For Day 1, go HERE.
I’ll be honest, I was scared s**tless.
Never in my life had I participated in something so…well…grand. The Las Vegas Convention Center was huge, and just peeking through the doors almost made me soil myself. It was like a Comic Con but for tea. I was so stunned by the sheer scale of it all that I nearly forgot to acquire my press pass.
Oh yes, that. I forgot to mention that. This was my first convention/expo/tradeshow/thingy as a member of the press. I picked it up at the World Tea Media press booth and just…stared at the thing.
For what felt like forever. Think Charlie when he found his golden ticket; that was me for a solid minute. Once I came to, I ventured onto the Expo proper, took it all in…
…and ran into people I knew from Portland.
That immediately put me at ease. After that chance meet-up, I hit the Expo floor like a china shop-hungry rhino. My four-hour exploration of the vendor booths was a blur. However, amidst my frenzy, I can remember a few highlights. There were three booths specifically that I had to hit. Why? They were folks I corresponded with prior. And they were…
I actually have an odd history with the co-owner of this outfit. We met at random in Portland prior to Expo. His start-up’s tea focus was the same as my blogging shtick – odd teas from odd growing regions, hence the “Adventure” in the title. Plus, they already earned my favor by being a seller of Greek Mountain tea, always a plus. I sampled everything they had on hand – including an exquisite Himalayan oolong.
They also had the most distinctly original booth of all the participants at Expo, even going as far as to don safari attire. Way to commit, guys! My female compatriots also took to calling them the “hottie” booth…for whatever reason, I could only guess.
Something about thermal underwear maybe? I dunno. Women are beyond me.
And speaking of Himalayan oolong.
I’ve already written about this family-run outfit twice – once for a Nepalese oolong (with the word “Yeti” in the title), and once for a pu-erh. You heard right. I finally got to shake hands with Maggie Le Beau, the owner of the op who I corresponded with. And, of course, sampled some wonderful Himalayan black and white teas.
Future write-ups are…uh…in the future.
Greg (I can’t remember his last name) was a guy I’d been meaning to track down for a while. I’d reviewed several of his teas, and had spoken to him about meeting at Expo. One problem: His booth wasn’t even listed. Well, not entirely true. He was there in a sideline capacity, promoting the Taiwanese family of farmers that grew and processed his tea.
The Tsou-Vayiyana Alishan High Mountain Tea brand. So much easier to pronounce than Norbu. If I hadn’t taken to Twitter prior to searching, I wouldn’t have found it.
Sarcasm aside. It was truly a pleasure to finally meet him in person and to sample some truly wonderful Ali Shan teas. And the best part? The ones featured weren’t oolongs, but rather a black tea and white tea. Extremely rare. Truly a taste-tester’s wet dream.
The Taiwanese family were also incredibly gracious.
Great seeing you, Greg. Next time, don’t stay so hidden. Wear a tu-tu or something.
Mere moments after leaving the Tsou-Vayiyana booth, I saw it. In all its glory was the proto-form for American teas everywhere. A couple of years prior, I had the chance of sampling CTP’s American Classic and Governor’s Gray. Both were good. However, what they had on display trumped both of those by several spades. Their 2013 single estate first flush American Classic was available for tasting, and it…was…
Have you ever wondered how angels taste? Or patriotism?
Something like that.
American tea. F**k yeah.
In my frenzied wanderings, I received a text from Mrs. Joy’s Teaspoon herself. She mentioned that Thomas Shu was going to do an oolong baking demonstration in roughly a half-hour. I poked around a little bit to kill time, tasted some more teas, got lost in the reverie…until I realized I was running ten minutes late. Typical of me.
I cut into the giant Taiwanese tea booth, issued several kowtows and apologies, then took a seat. As a result of my less-than-inconspicuous entrance, Thomas Shu zeroed in on me. After showing us how the baking process worked, he guided us through comparing the baked and unbaked versions of an amber oolong.
Then he called me up to give my thoughts.
You know that feeling you used to get when your name was called while you were sleeping in class. The jolt I had was something like that. I got up nervously, took the microphone, and gave my thoughts. In the interim, Mrs. Joy’s Teaspoon snapped this still.
I sat back down, somewhat timidly. A woman across the table reassured me that I came across fine. I’m not sure exactly what I said in return, but I think it went something like this:
She recoiled in horror.
Yep, still got it.
While participating in the Shu-led oolong tasting, I caught a tall sight out of the corner of my eye. A tall man, actually, in a black cowboy hat – strolling by contently. He stuck out quite awesomely. So much so, that I immediately recognized him. T’was Gary of Red Lodge Tea/Tea With Gary fame – a vendor and fellow blogger. I immediately ducked out of the booth.
We had discussed bumping into each other on the Expo floor, but I never thought it’d actually happen. I grilled him about his Lapsang-Earl Grey blend, and he related the entire story. Perhaps someday, I’ll reveal it to you, if he’ll let me. But only if I have permission.
Once I was done making an absolute arse of myself on the Expo floor, the evening brought about my main excuse for coming to Vegas in the first place – The Tea Bloggers Roundtable.
It was an informal panel, but I was just stoked to be one of the panelists. The main subject we covered was, well, blogging about tea. Our missteps, our advice, our anecdotes. I thought it turned out rather well, and the audience turnout was better than I’d hoped.
Two dynamics occurred:
(1) It was established that Michael J. Coffey and Robert “The Devotea” Godden were the “Abbot & Costello” of World Tea Expo.
(2) It was also established that Chris Giddings and I were the “Beavis & Butthead” of World Tea Expo.
Such is life.
Following the bloggers panel, The Devotea looked at me and said, “Are you going to the ITCC cupping?”
“I wasn’t invited,” I replied.
“I’m inviting you, let’s go.”
And off we went.
The moment I stepped through the doors, I saw a familiar face. He was an Indian man with a perma-smile on his face. The formal thing to do would’ve been to go up, introduce myself, and start a conversation. Um…that’s not what I did.
The moment I saw him, I shouted – practically at the top of my lungs, “RAJIV!!!”
Par for course for my social skills.
You see, I’d wanted to meet the director of the Doke Tea estate and Lochan Tea for well over two years. And there he was, front and center. Luckily, he recognized me. Or else that would’ve been awkward.
After all the “teavents” drew to a close, a group of us bloggers went out for dinner to a place called Firefly. It didn’t take me long before I started humming the theme song to a long-gone space-western TV show. Rachel “I Heart Teas” Carter told me to stop, citing that it made her sad. I did so…once I couldn’t remember the rest of the lyrics.
As we were all deciding what to eat, we heard the distinct sound of a smart phone camera over our heads.
Tea with Gary stood over us, phone in hand, and said, “What happens in Vegas stays on Facebook.” The reaction from us was pure guffaw. How did a six-foot-something Montanan sneak up on us like that?!
Answer: Ninja training.
Without exaggeration, this was the best day of my life. And the event wasn’t even half-done.
To be continued…