Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Tag: World Tea Media

A Business Trip with Benefits

A Business Trip with Benefits – World Tea Expo 2015, Day 1

Arriving at the Long Beach Convention Center, and seeing that sign, was like coming home again.

World Tea Expo Sign

This was to be my third World Tea Expo in a row. The first year was a three-day whirlwind of awesomeness. The second was like a quickie, followed by a long-distance relationship. This year took on an entirely different form. This was a business trip . . . with benefits.

Within minutes of entering, I encountered people in my tea blogging sphere. This was just within the first hour.

Photo by Gary Robson

Photo by Gary Robson; Left to Right – Jen Piccotti, Jo Johnson, Tony Gebely, Katie Gebely, Me, Chris Giddings

. . . And true to Murphy’s law, my camera kept dying right when important things happened – such as meet-ups. Therefore, I had to mooch moments from other people who had the forethought to bring a decent phone, camera or – in one special case – a battery pack.

A particularly noteworthy pleasure was finally getting to meet Katrina Munichiello – an author/editor I truly respected. She was just as nerdy as the rest of us, and a pure delight to boot. Even I violated my usual selfie embargo to be snapped with her, Nicole “AmazonV” Schwartz, and Rachel “I Heart Teas” Carter.

Katrina

Photo by Katrina Munichiello; Left to Right – Me, Rachel Carter, Nicole Schwartz, and Katrina.

After who-knows-how-long of playing catch-up, I finally hit the Expo floor. My first mission was to see a familiar face. I learned through the tweet-o-sphere that one of my favorite Oregon outfits – Chariteas – had a booth. Per my World Tea News write-up, she was now wholesaling Indonesian teas from one garden – two blacks, one white, and one . . . that was absolutely delicious . . . but I couldn’t quite identify it. It was called Grey Dragon.

Chariteas Grey Dragon

It almost needed its own category.

In my floor wanderings, I also encountered Nicole “Tea For Me Please” Martin, who soon became the Maverick to my Goose. If there were folks I needed to talk to; I followed her. If she was in search of something shiny and weird; she followed me. In that first day, we encountered Columbian grown tea, coffee leaf “tea”, and Laotian grown tea. (I’ll get to all of those in greater detail at a later date.)

We also encountered random friends in our wanderings. There was so much to take in that we both said, “Oh yeah, we have a panel to be on in ten minutes.”

Amplify Your Business - Rachel

Photo by Rachel Carter; Left to Right – Nicole Martin, Me, Jo Johnson, Jen Piccotti

Jen “An International Tea Moment” Piccotti had organized four of us boggers for a panel dubbed “Amplifying Your Business Voice Through Tea Bloggers”. It was a serious panel. I’d never been on a serious panel before. No, it didn’t stay serious for very long. Fellow panelists included Jen, Nicole M, myself, and the venerable Jo “Scandalous Tea” Johnson. The goal of the panel was to illustrate how tea vendors could best use tea bloggers to get the word out on their wares. I was surprised by the ample turnout.

And I was even more surprised that – mid-panel – I’d forgotten Jen’s name.

Photo by Nicole Schwartz; "Derp" by Me.

Photo by Nicole Schwartz; “Derp” by Me.

Oops.

Once the Expo-ing leg of the day was done, I moseyed over to the Tealet beach house rental for a focused tasting. Elyse Petersn and Rie Tulali ran us through a couple of special teas from Nepal, as well as some Jin Jun Mei and Hawaiian white.

Tealet Beach House

That’s all I needed. More caffeine.

Day One: Complete.

The “Tease” of World Tea Expo

The Road Trip Sextet, Part 3 – “The ‘Tease’ of World Tea Expo”

For Part 1, go HERE.

For Part 2, go HERE.

You know it’s been awhile since you’ve blogged when your mother says as much in a Facebook message. Earlier this week, my Mum sent me such a message: “So, is June 9th the last entry of Steep Stories?”

Obviously implying something morbid.

To prove that this is indeed not the end, let’s continue wear I left off.

As I mentioned in my last write-up, I went to World Tea Expo this year with a plan of attack. Since I was going to be limited on time, I double-checked the list of vendor booths I wanted to hit and beelined to those first. Basically, it was a “unique tea” hunt. And the way I kept track of what I tasted? Twitter, of course.

Twitter was handy for two reasons: (1) It helped me keep tabs on everything I tried and things to follow up on. (2) It provided a good outline for any future taster notes I wanted to put in blog form…such as now.

So, I present to you – in no particular order – a stream-of-consciousness, Twitter-fueled rundown of some of my tea-related highlights from World Tea Expo 2014.

bacolapsang

The second booth I went to was based upon a blog I read by Gary Robson. He had mentioned coming across a Bacon Lapsang blend. When I found him on the Expo floor (which wasn’t hard to do), he offered to guide me to it. The folks that put out the blend were from The Tovah Team – an outfit based out of Las Vegas, NV. Said blend was dubbed “Country Breakfast”…and I’ll be damned if it didn’t taste like a country breakfast. A darn good start to the festivities.

Ujeon

I would’ve been remiss in my du-teas, if I didn’t stop by the Hankook Tea booth at least once. Their Hwancha was a favorite of mine from a couple of years back. This year, they had their Ujeon available for sampling – a high-grade green tea from Korea that’d been on my “list” for a while.

Ujeon

 

It was perfect. Like, gyokuro perfect, only with that sejak bend and something more. I don’t really remember exact nuances beyond the initial “Mmmmmm” effect.

Chris Giddings (of Teaity fame) grabbed me as I was moseying by and outright insisted I stop by the Elmwood Inn booth. The reason? A bourbon-scented black tea, of course.

Bourbon Black Tea

While not barrel-aged, like some other teas I’ve tried, it was instead a black tea blend infused with the essence of pure Kentucky bourbon. The results were creamy, slightly peaty, and sweet. Definitely one I want to revisit sometime soon.

Although I didn’t have a quixotic Twitter update about the booth, I have to talk about Tealet.

Image mooched from Tealet's Facebook Page.

Image mooched from Tealet’s Facebook Page.

Theirs was by far, the best booth at Expo this year. It was also the largest. They shared their space with the International Tea Farms Alliance. The result was a mega-tea-booth of sorts, complete with tasting tables and an interview space. The highlight there?

Four words: Smoked. Assam. Green. Tea.

Smoked Assam Green

The Heritage Tea Estate in Assam, India had smoked a green tea over firewood, and the results were pure manly bliss. Smoke, grass, astringency, and epic-ness fumed from my little taster cup. I would say more about my Tealet experience, but that’s a whole ‘nother entry unto itself.

WulongMaocha

In my wanderings, I came across the Seven Cups booth. Regrettably, I didn’t run into Austin Hodge this year, but I did try some of their wares for the first time. The tea that really caught my eye was – as mentioned above – their Wuyi Rock Wulong Maocha.

Wuyi Maocha

It tasted like a Wuyi oolong, only rougher around the edges. I wouldn’t say incomplete because that would imply imperfection. I would say it was more in line with a sheng pu-erh right before fermentation.

CamSin99AliShan

Along the same lines, and somewhat nearby, was the Camellia Sinensis booth. My goal there was to finally pick up some Laotian pu-erh for sampling. Unfortunately, they hadn’t brought any for sale this year. However, they did have a bit of aged Ali Shan oolong for the tasting. That was…well…yeah…awe-inspiring.

Satemwa

I was overjoyed to see a Malawi tea estate represented at the Expo. The name Satemwa had passed by my computer a few times, particularly their white teas. This year, though, I was hoping to taste one of their oolongs. Lo and behold, they were happy to oblige that simple request.

Satemwa

Their white teas were as good as I remembered. Their black teas: On par with others I’ve had from the region. The oolong? Man, I wanted to spend more time with that. Very nuanced flavor – almost like a midsummer Ti Guan Yin by way of a Taiwanese low-altitude oolong. Very interesting flavor.

They also had a pu-erh available for the smelling, but not enough to brew up. Looks like I’m going to be doing a highlight on that sometime soon…after some mandatory begging.

ModernTeaGirl

I had yacked with the folks behind Modern Tea Girl on Twitter for well over a year, even though I was nowhere near their target market. That said, when I learned that they were hosting a booth at Expo, I had to at least stop by and say, “Hi”. I wasn’t sure what they would be featuring – or if I could mention it – but those fears were assuaged when I saw their spread.

Modern Tea Girl

Matcha cake frosting…what more do I need to say?

It was fan-f**king-tastic. No nuance needed.

And finally…

YauponAsi

Of all the teas and herbs on display at Expo, this was the one I was most eager to try. After years of research and a few scant mentions, I was finally able to notch off this American-grown Yerba Mate cousin, thanks to Yaupon Asi.

Yaupon

 

Those that compare the taste to Yerba Mate don’t know what they’re talking about. Sure, there are similarities, but they end with the herbaceous forefront. Yaupon has more in common with another cousin – Guayusa. There’s a sweet underpinning throughout the taste that is just remarkably pleasant. I would say more, but I have an entire feature piece I want to do on this wonderful caffeinated herb.

And that about wraps up the notable tasting experiences this year. My swag bag of bounty was not as hefty as last year’s Expo, but I didn’t expect it to be. As I said, I was there with a specific goal in mind, and I more than met it. Yes, there were other wonderful teas I tried that weren’t mentioned above. Mostly because I plan to do something with each of them individually – TeaCuplets and whatnot. (Speaking of which, READ MY TEACUPLETS!!! Okay, done.)

When I returned home, I was also greeted by a box from TeaVivre. So, by proxy, I sort of included it with the WTE swag, just by sheer proximi-tea and timing.

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Next time…the epic beach house party.

For Part 4, go HERE.

Nicole Sandwiches, Blogger Rountables, and World Tea Expo

The Road Trip Sextet, Part 2 – “Nicole Sandwiches, Blogger Roundtables, and World Tea Expo”

For Part 1, go HERE.

Trying to plan for this year’s World Tea Expo was a nightmare personified. Even more so than last year. At least with 2013, I had a plan (sorta) set in motion by December of 2012! This year, though? I wasn’t even sure I was going until two months prior to the actual event.

As some of you might have read in an oft-changed article, I originally set out to e-publish a book, get a press pass, then use the meager profits of said e-book to fund Expo. Those plans fell flat nearly as soon as I announced them. Plan B was to use my tax return to fund the trip. This was also curbed when the need to pay off some back-debt reared its ugly head.

There was no Plan C. Instead, I skipped ahead all the way to Plan W. After three trips to the same brewery with a friend, a miracle happened…and months later, I was off to California with my mother in tow.

For the first couple of days, I hung out in San Diego with family. All the while, I received texts , tweets, and taunts from fellow tea friends wondering why I wasn’t at the World Tea Expo, yet. My plan was to attend that Friday – the day of the Tea Bloggers Roundtable. Everything else was a bit of a crapshoot. However, I did have a basic plan in mind:

Step 1: Hand off tea gifts to people I promised things to (but never mailed).

Step 2: Visit new and old booths and try certain teas I researched prior.

Step 3: Nicole Sandwich.

Step 4: PROFIT!!!

(No, that South Park reference never gets old.)

The morning of Friday the 30th, I got up, donned my “uniform”, took an obligatory selfie

…And announced I was on my way to Long Beach. It was a mere two-hour drive from San Diego, and I scheduled the trek so that I’d miss the majority of California’s infamous traffic.

By 11:30-ish, I was inside the press room – basking in the glow of the trade show below.

World Tea Expo

This was way bigger a space than the year prior. Last year’s press box was a cubicle; this was a penthouse. Just like last year, Aaron Kiel – World Tea Media’s press guru – was there to greet me and hand off my press pass. I waited a moment in the room, gorging on candy, using the restroom, and quizzing Aaron on the etiquette this time around.

As I was on candy number…five?…my first bloggeriffic encounter appeared – Naomi (Joy’s Teaspoon).

Joy's Teaspoon

We yacked for a moment or seven, and then it was off to the Expo floor proper. I had no rhyme or reason as to how I was going to encounter other folks, so I went about enacting Step 2 of my Expo Plan – booth-hunting.

However, that plan got sidetracked frequently. In the best of friendly ways.

The first two I encountered on the Expo floor proper were International Tea Moment’s Jen P., and Nicole AmazonV. Another mandatory selfie ensued.

International Tea Moment

Further down the line, I encountered father-‘n-son team Gary “Tea With Gary” Robson and Doug Robson. One was in a cowboy hat, the other in a utilikilt. They weren’t difficult to spot. Sadly, I forgot to photograph said encounter. Yet gifts of un-Yunnan-ish “pu-erhs” were bestowed upon the duo.

Also – regrettably not photographed – was my chance encounter with the couple team from The Jasmine Pearl in the company of Zhi Tea’s Doctor Oolong – Jeff Lorien – Chris “Teaity/Tea-Guy” Giddings, Linda “The Tea Stylist” Gaylard, and everyone with Team Tealet. There were likely others that I’m forgetting to mention, but it’s all a blur. I was a wee bit tea drunk by that point, sue me.

Once my booth errands were finally completed (I’ll get to that in another blog), I tried to keep an eye out for another Nicole – Tea For Me Please. In my wanderings, I had yet to encounter her. I even tweeted as such.

Untitled

Around the same time, the League of U.S. Tea Growers meeting was convening. Per Naomi’s mention, I wanted to sit in on that, and see how things were coming along.

968934_4947558241961_1052879800_n

Several growers were there, and Jason “Great Mississippi Tea Company” McDonald did the opening remarks. Bylaws were discussed, presentations were given, and slideshows about tea growth efforts were plenty. I envied everything they were doing.

After said meeting, I finally caught up with Tea For Me Please. She was – without peer – the oldest of my original tea contacts. Not in age, but duration. We both used to contribute to Teaviews.com. She went independent around 2008; I didn’t follow that example until the latter part of 2011. Aside from Google Hangouts, I’d never met her in person. We were like fast friends.

Tea For Me Please

That was when I declared that I had one more mission to accomplish. We found the other Nicole at the Teas Etc. booth. I commissioned Chambre De Sucre’s Lisa to take a photo of myself between the two Nicoles.

Nicole Sandwich!

Nicole Sandwich mission: Accomplished. (Not to be confused with a “knuckle sandwich”, which is far more unpleasant.)

Following the U.S. Growers meet-up, and the sandwich, there was the main event I wanted to attend: The Tea Bloggers Roundtable.

The Tea Bloggers Roundtable

Back in January, I himmed-and-hawed, complained-and-crawled to get on the panel. But my dubious chances of attending the Expo curbed such ambitions. In my place, Tea For Me Please took the chair. Frankly, she was the better choice because she actually worked in the industry. Joy’s Teaspoon’s Naomi presided over the panel like a pro.

 

I was overjoyed at the fact that among those in the audience were Ricardo of My Japanese Green Tea and Alex from AdventureTea. I had wondered if I was going to encounter either of them. That left only one more person I had to meet.

Dinner plans were made after the Roundtable concluded. Half the group went off to grab Ethiopian food, while the rest of us settled on an Irish pub across the street from the Long Beach Convention Center.

Yes, I know the picture sucks; I blame my phone.

Yes, I know the picture sucks; I blame my phone.

Beers were had, jokes were made (sometimes at my expense), and a good time with good company (and food) were had all around. Members of Team Tealet also joined our merry band. It was then that I found out the whereabouts of the final person I had to meet. The Snooty Tea Person, herself.

Rie (Oolong City) and Tea For Me Please discussed how they were going to pick her up at the LBC airport, and I forced myself along. Sure, I was pushy, but then I wouldn’t have gotten this:

And she was the final person I had to bestow a tea gift bag on.

Snooty Tea Person

Final mission: Accomplished.

Whoah, I haven’t even gotten to all the teas I tried yet.

Oh well…tune in next time. As they say.

For Part 3, go HERE.

Workshops, Bandsaws, and Keemun Against Humanity – A Vegas Tea Party, Conclusion

For Day 1, go HERE.

For Day 2, go HERE.

For Day 3, go HERE.

It was the last day of World Tea Expo…and I was already running late.

I know, big shocker. But this time it wasn’t entirely my fault. My co-pilot for the morning, Lady Earl Steeper was also running slightly lagged. Cut us some slack, it was 7AM.

On top of that – par for course – I ended up missing the turnoff for the Convention Center at least two times. Finally got it on the third go-around. (I think?) We made the mad-dash inside only to make it fifteen minutes late for the “Blogging for Your Business” workshop.

Tea Blogging In Your Business panel

Taken by Jo Johnson

Luckily, our truancy was only partially observed. By everyone.

The panel discussion was moderated by Michael “Tea Geek” Coffey, and the panel consisted of Linda “The Tea Stylist” Gaylard, Chris “Teaity/Tea-Guy” Giddings, Darlene Meyers-Perry, Naomi “Joy’s Teaspoon” Rosen, Jason Walker [Tea Review] and last (but never least), Robert “The Devotea” Godden. To my shock-‘n-awe, it was a very low-key panel. And by that, I mean, cups weren’t being flung across the room, teabags weren’t being torn asunder, and no fist-fights broke out over the pronunciation of “Ti Kwan Yin”. As a matter of fact – dare I say it? –  it was downright professional.

*****

I left the panel with a bit more information than I started with, and with…uh…

Absolutely no tea!

It was about 9:30AM at this point. The Expo floor wasn’t open yet, and there was no tea anywhere. I had no time that morning to grab a cuppa caffeine before dashing out the door. My lack of wakefulness was starting to show. There was a second panel on digital marketing I wanted to attend, but it took me a good ten minutes to find the damn room. Signs of a tea-deprived brain.

I finally made it to the “Digital Marketing Trends” workshop before its start-time. Tony “World of Tea” Gebely was the speaker on hand. Frankly, I didn’t know what I would take away from the workshop, only that I wanted to see Tea Pimp Tony in action.

Tea Pimp Tony

Tea Pimp Tony

Oddly enough, I came away with far more than I anticipated. Many of the tricks he suggested applied not only to vendors, but also to regular “brew-buzzard” bloggers such as myself. For instance, my analytics numbers have always been somewhere in – or around – the toilet. In one hour, Tony pointed out a few things I was doing wrong regarding overall social media exposure. I left somewhat e-enlightened.

By the time that workshop was finished…I really needed tea. The moment my caffeine gland groaned (yes, I have one; I’m sure of it), my phone vibrated. It was a tweet from Mountain Tea Co.

Mountain Tea Tweet

I made a mad-dash to the Expo floor. In less than three minutes, I arrived at the MTC booth – panting. Chicco Chou saw me, blinked twice, then gave greeting.

“I just got your tweet,” I wheezed. “I need oolong. Stat.”

He poured me a couple of cups of brandy oolong that they’d just brewed. I let the feeling of time-released energy permeate throughout my very being. Then, with a sigh of relief, and a bow of thanks, I dashed back off to the workshop rooms. (Seriously, I bowed.)

Chicco making Mountain Tea.

Chicco making Mountain Tea.

*****

The third and final workshop I attended was one near and dear to my heart – mainly for the speaker. Verna L. Hamilton was one my oldest “tea-tweeps”. We had a peculiar bond in that we shared the same birthday. Funny considering that we were like night and day (and, no, I’m not referring to skin color). Where I was a cynical, portly, and often neurotic little man; she was a tall, statuesque, vibrant, and sunny human being.

Verna

Seriously, she could lighten the room with a smile and a shake of her head. I’ve only known three women that had that effect on me. It’s by mere coincidence that they were all African American. Or maybe not, I dunno.

Her workshop also had the best name ever: “Steep Social Media Without Getting Bitter”. Wish I’d thought of it. She even had the lecture (if that’s the right word) organized according to blending and steeping. Seriously awesome.

To say she was the most engaging speaker I encountered at Expo would be an understatement.

Verna Presentation

*****

Aaaand for the third and final time, I hit the Expo floor. I’d seen all that I’d intended to see. This time ‘round, I was making my obligatory farewells to the more memorable booths. That and returning to some other vendors to make purchases. But before that…

I ran into Lady Joy’s Teaspoon and Lady Earl Steeper, who informed me that they’d just tried some Ugandan tea. While I’d stopped by the Care to Uganda/Igara Tea booth on my first Expo day, I had no idea they were serving tea as well. In seconds, I bee-lined to their booth and requested their BP-1. It looked like a typical CTC-grade tea, which had me hesitant, but then I took a sip…

Best. CTC tea. Ever.

Ugandan Tea

*****

Dark Tea LogAt 1:30PM that day, I arrived at the TeaSource booth for what was to be a momentous demonstration. The day prior, I marveled at a tea log they had on display. It was perhaps the largest – and most imposing – heicha (dark tea) log I’d ever seen. The thing was about two feet long, six inches across, and with quite a bit of girth. I felt wholly inadequate in its presence.

The big demonstration was to be the cutting of the tea log. I had no idea what this entailed; all I knew was that there was going to be a raffling off of pieces of said tea. When I got to the booth, I expected maybe ten or fifteen people. There were more like thirty. All crowded around to watch the display.

On the far side of the booth, I caught a glimpse of someone I recognized. AmazonV was watching the event from the periphery. Instead of compressing myself against total strangers, I thought it more prudent to be near someone I at least half-knew.

After some discussion, the show began. Bill Waddington – TeaSource’s founder – donned a pair of safety goggles (???)…and whipped out a saw. A f**king bandsaw!

BAMF!

BAMF!

They placed the tea log on its side, and carved into it like a downed tree. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so manly in the tea world in my entire life. My Beasts of Brewdom compatriot – The Devotea – put it best when he said:

Petrol fumes mixed with aged tea aroma in the testosterone-drenched air, as without gloves or goggles, our hero sliced like there was no tomorrow.”

Alas, I didn’t get a piece of said tea log. People could only participate in the raffle if they had a business card to submit. I had no such thing. Mental note: Next WTE, make business cards. Badass ones.

*****

With that display of tea-machismo outta the way, it was time to make my last-minute Expo purchases. I had three in mind:

Hankook Tea’s Gamnong Matcha:

Oppa Gamnong Style!

Oppa Gamnong Style!

I tried it my first day at Expo and instantly fell in love with it. Never did I think I would try a Korean matcha and like it – let alone, love it. Or maybe I purchased it simply for the future tweet: “I’m having matcha – Gamnong Style.” Yeah, that was probably it.

Immaculate Leaf’s Aged Oolong:

Also tried this the first day. This aged oolong was a 20-or-so-old from the Chin Xin varietal (?). I can’t quite recall. Point being, it was roasty…but not too roasty. Zesty and downright Zen-inducing. For the price, it was a must-buy.

Wild Tea Qi Ancient Moonlight White Bud Bar Tea:

Probably the second most unique white tea I encountered at Expo. It was first brought to my attention several months back by Jo “A Gift of Tea” Johnson. I was a pricy little devil, and I’m almost positive it was merely compressed Yue Guang Bai. However, it had the best story of all the compressed teas I came across thus far (besides a Taiwanese white I loved).

*****

The last of my World Tea Expo floor farewells was probably my most poignant. Lord and Lady Devotea were wandering when I encountered them. I meant to impart a “pleasure-meeting-you-both” followed a handshake or five, but ended up leaving with a parting gift for my mother.

Tea blended by the Lady Devotea herself, aply titled, “Lady Devotea”.

Lady Devotea holding "Lady Devotea"

Lady Devotea holding “Lady Devotea”

Thankfully, they gave me permission to try it once I got home. Even though it was a gift intended for my mother. Hey, a son has to judge the quality of it first. That’s the excuse I’m sticking with.

(P.S. It was superb.)

The Convention Center doors closed soon after, and I was left with a feeling of…loss? Was that it? Such a weird emotion welled up within me. Never before had I been so in my element! Admitting that it was over was like admitting that, well, endings were a “thing”.

"All good things..."

“All good things…”

I only wish I had tracked down one particular tea – just one. The only one I couldn’t find was some Keemun Hao Ya A. Even the Chinese distributors didn’t have it – save one, and they weren’t letting go of any of it…short of a large wholesale order.

Later that night – after copious amounts of all-you-can-eat sushi – Lady Joy’s Teaspoon, Lady Earl Steeper, Teaity Chris and myself decided to keep the tea party going. We steeped pu-erhs, blacks, and various other things as we played yet another raucous game of Cards Against Humanity – as was becoming par for course.

Somewhere amidst our laying down of inappropriate cards and fitful guffaws, the suggestion was made to steep another black tea. Lady Earl Steeper whipped out a Keemun. And…

It just happened to be a sample of Keemun Hao Ya A. And it was glorious. I could not think of a better way to cap what was – sparing no hyberpole – the greatest week of my life.

Photo by Audrea Fink

Photo by Audrea Fink

“What Happens at Expo…” – A Vegas Tea Party, Day 2

For Day 1, go HERE.

I’ll be honest, I was scared s**tless.

Expo Floor

World Tea Expo

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.

Press Pass

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.

Me, Chuck 'n Heather - The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants

Me, Chuck ‘n Heather – The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants

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…

AdventureTea

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.

Himalayan OolongThey 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.

AdventureTea

Something about thermal underwear maybe? I dunno. Women are beyond me.

Ahem.

And speaking of Himalayan oolong.

Nepali Tea Traders

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.

IMAG0855

Future write-ups are…uh…in the future.

Norbu Tea

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.

Greg Norbu

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.

IMAG0842

The Taiwanese family were also incredibly gracious.

Great seeing you, Greg. Next time, don’t stay so hidden. Wear a tu-tu or something.

The Charleston Tea Plantation

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…

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Sigh.

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.

Me and Thomas Shu

Me and Thomas Shu

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.

BAMF!

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:

Cage match

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.

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Tall Montanan Is Tall

*****

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.

Image mooched from TeawithGary.com

Image mooched from TeawithGary.com

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.

Tea Geek and The Devotea. Tickets available.

Tea Geek and The Devotea. Tickets available.

(2)    It was also established that Chris Giddings and I were the “Beavis & Butthead” of World Tea Expo.

Beavis & Butthead Do Tea

“Beavis & Butthead Do Tea” – Pic mooched from An Int’l Tea Moment

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!!!

Me and Rajiv Lochan

Me and Rajiv Lochan

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.

Candid

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…

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