Pocket Oolongs and After-Parties – World Tea Expo, Day 3
I tried to sleep in. Really, I did.
But the anticipation of the last day of World Tea Expo activities loomed at the forefront of my brain. By 8AM, I gave up and rousted from my cousin’s couch (where I’d been sleeping for two days quite comfortably), and went about waking up. Starting off with a swift kick o’ caffeine from an Ito-En matcha shot . . . IN A CAN!
I both love and hate to admit it. I sometimes love easy fixes in cans. It’s a very American sensibility.
Around 9AM, I arrived at the Long Beach Convention Center in my tiny rental car. Before the show floor opened, I hung out in the press room, sifting through social media crap. Amidst my zoning, I noticed Ricardo Caicedo of My Japanese Green Tea had entered. Unlike last year, I spent more than five seconds talking to him. Really knowledgeable and humble guy – a veritable encyclopedia of Japanese tea esoterica.
While we were yacking, I also noticed that Charissa “The Oolong Owl” Gascho had entered – a fellow blogger whom I had yet to talk to at length. Charissa’s blog was probably one of the most unique in the tea community because she hand-wove her own mascots – tea owls. And they were amazing. (Someday, I will have one for my very own! Just you wait!)
After some nudging, I was able to convince the two of them to join me at The Finest Brew booth once the floor opened. Unfortunately, I had my times wrong, and we waited by the door – albeit awkwardly – for about twenty minutes. In that time, Nicole “Tea For Me Please” Martin also joined our waiting party.
Once the Expo floor doors opened, our quartet spilled in and bee-lined for The Finest Brew. The booth folks roped in their Tea MC, “Gee”, and we got to sampling. In the span of ten minutes, our quartet swelled to . . . over double that.
Photo by The Finest Brew. Left to Right(ish): Charissa Gascho, Nicole Martin, Me, Rachel Carter, TJ Williams, Rachel Carter, Chris Giddings, Ricardo Caicedo, Nicole Schwartz and Gee
The reason? Well, Gee had made a promise. If Nicole Martin won the Best Social Media Reach award from the night prior, he would break out the aged oolongs he kept in his pockets. True to his word, he broke ‘em out, both Tie Guan Yins – aged twenty-plus years.
Before all of us could sip it, though, Nicole had to do the honors first. She nearly buckled (and chuckled) under our searing stares of anticipation.
Photo by Nicole Schwartz
Then we dug in. The oolongs were transcendental – toasty, medicinal, floral, aromatic, multidimensional. Just . . . gah. Before I could get more oolong-dazed, I departed to check out the Wize Monkey booth.
The day before, they promised to have their coffee leaf “Earl Grey” variant available for tasting. That and I promised Naomi “Joy’s Teaspoon” Rosen that I’d meet her there. I had tried a green version of coffee leaf tea a year ago and didn’t care for it much. However, the Wize Monkey boys featured a semi-oxidized version that I found quite tasty. With bergamot oil dashed on the leaves . . . well . . .
My inner Earl was quite happy. Naomi was quite satisfied with their version blended with jasmine. It had “Joy” written all over it.
Following that, I intercepted Nicole Martin again, and followed her to the event area where an ITTC cupping was about to take place. Several international growers and wholesalers were displaying their wares for the tasting. There was a Dan Cong oolong, a Darjeeling oolong, a sencha, and one black tea. But not just any black tea . . . Doke Black Fusion, 2015 Second Flush, with a backstory explained by Rajiv Lochan himself.
Me and Rajiv Lochan
Still one of my favorite teas presented by one of my favorite tea people; I think I smuggled, like, five cups of the stuff just in that one tasting.
2PM rolled around, and it was time for me to take a brief hiatus from the World Tea festivities. I had promised my cousin we would hang out in Orange County for a bit, and I owed him a dinner for putting me up for three days. The next three-to-four hours were spent bumming around a comic book shop, waxing nostalgic, and eating fancy fish.
Cousinly geekery sated, I was back on the road for the final leg of my World Tea Expo journey – the inevitable Tealet Beach House After-Party.
Photo by TJ “World Tea Podcast” Williams
When I arrived, the place was packed. The beach house was filled to the brim with people – a veritable cornucopia of cuppa professionals. It was a who’s-who of tealebrities. James Norwood Pratt and his son Sterling were there. Tony and Katie Gebely were in attendance. Nigel Melican was instilling sage advice. And – through it all – Team Tealet (of course) were presiding over the menagerie. It was sensory overload.
I lasted about a half-hour before I meandered to the backyard to grab some air. It was around that time that Jason McDonald (of The Great Mississippi Tea Company) was starting his second tea seed germination workshop.
I’ll confess to only half-paying attention because I was drafted to dance around to keep the porch light from shutting down. (It was on a motion sensor.)
Demonstration concluded, I socialized a bit with Tony “World of Tea” Gebely. He even broke out a special Fujian all-bud black tea (Meizhan cultivar) from his personal stash for some of us to try.
It was, indeed, something special. Although, I wished I’d brought my own stash of bourbon barrel-aged Dian Hong as a counterpoint. Oh well.
Tea drunk and (only slightly) teetering, I went out to the backyard again. The only people out there were Michael “JoJo Tea” Ortiz and a tea grower from Georgia (whose name escapes me). They were retelling their tea origin stories. Michael was just about to begin his when Natasha Nesic came out to bid adieu. I regretted that I barely talked to her this Expo. (Next year.)
Michael was about to continue his tea story when I heard my phone ping.
It was a Facebook message from Nicole Martin, it read: “Please help me.”
I said to Michael, “I really want to hear the rest of this, but I have to rescue Nicole.”
(For THAT story, go HERE.)
Nicole and I returned from that little adventure largely unscathed. By then, the gathering out in the backyard had swollen to a gaggle. Nicole recounted her bus stop horror story, and the conversation eventually segued to other things. Somewhere down the line, Nicole mentioned that a tea vendor had one time referred to her as “Tea Lady Nicole” on social media.
I remarked, “’Tea Lady Nicole’? That sounds like the name of an Irish folk song.”
And then . . . to everyone’s amazement (or horror) . . . I began to sing.
(For the full lyrics, go HERE.)
Sterling Pratt backed me up on the chorus. It sounded far too eerily perfect. Nicole was full-body blushing. Mission: Accomplished. Then we were told to keep our voices down by the hostess.
Toward the end of the party, I ventured up to the loft upstairs. It was the unit being rented by Chris “Teaity Tea-Guy” Giddings and Nicole “AmazonV” Schwartz. I had heard a few people were having a mini-party up there, and decided to take a look. When I got up there, though, no one was there – save one.
Nicole Schwartz was the only one there; in her room – door open – on her bed, in her pajamas, reading a book. She looked up in surprise. The whole time, I was thinking, I used to watch movies that started like this. On Cinemax. Late at night.
I turned to see myself out, but Nicole S. convinced me to stay and chat for a spell. Nothing happened, I swear. All we did was talk about past Dungeons & Dragons exploits from yester-campaigns. Seriously, that was it. I behaved myself.
Other folks from the party downstairs weren’t too sure. Throughout our conversation, various people came to check on us, and make sure I was being a gentleman. And I was! . . . uh . . . yer honor.
What finally pulled me away from the gaming conversation was the promise of Phil Tea. What is that? I hear you – fair reader – not asking. Well, I’ll tell you.
Photo by Naomi Rosen
Phil “World Tea House” Holmans had processed some green tea at the Doke Tea Estate in Bihar, India. And he was finally test-driving it. Damn, it was quite good. For a tea that was produced via shits-and-giggles.
1AM chimed and my eyelids weighed heavy. I bid farewell to the beach house tea party that was still in progress. On my drive back to my cousin’s place, I was informed that I missed out on an epic game of Cards Against Humanity . . . and later heard that the party continued its caffeine-induced reverie until 5 in the morning.
I slept soundly that night.
The day after, it was off to the airport. My carry-on bag was nothing but tea swag. My travel mug? Filled with Doke Black Fusion.
This was my third World Tea Expo . . . but it was the first where I felt I was part of a greater industry. Part of a greater, international community. Three weeks have passed since those magical three days, and I’m still in awe of it. My passion for this stupid little beverage made from stupid little leaves, poured into stupid little cups has not wavered. If anything, my appreciation has only widened.
Your move, World Tea Expo 2016. See you in Vegas.