In case anyone missed it, there was no update last week. Reason being, I was at a wedding in Southern California. (No, not mine.) That left very little time to write anything, and on said trip, I only had one minor tea adventure.
It involved a batch of 2014 Second Flush Castleton Moonlight and a hotel Cuisinart coffee machine.
Hilarity and messes ensued.
The trip also meant that I was out of the proverbial tea world loop. No news reached my ears until the Sunday I got back. And . . . geez . . . what a news day it was.
First, there was the news that I was anticipating: The launch of the Tea Journey Magazine Kickstarter campaign.
The second . . . I did not expect. Nor would I ever want to expect it. The passing of yet another great tea luminary, Mr. Devan Shah.
In the span of twelve hours, I got the best news ever . . . and the worst news ever in the tea industry. In the same. Fucking. Day. How does one even reconcile and/or rationalize all of that?
For me, it was mull over my personal history with both occurrences and find connections. A common intersection between both paths, so to speak. Of course, I also had to put fingers to keyboard to make sense of it all. Between bouts of . . . cat distractions, that is.
I first met Devan Shah in the Fall of 2012. I made a trip to Seattle for my first ever tea convention, the Northwest Tea Festival. And it was . . . glorious! One of my missions was to snap photos with as many people I knew of as possible. Yes, I was that annoying newbie, and I didn’t care.
Devan Shah’s name had come up several times in my tea dealings, but I’d never met him, nor knew what his significance was. He happened to be manning the Chado Tea Room booth when I encountered him. I suppose I came across as that annoying tea tourist that didn’t actually buy anything. (And, admittedly, I was.) That said, he graciously allowed me to take a photograph with him.
What few words we exchanged were nice ones.
When I finally made my way to World Tea Expo that following year, I noticed him on the floor, but never approached. And I saw him at two subsequent Expos after. Never said a word.
I didn’t find out more about him until I sat down for one of James Norwood Pratt’s many orations. During it, he elaborated upon how Devan Shah may have inadvertently kick-started the United States’ interest in white tea.
According to Pratt, in the early 2000s, a then young ingénue pop singer – Britney Spears – was having tea at Chado. Reporters hounded her about what she was drinking. She told them that one of her personal trainers recommended white tea for the antioxidant boost. When news got out about this, naturally, people started going ape-shit for white tea.
At the time, Shah only carried about a kilo of White Peony. In the years that followed, he had to quadruple that. All because of one famous person’s run-in with a reporter, and a passing comment about it.
I love that tea story.
And it was around then that I started thinking about tea stories in general.
At that very same Expo (2013), I was introduced to a man who looked like a cross between an old-timey political journalist and a Tolkien-esque wizard. It was during some panel discussion; I forget which one. He had said something about something, and I just marveled at the gargantuan camera with the overly-protrusive lens dangling from his shoulder. Following the panel – me, being the uptight li’l prick I was – I countered some of the points he made during the discussion. He took my comments in stride with a great deal of grace and aplomb. Before swatting me down like the fly I was.
I later learned that this journalist wizard was Dan Bolton. The journalist/editor in the tea industry.
Nice goin’, Geoff.
A year or so after that, I was approached to contribute tea profiles to World Tea News, a trade publication for which Dan served as editor. And I had no clue what I was doing.
Most editors probably would’ve sent my virtual arse packing after the first flub of an article, but Dan took my narrative hiccups in stride. With each subsequent draft, he helped me craft a seemingly professional piece. It was miles more presentable than some of the self-righteous turds that turn up here. At least, from a trade magazine standpoint.
I encountered Dan again at World Tea Expo this last year (2015), and exchanged the usual pleasantries. He informed me that he had something in the works, and that he’d be in touch once all “his ducks were in a row”. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but then in mid-February of this year, I got an e-mail from him.
His new venture, Tea Journey was a go, and he wanted me to participate in some way.
I handled this in a totally calm and collected manner.
According to Dan, Tea Journey was going to act as a narrative bridge between the tea drinker and the tea industry. And it was going to be done as a collaborative effort among tea professionals, writers, sellers and more – from every part of the industry. I was about as bottom-feeding as one could get. Honored? Hell, I was mystified.
The quarterly magazine would exist on multiple platforms – as a mobile app, as a blog, and as a physical publication. Various subscription plans were going to be available. It would include stories about growing regions, particular teas, trade reports, and as well as vendor insights. The endgame being more transparency for the industry as a whole, both to the consumer and those involved in the tea trade itself.
Ambitious? Hell yes. But the tea industry was in need of some of that.
If 2015 has shown us (the tea populous) anything, it’s that the industry is in a state of flux. Long time standards and practices are coming into question, and the ways things are done are starting to shift. On top of that, it is becoming increasingly clear that people are losing sight of what the goal should be with tea.
That being . . . there isn’t one.
Or at the very least, there shouldn’t be one.
Tea is a journey. One that I’ve personally found has no end. Even if we die, the journey still goes on without us. And the stories we leave behind will continue to be told in our wake. I barely knew Devan Shah, but I still have a story about him. I hardly know how much of an impact I will have in the future, whether it’s with Tea Journey, my own blog . . . or other ambitious pursuits. (Stay tuned.)
What I do know is this. It’s not how far you go on the journey; it’s who you encounter on the way. And who shares a cup with you on that journey. And no matter how much time passes, or who passes us by, those moments remain.
My name is Geoff Norman, and I’m a Tea Journeyman.
Share a cup with me.