Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

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.


*****
June 21st

Tea mail came today

I’d been expecting it.

Tea friend, Jo “A Gift of Tea” Johnson had bestowed . . . well . . . a gift of tea. Along with some other things—items that needed replacing, a chasen and a World Tea Expo cup. They weren’t necessities, by any means, but they represented the trip that was. Fond memories; recent ones. And Jo, in her usual heartfelt way, wanted that preserved.

I held back a tear.

Must have been the dust in the air.

June 15th to June 20th

My mother suggested I stay with her for the week to recover. I was in no right state of mind to refuse. I had taken time off work to heal, and being away from my neighborhood felt like the best course of action. All we did was watch Murder, She Wrote, drank copious amounts of tea, and talked. It was exactly what I needed.

On my last day staying with her, she did suggest we make a jaunt out to Cannon Beach for seafood.

I hadn’t been in a few years. Not sure why. Hearing waves again was profoundly soothing. There’s something about the flow of water that has that effect.

June 15th — 1:30AM

On my way home from the airport, as I got off at the MAX (read: light rail) stop near where I lived, three young men followed me all the way to the corner of my street. They asked me questions about the bus route, flanked me, tripped me, and then proceeded to hit me repeatedly in the face. They grabbed hold of the bag that had all of my tea samples from the Expo. Luckily, the top wasn’t zipped all the way. In the struggle, all of the samples fell on the sidewalk.

They just stared, stunned, as I got up.

“What the hell?! It’s just tea!” I yelled, blood streaming from my nose.

They ran off with the bag.

After gathering all the little pouches off the asphalt and concrete, I called the police. They arrived within two minutes. While they asked me questions, and called for an EMT, I did a quick inventory.

To my shock, very little of value was taken; save for a chasen, a few samples of Ceylon tea, a vial of aspirin, gummy multivitamins, a cheap set of earbuds, and my complimentary World Tea Expo cup. Okay . . . that last one stung a little.

They didn’t even get a certain Mississippi grown yellow tea I procured from Jo Johnson.

June 14th

I’d whisper-begged for a sample of experimental yellow tea (made by the Great Mississippi Tea Company) from Jo. She acquiesced to the request, but with the added caveat that we hang out that day. Both of us had late flights out of Vegas, and so we made a day of it.

We grabbed street tacos, coffee, and wandered the nearby casinos like tourists.

All the while talking about where we thought the tea industry was headed, and other semi-related topics. She was, without exaggeration, one of the people that ushered me into the greater IRL tea community, and still remains that person to this day. She always reminded me of who I was, and what I could accomplish in said community without being too overly enthralled by it.

She kept me grounded, even when I flittered off into tea flights of fancy.

June 13th

It was the last day of the Expo. I got up early, readied myself early, and got to the Expo grounds . . . eventually. Even as “late” as I was, I still arrived in time to catch some of the panel discussions. Er, okay, I only caught one, and that was the Specialty Tea Alliance discussion.

The subject they tackled? Marketplace perspectives in the tea industry. The going theme of the entire Expo had been: “Where was the industry (in the West) headed?” And no one seemed to have a cohesive answer, but there were a few commonalities that wholesalers and vendors could glom onto; new trends, persisting trends, etc. The key was to see what tea consumer was asking for and advocate for that. In the West, particularly in the U.S., there weren’t many of us, so gaining such insight shouldn’t be that difficult.

Later on, I hit the Expo floor again. First stop was to the voting booth, where Chaminda of Lumbini Tea entered their bud-heavy black tea for championship consideration. Obviously, I voted for it.

One of the most exciting things I encountered was an herbal, of all things. Guayusa that had been subjected to a process similar to a green tea “kill-green” frying. It resulted in a brew that was simply sweet and stunning in comparison to normal ol’ drab dried guayusa. My giddiness at it shocked even the booth volunteers.

I also visited the Harendong section of the Indonesian tea booth to say “hiya” to one of the contacts there I considered a friend. She reminded me that, in my backlog of samples, was an Indonesian tea aged in a citrus fruit. There was a greater lesson there about observation and observance, but I planned on double-checking when I got home.

Another highlight were the boys of Zuo Wang Tea – local to me.

They were in the “New Exhibitor” wing of the Expo floor, but showed no pause in foot traffic. Maybe it was because of the teas they brought. The Yunnan white tea they shared with us just blasted us to the stratosphere. I needed to feature them more in-depth at some point.

I made one final pass-through of the different exhibitors, making sure to say farewells to the ones I knew. One of those was Thomas Shu and his wife Josephine (of JT & Tea). Thomas and I exchanged pleasantries for a moment, and then . . .

He said, “You should write more.”

Well . . . he wasn’t wrong.

Before the Expo doors closed, I tracked down my transportation—Rie of Tea Curious—to the next event; after-party tasting at Tea & Whisk, a Henderson-based tea shop. On the way there, I told Rie about the rare tea tasting I went to the night prior. In that explanation, I mentioned something about tea energy.

She interjected, “Wait . . . tea energy. You’re talking about tea energy?”

I nodded slowly.

You never talk about tea energy,” she continued, “You’re the example I bring up to people when someone says they don’t feel the energy of tea.”

. . . Huh,” was all I managed.

I can’t use you as an example, anymore,” she said, “thanks.” She genuinely seemed disappointed and surprised.

When we arrived at Tea & Whisk, things were just kicking into high gear. We went through quite a few teas—all wonderful—but then Rie broke out this beauty from her private stash. She’d been teasing me with it for years.

Five-year-“aged” Taiwanese Jin Xuan white tea from one of her farmer contacts. It was sweet, but with an emotional depth to it that made my tea energy reverse course, and out the pate chakra. Cloud Nine? Amateur hour. This was Cloud Ten!

Roughly around 8PM, still tea-buzzing, I mooched an Uber ride with a lovely new tea friend. I think she was glad for the company because said Uber driver was clearly on . . . something. The dude didn’t stop twitching the entire ride. After making sure she made it back safely (and that the tweaker-driver took off), I walked the short distance back to the Westgate casino.

My tea partying wasn’t done, yet.

Now . . . Kevin Gascoyne has a strict rule about talking about his after-hours tea parties, except in the event when we want to praise them. And so that’s what this is: praise. That and I also got to try a tea that was picked and process on my birth year.

Scratch that off the bucket list.

June 12th

The baozhong I had earlier in the morning just wasn’t cutting it. When I got to the convention center, the first place I hit was the complimentary tea kiosk. Luckily, they had a Darjeeling for me to shoot. Turzum, if ya nasty.

Sara (“Tea Happiness”) saw me, and asked, “How are you?”

My curt response was, “ . . . Darjeeling.” I pointed at the cup.

She understood.

The first notable occurrence of this day was the annual Tea Bloggers Roundtable.

Left to right: Jo Johnson, Rachel “I Heart Teas” Carter, Char of Oolong Owl, Daniela of Tea Cachai, Connie of Tea in Spoons, Sara of Tea-Happiness, and me. Photo by The Happy Tea Man.

It was our seventh such panel discussion. But this year was different . . . well . . . at least for me.

I was moderating.

The subject I chose to cover was “Inspiration, Aspiration, and Perspiration”. Defined as: how we bloggers keep doing what we do—whether new blood or old hats—without experiencing burnout. It was a subject I had personally tackled with, and still do to some extent.

The panelists handled the questions I posed with varied and versatile answers. No one person had the same perspective, even those of us who were on the same page. If I had one critique, it was that the panel discussion was sparsely attended. Apparently, there was some mix-up as to the time of our discussion. Several people approached the bloggers the next day and asked when it was.

Oh well . . . those who were there got a lot out of it, and the audience we had were engaged. Couldn’t have asked for a better result than that. And I survived my first attempt at moderation. So, there’s that, too.

Just like the day prior, I hit the Expo floor. Hard. What I didn’t expect was the amount of time I spent at the Tealet booth.

Every tea I had with Elyse Petersen had a story to tell, even one I knew some of the background of. A factory manager friend—Rajen Baruah of Heritage Tea Factory—had sent a batch of white tea grown in Arunachel Pradesh. . . produced from Darjeeling-descended chinary clonals. It tasted all sorts of Himalayan, but with the more “fluttery” terroir notes found in Arunachal teas.

Of course, there were others. Lots of others. But that’s the most vivid one that comes to mind.

Somewhere in the midst of my wanderings with another blogger friend, I was grabbed by a random Thomas Shu. He plopped us down in front of his wife, where we drank an absolutely exquisite spring Li Shan.

Later on in the afternoon, I was similarly grabbed by tea bro, Greg, and whisked away to the Ktea booth for some exceptional Da Hong Pao. (It was quite the oolong-rich day, now that I think about it.)

After doing the usual tea trolley through the Expo floor, and B.S.-ing with tea friends new and old, I retired to my hotel room. Somewhere in the middle of a mad-dash rush to unload all my stuff, I managed to scrounge up dinner, and then heaved a quick sigh. The evening wasn’t over yet.

There was still one more tea tasting event ahead of me, back at the convention center.

A Rare Tea Tasting. With Kevin Gascoyne.

I already wrote about it HERE. I’ll spare you the extra 1,000 words. It needed its own blog. 

And then the day came to a close, blissfully.

June 11th

I had returned.

And I didn’t know what to expect. The venue seemed smaller from years prior. A lot of the usual suspects didn’t have booths this year. Attendance seemed down, but there was something magical to the proceedings anyway. The layout gave more breathing room to pedestrian traffic, and the flow seemed more free.

It felt a little like home.

After attending a couple of classes, both of which covered subjects I already had familiarty with, I drank a lot of tea. A lot of tea.

Colombia-based Bitaco Tea had their standout white tea again; this time, front and center as a ready-for-primetime product.

This year’s tasted sweeter than ever.

Oddly enough, though, one of the biggest standouts this day was an herbal “tea” . . . made from avacado leaf.

It tasted far better than I thought it would, sage-y and sweet, with only a hint of avacado flavor. (Confession: I don’t like the taste of avacado.)

Evening plans included joining my usual tea community suspects for dinner.

New faces and old ones.

It was like being reunited with family.

June 10th – The Evening

Upon arriving at my hotel, I checked my phone and noticed some traffic in the Rountable group chat. Three blogger pals were getting together to wander the casinos for a spell. I enthusiastically asked if I could tag along. They acquiesced to my Labrador-esque enthusiasm.

On the way to meet them, I encountered some random tea friends on the way. One even gave me a big ol’ hug. After that, I continued on to the meeting point.

We wandered . . . everywhere. Somehow, we even ended up on Fremont Street.

Not as many near-naked people as the last time I went.

Toward the end of our trek, we ended up in a brewery. I was the only one not partaking of any libations, but I did recommend a couple to the group—based upon prior experience. In our discussion at one of the bar tables, I confessed that I had no idea what to expect at the Expo.

I wasn’t sure if I could drink caffeine anymore, and I didn’t know what that meant for the direction of my blog.

Well, that is your direction,” Rachel of I Heart Teas explained. “Coming up with alternatives is kind of your thing.”

. . . Huh.” I managed. Paraphrased slightly.

In the end, we all made a pact to simply “go with the flow” this year.

June 10th – The Morning

I arrived at the airport. Not knowing what I was doing. In my blogospheric, existential dread, I took the obligatory photo of my feet on Portland International Airport’s [second] trademark carpet.

It felt like the right—if cliché—thing to do at the time. For the next five days, it was probably the only thing I was going to have a clear understanding of.

This was going to be the first World Tea Expo where I had no idea what I was doing. Either with myself or the Expo proper. Everything was up in the air.

I shook off the reverie. I had nothing to worry about. If anything, I was getting together with old friends again. As for the tea?

Well . . .

It was just tea.

But it was also more than that.

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6 Comments

  1. Thanks for the review. It made me feel for a few moments that I was there. Oh how I wish each year to be there.

  2. “It’s just tea.”
    But we all know, it’s more than just tea.
    So sorry to read about your trauma – but it leaves me feeling thankful for family, thankful for friends, thankful for tea.
    Thank you for sharing it all. Enjoyed your review of expo and all of the accompanying photos.

  3. Margo Hutchinson

    Hope the trauma lessens in time
    Try the Rapid Eye thing at some point. Love the article, concentrate on the good, positive things and Proverbs.

  4. ESM

    I love your blog and even though I cannot relate to your love of tea, I can relate to good friends and new memories.
    Sorry to know about that walking home adventure, but you handled it perfectly.

  5. Almost like the “Best of times, the worst of times” and Back to the Future.
    The visit to the coast was well deserved and always a good move!!

  6. Thanks for the backwards report, I enjoyed reading it.

    And don’t forget home, sweet tea home! I am sure you will enjoy being Darjeeling, Ceylon… really soon.

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