Tea and Travel World Tea Expo

Anticipation! World Tea Expo 2011, June 24th – 26th

When I attended World Tea Expo in 2010, it opened a world of possibilities. I was completing my studies at Toronto’s George Brown College Tea Sommelier program and a relative newbie to the commercial universe of tea. It was exciting and exhilarating to be near the greatest “tea minds” in the world! I had a chance to hear and ask questions of author and educator Jane Pettigrew, tea guru James Norwood Pratt and tea industry professionals. It was a heady experience taking place in the most unlikely of cities – Las Vegas!

I am thrilled to be returning, this time to report to my readers on innovation in design, to interview industry leaders and most importantly to discover and recommend new and award-winning teas.

World renowned author and tea educator Jane Pettigrew will be present at the 2011 World Tea Expo

The Beating Heart of the World Tea Community

World Tea Expo was founded in 2002 by George Jage, a trade show entrepreneur. It was originally titled “Take Me 2 Tea” and at the time, catered mostly to small tea shops and tea rooms scattered throughout North America. 1200 attendees conducted business with 65 exhibitors. In 2005 the name was changed to World Tea Expo, more accurately reflecting the role the trade show was playing in the development of the tea industry. The Expo has been such a success that the floor space, exhibitors, and attendance of tea professionals has quadrupled since those early days, responding to tea’s growing popularity. The $8 billion tea industry is expected to grow to nearly $15 billion in the USA in 2012, much of that driven by increased awareness and demand for premium loose leaf teas. The emphasis at WTE is on tea produced from the Camellia Sinensis plant, but the Expo does include exhibitors showcasing herbal tisanes, Yerba Maté, Rooibos, etc.

The Exhibition Floor of 2010 The World Tea Expo. Photo courtesy of World Tea Media

It may seem an unlikely venue, but  the Las Vegas Convention Center serves very well as the gathering place for the world of tea. The floor buzzes with exchanges between retailers and producers, wholesalers, teaware, brands and tea-related products.  Representatives from tea growing regions such as Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Japan, China, Kenya, Korea, Hawaii among others are keen to offer tastings and samples of their finest harvests.

So Much to Learn…

A large component of the Expo is educational. Tea professionals have an opportunity to increase their knowledge of tea and update their marketing skills through the  60 conference sessions that take place before and during the Expo. New Business Boot Camp is held 2 days before the main Expo, providing tea business hopefuls with start up information specific to the tea industry. During the Expo, the Core Conference takes place in classrooms above the exhibition floor. It is comprised of seminars (lectures), focused tea tastings and hands-on skill building workshops. I took Beth Johnston’s “How to Conduct a Successful Tea Tasting Event”. It provided me with some very practical information and when I returned home I discovered that WTE had emailed me a power point file of course notes. Smart idea! This year I’m really curious about: Top Tea Retail Trends with Dan Bolton and Zen and the Art of Creating Customer Fanatics with Jesse Jacobs. The Executive Technical Series is a two-day program designed for those in the industry who use tea in a wide range of applications. Seminars cover such topics as the effects of sensory perception, catechin variability and the latest science on tea & health. Topics I’m watching this year: Trends in Tea with Lynn Dornblaser and The Science of Tea and Health with Dr. Lenore Arab.

If you are attending for the first time I would recommend reserving time for the exhibition floor because that is where some of the most engaging interactions take place. Vendors, importers and representatives from most of the 36 tea-growing regions of the world were happy to share with me their knowledge of terroir, plant hybrid characteristics and customs of their province or district.

The Core Conference and Executive Technical Series at WTE give tea businesses a chance to upgrade their knowledge. Photo courtesy of World Tea Media
Sencha do demonstration by Mr. Yasukura-san at the Rishi Tea booth
Demonstration of Pouchong wrapping presented by Taiwan Tea Growers

“It’s exciting to watch tea thrive and evolve”

This year’s attendees will include hoteliers, spa owners and other business professionals as premium tea finds it’s way into the food, recreation and healthy living industries. Kim Jage, executive vice president of World Tea Expo has thought through these trends and has this to say about the new focus for the 2011 Expo.“It’s exciting to watch tea thrive and evolve beyond traditional tea models,”  The fastest growing demographic of attendees at World Tea Expo is between the ages of 18 to 28, and they are men, according to data from the company’s 2008, 2009 and 2010 events. “We’re not only seeing a younger generation of tea professionals at our events, we’re also seeing tea companies and retailers marketing to men and millennials with specific products” says Jage. I have noticed this as well. Whenever I attend a tea tasting event there are as many men as women in attendance. Staffers at tea shops are just as likely to be young men as women.

Tea companies and retailers are marketing to men and millennials with specific products. Photo courtesy of World Tea Media

Trends to watch – “As tea is becoming ever more popular with a younger demographic, hip tea ware is a natural extension,” says Jage. “We’re seeing tea accoutrements and gifts that are modern, BPA free, user-friendly and highly appealing to today’s tea drinkers.” Another trend in the world of tea retailing according to Jage – “The largest growth is in tea retail outlets that do not include food. The newer tea retailers that do offer foodservice serve modern food in modern décor, or they are Asian inspired, unlike traditional tea rooms which are more Victorian in nature.” In other words – these are not your grandmother’s tea rooms, but there is a place for both. I’m really interested to hear what Chuck Underwood has to say about this evolution in the tea marketplace.

Tea guru and author, James Norwood Pratt watches the WTE Tea Infusion Challenge, 2010

Highlights and Events:

  • Cooking with Tea Workshop with award-winning chefs, June 26th at Aureole Restaurant in Las Vegas “Tea is making giant strides in the culinary and foodservice world in 2011,” explains Kim Jage
  • Keynote address by Chuck Underwood, author of The Generational Imperative – Understanding Generational Differences in the Workplace, Marketplace and Living Room. He will be leading 2 courses during the Educational Conference: Marketing to Baby Boomers and Marketing to Generation X
  • Tea Infusion Challenge – this was such fun to watch last year. Everyone has their own style and technique.
  • North American Tea Championship Winners Tasting Circle.  Tao Tea Leaf from Toronto, Canada won 1st prize in the NATC for his shop’s Keemun Kong Fu.  I’m sipping it now as I write. It is deep and rich – tasting of dried dark cherries with a roasted finish. I love it.
Tao Wu at his Toronto shop, Tao Tea Leaf. He was winner of 3 awards in the North American Tea Championship. His shop's Keemun Kong Fu won first prize and will be featured in the NATC Winners Tasting Circle.

New Products

Here are just a few of the new products that I’m interested in tasting/seeing up close at the Expo:

  • Arette Foods Organic Tea Seed Oils, made from blending the seed oils of the Camellia Oleifera plant and its cousin, Camellia Sinensis. It claims health benefits and a very high smoke point for cooking.
  • Tea Hawaii and Co.’s Forest White and Mauko Oolong – I’ll try any and all Oolongs
  • Bruce Richardson’s edition of  The Book of Tea by Okakura Kakuzo
  • Tea Control 0.4, finum by Riensch & Held – halt the infusing by a twist of the lid
  • Indie Tea’s Wise Man’s Caravan Chai Tea Based Body Care
  • Northwest Glass Design’s Side Pour Glass Tea Maker
  • Libre Tea’s new Glass ‘n Poly Mug
Bruce Richardson's edition of Okakura Kakuzo's Book of Tea contains additional information about the early twentieth century author and is enriched with historical photographs from the era.
Riensch & Held Finum Tea Control 0.4. The infusing is halted by a twist of the lid
Indie Tea's Wise Man's Bath & Body products infused with Caravan Chai Tea.
Northwest Glass Design's Side Pour glass tea maker looks like a cross between a gaiwan and a kyusu. It makes one cup and has a removable stainless steel basket
Libre Tea's new travel mug has a built in infuser, glass interior and poly outer wall with mug style handle.

I’m sure you can sense the anticipation I feel as I prepare to attend the 2011 World Tea Expo. It’s a marathon event with over 6000 expected attendees and 220 exhibitors. I’ll be bringing my readers news and stories from the Exhibit floor, classrooms and “Industry Roundtables”.  Please tune in! – just be sure to indulge in a premium loose leaf tea to put you in the mood. Are you planning to attend this year?  Is there anyone out there who has attended every year since the Expo began? Kudos to you – I’d like to include you one of my World Tea Expo posts. I’m sure you have a story or two to tell…