Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: World Tea Expo Page 1 of 2

The Flow of Tea and Time

I should probably get around to talking about World Tea Expo 2019, huh?

To be truthful, my delay in doing so wasn’t related to my usual brand of procrastination, but rather some trauma. Stuff I’ve had difficulty processing and— unfortunately— it’s inextricably linked to my World Tea Expo jaunt this year. Some have advised that I should just talk about the Expo proper and leave out the trauma, but I felt that would be narratively disingenuous. Like it or not, it was a part of the experience.

That said, I found a way to record those events—the good and the bad—in a manner that’s thematically sound. With his permission, I borrowed a narrative device employed by my blogging compatriot, The Devotea. Several years ago, he wrote a brilliant blog called “Backwards”, and I’m lifting some outline inspiration from it.

Alright, on with the show.

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A Rare Tea Tasting with Kevin Gascoyne

As some of you have seen—via my social media—in June, I was at World Tea Expo.

For those who don’t follow me on those platforms . . . I don’t blame you. But that’s beside the point. In the middle of June, I trekked down to Las Vegas for my fifth World Tea Expo. (Oh wait, I already kinda said that.) I’ve . . . got a lot to say about that, but this missive isn’t about that, rather it’s about something else entirely.

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Tangents at World Tea Expo 2018

This year, I went to World Tea Expo in Las Vegas with a mission.

To hustle.

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Cooked “Puerh” from Laos

LaosTea—a wholesaler of heicha from Laos—had a booth at World Tea Expo again this last summer.

laos-tea-at-world-tea-expo

Image mooched from LaosTea’s Instagram.

And I didn’t visit it once.

In my mind, I kept saying, Eh, I’ve already tried everything they have to offer.

What I should’ve been thinking was, I really need to solidify some of my vendor networking contacts!

Hindsight and all that.

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Cups, Crossroads, and the Way of World Tea Expo

It was the last day of World Tea Expo, and I seemed to have lost my “Way”.

That’s how I felt that morning—kinda lost. Rousting out of bed was difficult, as per usual. But today was particularly hard. Last days of anything usually are. To kick the tiredness to the curb, I went from zero-to-“wake-the-hell-up” with a yaupon RTD.

Asi Muscadine

It did the trick.

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The Power of the Pitch at World Tea Expo

World Tea Expo, 2016, Day 2 . . . started early.

Really early. Okay, maybe not that early, but it felt early. Sleep was a rare commodity that week, thus far. I immediately hit the Teas Etc. booth and grabbed an oolong to refuel.

Early Morning Oolong at World Tea Expo

If I was going to spend the morning attending core panels, I was gonna need it. My attention span was rocky at best, already. Add lack of sleep to that, and I was useless to the world.

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The Return of the Fellowship to World Tea Expo

Returning to World Tea Expo this year felt like a scene right out of Return of the King.

Returning to World Tea Expo be like

You know the one—where all four battle-weary Hobbits came back. Everything was the same . . . but they weren’t. That’s how the first day of Expo felt to me. This was the first one to be held in Las Vegas since 2013, and it looked like 2013 all over again. However, a lot had happened to me in the ensuing three-to-four years.

I was not the same tea drunk Hobbit. Still tea drunk, sure, but more . . . I dunno . . . worldly? No, that’s not the right word. Perhaps I’ll come up with a better descriptor as I write on.

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Tea-Fueled Las Vegas Tourism

I needed a vacation.

rough week

And I needed it as soon as possible.

That was probably why—when I planned it—I decided to leave for Las Vegas four days earlier than I really needed to. The original intent was to go down just for the days of World Tea Expo. Well, I decided to tack on a few additional vacation days to that. And Naomi “Joy’s Teaspoon” Rosen was to put me up (and put up with me) for those extra days.

What occurred could best (and simply) be described as “tea-fueled tourism”.

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Cheating at Tea-Totaling

Cheating at Tea-Totaling – The Tea-Totaler Trilogy, Part 1

In December of last year, I gave up drinking. The reason? A missing hubcap.

poor car

I hit a curb while driving a wee bit sauced. No idea where said hubcap went. My theory’s Narnia.

My poor car was the impetus for what (originally) began as a year-long dry-spell experiment. However, in the ensuing six months, life turned out . . . rather awesome. Not sure what happened, and I’m not sure I owe it to sobriety or something else. Life kinda kicked ass. That and having that extra money in my khaki pants was rather nice.

I will confess, though, that I have been cheating a bit. I’ll explain . . .

In November of last year, I did a DIY experiment – aging black tea in a bourbon barrel. I pulled the stuff out after week, declared it “almost” a success, and did it a second time for much longer. That one wasn’t as much of a success. However, my trials and errors caught the attention of this smiling mad scientist – one TJ Williams, one-half of The Tea Kings.

TJ Williams

“I have a lab.” *evil cackle*

February of this year rolled around, and I looked at his company’s website and saw – in bold letters: Cask Aged Dian Hong”. They had aged a bunch of Yunnan black tea leaves in a 1-liter micro-barrel for a period of time. Said micro-barrel had previously housed . . . Appleton Estates spiced rum.

I messaged him about it, “Spiced rum barrel-aged Dian Hong?! Whaaaaaaaaa?!”

He confirmed it, rather proudly. I mentioned in passing that I had done something similar with a bourbon micro-barrel. He responded with, “T’was my inspiration.”

This marks the third time one of my weird blogs had let to a vendor’s future experiments. Shortly after that dialogue, I received both the Cask Aged Dian Hong, and another one – a bourbon barrel-aged Tie Guan Yin. The latter had been aged in a micro-barrel for two weeks, the barrel once being home to Johnny Walker Red.

(Bloggers Note: No alcohol is imparted on tea leaves. Just the scent of what was in the barrel. I swear.)

before brewing

The Tie Guan Yin Red Label leaves looked like many other mid-oxidized, ball-fisted oolongs of its type, but the smell was definitely altered by the bourbon barrel-ing. Along with the usual butter-flower aroma was a presence of peat on the after-whiff. Not strong, but definitely there; adding a dimension of delicious wrong-doing.

The Casked Dian Hong was a surprise and a half. The leaves were smaller-cut than the usual Yunnan black teas I ran into – leaf pieces ranging from brown to gold. What stood out, though, was the smell. Holy booze-gods, the moment I opened the can, straight rum pummeled my nostrils. Not as strong as the alcohol itself, but definitely as sweet and creamy. And that was only after a week of barrel-aging.

For the oolong, I went with a gongfu (or rather, gongfoolish) approach, but with the Dian Hong, I did the usual western-style brew. Both were brewed with boiling water. It was early morning, and I wanted to bleed whatever essence I could out of them.

After three successive infusions – at around thirty-to-forty-five seconds each – the barrel-aged Tie Guan Yin brewed light green with a subtle, herbal aroma.

Tie Guan Yin

No liquor note on the whiff to speak of. It wasn’t until I sipped each one that I witnessed the barrel contribution. Funnily enough, the oolong began with the subtle, liquor-scented note before transitioning to the usual Tie Guan Yin bells-‘n-whistles of butter and minerals.

As for the Casked Dian Hong . . .

Gaaaaaaaaahhhhhh! Before this, I’d only had one other rum barrel-aged tea. I don’t know what it is about rum, or even traces of rum, but the notes compliment well with tea’s natural, oxidized profile. Yunnan Dian Hongs tend to be on the earthier side anyway with trace sweetness layered throughout (in my experience). It seems only natural that those notes would play well with a malty, sweet, chewy . . . pirate-y rum.

Casked Dian Hong

To make a long description short(er), the rum and black tea paired perfectly here. The intro taste was like that of a liquor-filled chocolate, while the rest was like burnt oakwood-smoked ‘s’mores. Soooo much sweetness, sooooo much awesome. I could find something more sophisticated here, but I don’ wanna.

After brewing

Interesting sidenote: In future brewing sessions with both of these, the longer I steeped them for, the more pronounced the liquor note. It was like the scenting process was born to make love to tea tannins. Or something.

Epilogue

Many months later, I encountered TJ at World Tea Expo 2015. He passed along another rendition of their Cask Aged Dian Hong, but this time it’d aged in the barrel for two weeks rather than one. I decided to do a side-by-side tasting of both versions. The results? (Beyond this cheesy tea haiku.)

side-by-side-rum - TeakuTuesday

The longer-aged stuff tasted the same as the shorter, but with more of the spice and oak imparted due to the longer wait-time. I could drink it all day. Both of them. At the same time. Double-fisting.

If this is cheating at sobriety, then screw the rules.

Pocket Oolongs and After-Parties

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!

 matcha shot

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.

 

The Finest Brew

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.

pocket oolong

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

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 . . .

coffee tea leaf

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

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.

TJ Williams

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.

germination

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.

Dian Hong

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.

Tea Lady Nicole

(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

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.

tea swag

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.

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