Tea and Travel World Tea Expo

World Tea Expo 2011: Day 3

Reflecting on Sunday June 26

My badge is hanging by my desk, a reminder of an extraordinary weekend. I’m back home and looking over the many fine teas I will be sampling, business cards I collected and photos of people and product. World Tea Expo may be over for another year, but the friendships and contacts will keep building.  Sunday was all too short and I spent a good deal of it exploring the exhibit’s booths. Even though the vendors were fatigued they still had time to talk and share.  I’m feeling pretty high from it all, so let me try to remember the whirlwind of last chance visits before I got on the plane and flew home.

I’m so glad that I was able to spend the day connecting with growers and suppliers that I hadn’t had a chance to meet on Friday or Saturday. I don’t run from booth to booth – I take some time to hear the story and that slows me down a bit, but it’s worth every minute.

  • When I visited Octavia Tea, owned by Elizabeth Stephano, her brother Tommy was staffing the booth and Elizabeth was elsewhere at the Expo meeting with a grower. Tommy showed me Elizabeth’s tea tin designs and I decided to come back and speak with the artist herself. I’d like to feature Elizabeth’s designs in a future post, but for now here is a teaser. Oh and if her tea is as carefully selected as her packaging we’ll be in for a treat.
One of Octavia Tea's exquisite labels designed by the owner, Elizabeth Stephano
  • A lovely staff person at Sanhe Tea prepared a Tie Guan Yin for me in a formal style. She presented a nosing cup as well as a tasting cup. I was glad I knew what to do with them – I’m sure some people didn’t. I think it was a test…
Senhe Booth - Fujian Tie Guan Yin tasting
Bright and shiny ethnic Miao Traditional Costume worn by Hunan delegation
  • AOI Japanese teas had an enormous matcha grinder. Note to self: Contact Cynthia Gold to find out where I can order the domestic matcha grinder she showed us at her tea and dessert workshop. It will be a wonderful tool for grinding any tea for food infusions. I’ll let you know.
The Massive Matcha grinder at the AOI booth. Shade-grown Tencha is de-veined and finely ground in a grinder such as this
  • Chado En were doing green tea facials throughout the weekend. I spoke to Derek Lehrman of Lotus Moon, Alameda California. He mentioned the detoxifying features of green tea: Anti Oxidants, Vitamins A & C and the benefits when they are placed on the skin. I may try this at home. He was using a green tea from Chado En and The Tea Docents that had been picked specifically for possessing quantities of these properties. He said the results were noticeable in the smoothing and softening qualities of the skin. More to come on this.
Derek Lehrman at Chado En booth talking to guests about the benefits of green tea facials

Tea Infusion Challenge

The Tea Infusion Challenge was moderated by Suzette Hammond, last year’s winner. She was vivacious, entertaining and informative. The 4  judges provided teas from their companies: Thomas Shu of ABC Tea – Taiwanese Golden Oolong; Fumi Sugita of Aiya America – Matcha; Mo Sardella of  G.S. Haly Company – 1st flush Darjeeling; Manik Jayakumar of Qtrade Teas & Herbs – Pu-erh.

The entertaining and knowledgeable Suzette Hammond was last year's champ and this year's moderator

The brave contestants were Steven Downer of Sipping Streams in Fairbanks Alaska, Kasia Vermaire a Tea Sommelier and consultant from The Netherlands, Jonathan Munsayac is the Owner and Director of Operations at Tranquil Tea Lounge located in Fullerton. California and Amy Lawrence from An Afternoon to Remember. Their kettles were bubbling and their beautiful teawares were gleaming. Precious teapots and cupping equipment had been carefully packed in their suitcases for the long trip. Each had their own style.

Steven, Kasia, Jonathan and Amy in full concentration mode as they prepare matcha, 1st flush darjeeling, golden oolong and pu-erh. Photo courtesy of World Tea News

I was nervous for them. I imagined myself on the stage trying to be precise with so many looking on, being judged by giants in the industry and having only 15 minutes to prepare 4 teas. I worried about spilling hot water on myself and ambulances rushing to the scene. Drama aside, the genial and happy Jonathan Munsayac had a surprise when he arrived at the Expo with no tea ware expecting that the Challenge would be supplying him. He spent a few days on the exhibit floor asking friends/exhibitors who happily lent him the equipment he needed. I was so impressed with his attitude.

The Infusing Challengers seemed a little nervous at first – there were some shaky hands, but they soon got into the rhythm and in 15 minutes had prepared 4 teas for the judges to taste. The Winner of the 2nd Annual Tea Infusion Challenge was Steven Downer. Specialty Tea has posted a few really good videos of the Challenge on YouTube. Everyone’s presentation was individually beautiful – each of them deserved to win, but in the end it comes down to taste. Steven’s infusions were on the mark. Congrats Steven!!

Steven Downer's Matcha bowl, yixing pots and beautiful steep ware at his prep station
  • I had tasted Rishi Tea’s Earl Grey at the Winners Circle (see Friday’s post) and decided to check out other teas at their booth.  They had a wonderful selection of teas and herbs with some blends. Their blends were not cloying – no pina colada flavours here, but they did have some interesting blends of lemon grass and another with freeze dried blueberries. They weren’t overdone – they had integrity. I was impressed. You really must check out their website. They have hired a creative director who looks after their presentations online and at events such as WTE. Have a look at the lacy images of tea on the website.
Joshua Kaiser of Rishi teas offering a taste of his tea to a booth visitor
  • I spotted Pedro Villalon from Dao Tea (update 2013, Pedro now owns O5 Tea Bar, linked below) and we revisited Vision 1040, a South Korean tea distributor. Pedro knows South Korea well having travelled the tea regions on four trips, establishing close connections with the artisan growers and producers. I enjoyed spending a bit of time with Pedro. He has more knowledge of tea than most people I know and he is not stingy about sharing. The producer from East of the River Vision 1040 booth showed me a ball of tea called Balhyocha from Hwagae village,  Hadong County in S. Gyeongsang province located at the southern end of the Korean Peninsula. This is an oxidized as well as fermented yellow tea. The yellow descriptor only refers to the colour of the liquor and is not the same as the rare yellow teas of China. The ball shape is peculiar and I asked Pedro about this. He said “Legend tells that the “ball shape”, originally from China, was a result of tea pickers (ladies), keeping a few leaves of the daily harvest in a pocket of their clothes, compressing it into a ball shape. They kept these leaves to save money and pay dowry when they married. As tea culture moved from China to South Korea, Korean pickers adopted the custom.”  I’ve seen many compressed tea cakes and some are square and dense or round discs and pellets of Pu-erh. Pedro mentioned, “Under certain conditions, it (the ball)  is a very convenient form for aging tea.”
Unique ball shaped Balhyocha from Hwagae Village, Hadong, Gyeongsang S. Korea

The round cake is still quite uncommon, but has started to have an appeal and makes a beautiful gift.  I have this in my possession and will be happy to show you how to prepare it in the next few weeks and provide you with a review. In the meantime visit O5 Tea for more info on fine S. Korean teas.

  • Wild Tea Qi was an interesting last stop. They specialize in Artisan Wild Teas and have really great supporting information about their teas on their site.  I tasted a Pu-erh and a wild “longevity herb” which wasn’t Camellia Sinensis, but tasted like Green mixed with Ginseng. I applaud the Levinson family for their success in bringing something new and pure to the marketplace. I have their Wild Zheng Shan Black Tea from Wuyi, Fujian that I’m looking forward to trying.

This Weekend We created a village…

I wish I lived in a village where we spent our days discussing tea, drinking tea, cooking with tea, buying and selling tea.  World Tea Expo is as close as we’ll get to that experience and I applaud George and Kim Jage and their team for giving everyone an amazing opportunity to build their tea businesses.  A few days ago I heard via twitter about some impromptu tea sessions that took place in the evenings in a suite at the Hilton that Chan Tea had rented. Read their post. Brilliant! Until next year or WTE East, we will have to continue to expand the community ourselves one tea friend at a time.