and beer were combined…er…I think my brain melted.
Once all the comparisons were done, I was a tad…bouncy. While the beer provided for the tasting was in thimble-sized cups, combined with the tea caffeine, I was jittery in my seat. The uppers and downers played lacrosse in my brain. A happy, buzzy sorta game.
The woman next to me observed this and commented, “Wow, you’re a cheap date.”
I paused for a moment to muster up something witty. I managed a…
Once that bit o’ business was concluded, I decided to hit the Expo floor again to see what I’d missed. I was so sensory-overloaded the first day that I figured there were booths I’d missed. And, indeed there were. Plenty.
Expo Day 1 was about visiting the booths of vendors I knew. Day 2 was about introducing myself to new vendors. And I. Sucked. At it.
I learned an important lesson on my second booth-wandering. If you have a press pass, some vendors are going to assume you’re some sort of brew-buzzard, looking to score free samples.
Well, they’re not completely wrong. I did indeed want to try everything there was to try. However, it was in their best interest to at least pretend to be nice to folks that could make them look nice on e-paper. But that was a minor annoyance.
When I hit the floor for the first time, I encountered AmazonV in my wanderings. She informed me that there was a product that combined iced tea and aloe, and that it was worth a try. I shuddered at the thought.
“Can you take a picture of me on the bench?” I pleaded.
The Tea Stylist agreed to, and I got into position.
Best. Picture. Ever.
Shortly after that, I meandered a bit until I encountered a group of taste-testers in an enclosed area. It was a judging booth. Nineteen of the year’s iced tea winners were up for competition. Random sippers were allowed to come up and weigh in on which was the best of that year’s offerings. We were all given a white token, and we were tasked with placing it in a voting bucket (?) by the booth of our choice.
My pick was…*sigh*…TeAloe.
Seriously, it was phenomenal.
The most epic thing I encountered that day, though, was a meeting of sorts – the founding of The League of U.S. Tea Growers, proposed by Nigel Melican and Jason McDonald. Everyone was there. And I mean, everyone. Growers from Hawaii, Mississippi, South Carolina, Louisiana, and even some well-known ones – The Charleston Tea Plantation director, Richard Sakuma of Sakuma Bros., and the aforementioned Jason McDonald of FiLoLi Farms. Even James Norwood Pratt was there.
Press folks (such as myself) vastly outnumbered the growers in attendance. And even as the idea was proposed, it didn’t sound like everyone was particularly on board with the project. That said, something was happening. The whole thing seemed big. Like, Founding Fathers big.
I even voiced as much with, “I have nothing useful to contribute. I’m just fanboy gushing. I consider you all luminaries.”
Then sat back down.
Many people weighed in on the pros and cons, their own personal experiences, helpful advice, and anecdotes galore. Perhaps the most effective proponent was James Norwood Pratt. He only said one thing – short, sweet and to-the-point.
“This is something that has to happen – period.” And he surrendered the microphone.
Something had happened that afternoon. I’m nowhere near experienced enough in “teaconomics” to wager as to what…but something grand had occurred. And I can’t wait to see it grow.
You can follow their progress on Facebook HERE.
Or on Twitter HERE.
The last event of the day was where my complete lack of rhythm was most prevalent. And, no, I’m not talking about dance moves.
Right after the LUSTG founding meeting, everyone retired to the Las Vegas Hilton for the annual Expo social. All the vendors, press people, and other tea luminaries – all in one room schmoozing. Small problem. I never learned how to schmooze.
When it came to finally meeting people I’d associated with in some fashion online, I was well within my element. However, effectively networking at a mixer? I might as well have been a freshman at a new high school in the middle of a lunchroom.
I spent most of the time foraging for food and congregating with people I already knew, such as Lady Joy’s Teaspoon and Lady Earl Steeper. One particularly precocious photographer even caught us partying X-TREME-ly hard.
Jo Johnson caught up with me as I stumbled about from food kiosk to food kiosk. “You look uncomfortable.”
“I’m extremely uncomfortable,” I said, mouth full of quesadilla.
“The secret is to be yourself,” she imparted.
I nodded, still chewing.
Alright, be myself, I said to…um…myself. Be myself.
Then I had a follow-up thought. Wait a minute. Myself wouldn’t be caught dead at a mixer like this. Moments later, Lady Joy’s Teaspoon mentioned that she, Teaity Chris, and Lady Earl Steeper were thinking of grabbing junk food and retiring to a game of Cards Against Humanity.
You can guess what option I went with.
I didn’t get to sleep until well after midnight.
To be continued…