Live from the World Tea Expo, Monday
I’m in Las Vegas for my first visit to the Tea Expo. My goal here is to find out more about the business of tea as a way to round out my own knowledge. I don’t plan to own a tea business – just want to learn, write, and enjoy.
On the plane I met Elizabeth Knottingham, owner of The Teacup in Seattle. I’ve been to the shop many times but hadn’t met Elizabeth before – what a fun and interesting person she is. I’m not sure where she gets so much energy, but I’m jealous! She’s also a vast well of great information about finding, buying, and selling tea, so I’m hoping to spend more time talking with her.
Then, on the shuttle to the hotel I met two more people on their way to the Expo. One was a young woman who worked for a scent/flavoring company and the other a man who managed/owned some sort of supply company.
The Hilton Hotel
I’m up on the 27th floor, which makes for a long elevator ride when people are getting on and off every few floors. On the other hand, I have a pretty incredible view of the Strip and the mountains framing the city.
One of the first things I do in a hotel room is set up my "travel tea set," and this room has the perfect spot:
There are tea people everywhere in the hotel, and it’s fun to find out how far they’ve come for the Expo. There are attendees from China, Taiwan, Japan, India, Kenya, and more. Part of what I love about exploring tea is that it provides a chance to explore a culture and to meet new people from places I may never be able to visit myself.
One thing that’s missing is the bright desert sunshine. It’s been sort of sunny, but mostly overcast, and rain showers are expected for the next 2 days. Darn – I could have used a sun fix after the rainy Seattle winter. Maybe there will be a sunbreak tomorrow, so I can go outside and roast myself just a bit.
As always, it is exceptionally difficult to be vegetarian in Las Vegas. Even getting a salad without meat is tough. I do eat seafood occasionally, but even that isn’t very safe for me here (there’s often broth or gelatin in the sauces and side dishes). Today, I had carrot sticks for lunch and really bad buffet/salad bar food for dinner.
Cough cough cough – I hate having to walk through smoky casinos to get to the expo. At least the Hilton isn’t one of the major strip casinos, so there’s not quite as much of it as you find in some of them.
Exhibit Hall: my first thoughts
Because this is a trade show, no cameras are allowed in the exhibit area. Instead of photos I’ll try to provide links to company web sites. Any images below are things I purchased and photographed in my hotel room.
Attendees get a free gift – I chose the small glass teapot with filter (that's the t-shirt behind it):
Many vendors have samples of tea, tea drinks, and tea snacks. There’s also a small gift shop with t-shirts and signed copies of James Norwood Pratt’s new Tea Dictionary.
I’m hoping to catch a Chado food demonstration tomorrow. These are quite interesting, with celebrity chefs preparing foods made with tea. Recipes are given in the conference program, so I’ll have to try some when I get home.
Most of the vendors are really nice – excited about tea and their products, and eager to talk. Only one snubbed me when she saw I wasn’t a teashop owner (rolled her eyes, sniffed, and turned away). Eh, it wasn’t a real tea product anyway.
Speaking of “real tea” – I think that more than half of the tea companies were selling flavored teas or herbal blends. Even companies that are known for their high quality blacks and oolongs were featuring herbal blends in the booths. I’m not sure if they’re catering to the desires of Expo attendees or if it’s just easier to prepare these in a booth situation.
I tried several samples of different tea-flavored candies and goodies, but none of them actually tasted of tea to me. I’ll have to try a few more tomorrow and will let you know if anything stands out.
The Tiny Tea Pots jewelry booth was a MADHOUSE. They need more space! The jewelry sure is popular – bought myself a necklace, and watched while others loaded up trays with bracelets, watches, beads, and more.
There are many teapot and ceramic companies here. I enjoyed seeing the Bodum exhibit, since my first looseleaf teapot was the Bodum Assam (it’s still the same, but with a metal filter instead of plastic now).
One of my favorite stops was Blue Calico, Ltd., which is owned by two very nice people with a really interesting product. Make sure you click through to the "About" page on their web site to see the historic aspect to the British ceramics, Burleighware, they sell. It was fascinating to see photos and a video of the old 1800s process that is still used today (on the same equipment!). I also spent some time being computer-geeky with one of the owners who has developed an interesting software product for internet tea businesses.
Oolong Tea Square had amazingly beautiful tea sets on display, including one covered with ornate gold.
I was happy to meet the owner of SpecialTeas, Juergen Link, a super nice man. I’ve been ordering from SpecialTeas for. . . gosh. . . maybe 15 years? This is our favorite vendor for assams (we go through a lot of HazelbankFTGFOP1 in our house).
Stopped by the Adagio booth but it was pretty busy, so I didn’t introduce myself. I did try some of their new bottled tea -- the jasmine was very aromatic, and the black was good.
I’m also going to try to get in on the Nilgiri tea tasting area with James Norwood Pratt.
I signed up for a tea tasting tomorrow afternoon with the Tea Board of India. Nearby, an exhibit featured a Japanese tea master doing some interesting leaf roasting. He was taking a break (or perhaps waiting for something?), so I didn’t get to see much. It’s right next to the tea tasting room and I plan to check it out more tomorrow.
Discovered a couple of new online tea vendors, but most of the ones here are known to me (or they’re wholesalers who sell to tea rooms/vendors). I’m beginning to get a sense of how purchasing works, and what tea suppliers and store owners are up against when it comes to providing consistency in tea for their customers.
I have asked everyone possible about golden yunnan and was surprised at how many of them turned faces filled with dread to me. Figures that my favorite tea is one of the most finicky and hard-to-stock teas around. I sampled a few but didn’t find anything in the cocoa-pepper realm.
I’ll post again tomorrow afternoon or evening and let you know how the tea tasting goes, plus I’m actually going to a seminar by Elizabeth Knight in the morning. It should be fun!