Thursday, June 28, 2018

Feeling The Tea Love At World Tea Expo 2018

It's tough to break down the entire experience of World Tea Expo (WTE) into a concise post or two. I've been trying to write this post for over a week, and keep adding and deleting things. People from all walks of life gather at WTE, and I wanted to take in all they had to tell. My goal this year was to make meaningful connections with people who bring tea to the world. This post will highlight a few of the fantastic people I encountered, and many of the teas we shared together.

The first evening I arrived I had a memorable dinner with a few of my favorite tea people- Jo, Angela, and Rachel. I also met my Instagram tea-friend Alex in person, who immediately became my Tea Expo Buddy- we ended up navigating the entire three days together. Alex has a gleeful exuberance for tea, and it's quite infectious.

Many Happy Sips

The expo floor can be intimidating, as there is so much to see. This year it felt a little more intimate, but there were still many aisles to navigate and lots of people to meet. I'm actually painfully introverted, but tend to hide it well. WTE challenges every fiber of my being to be social. It's exhausting, but well worth it. Here are a few of the vendors I enjoyed chatting with, in no particular order.

Glenburn teas

At the Glenburn booth we met with Broderick, who poured us endless cups of tea. One of my favorites was the Khongea Autumn Special, which surprised me. This is the first time I've had such a memorable autumn flush tea. It is definitely on my list to purchase. We may have made a few stops at the Glenburn booth during our time at the Expo, and Broderick was always happy to fill our cups and chat. We had a few cold brews that were also quite memorable.

Mohammed with Lumbini Tea

As we were walking down an aisle, I got pulled aside by Mohammed at the Lumbini booth. I remembered his big smile from my last expo. He was excited to talk about Ceylon teas, and he showed us some of Lumbini's hand-crafted teas. I especially enjoyed sampling the Manjary that looks like little roses, and a super-duper tippy tea that was sweet and strong. I gratefully accepted samples of their teas from the Lumbini tea valley that I can't wait to dig into soon. There are some amazing Sri Lankan teas on the market and they don't get as much notice as they should.

My Two Favorites From Nepali Tea Traders

Another highlight of WTE was the bright and friendly faces of Sunita and Rabin of Nepali Tea Traders. I honestly enjoyed all of their offerings, particularly the nutty and sweet Sagarmatha gold, and the vegetal yet juicy Jade Spring white. They have such a strong love for Nepalese tea and I enjoyed chatting with them. We were all staying in the same hotel, and it was so nice to say hello to them every morning at breakfast!

At one point I was standing still, trying to get my bearings and looked up to find Raj from Young Mountain Tea. It was fun to say hello, and do a quick catch-up. He was pouring out a tea they worked on with the Tea Studio (you can learn a little more about it here), and it was quite delicious. He's got a few interesting things in the works, and I look forward to learning more about what's on the horizon.

Sara of Sara's Tea Caddie preparing the kiraka

Another standout for me were sips of freshly whisked matcha and a savory kiraka, a white leaf sencha, from Sara's Tea Caddie. The matcha was fresh, sweet, and vegetal and the kiraka was an absolute flavor bomb. I was in umami heaven. Sara's booth was set up with a long table with numerous seats so quite a few friends were able to enjoy her teas at the same time. I enjoyed the teas while sitting right next to my friend Linda, an incredibly talented writer and all-around lovely person.

Millennia Tea

I finally had the chance to try Millennia Tea, which has been popping up on various blogs. Their tea is picked and then 'flash-frozen'. The product consists of unadulterated leaves without any withering or processing. I was skeptical about this tea; something about drinking completely raw leaves just didn't sit right with me. But I have to admit it was tasty. Founder Tracy was super passionate about her product, and I loved her attitude and hustle. The tea isn't readily available in the US right now, but they are slowly trying to break into the market. I'll definitely be keeping an eye out for it.

I had a few delicious tastes of tea from the Harendong estate in Indonesia. Once again, friendly folks full of fascinating information. I tasted a white tea that was particularly good with a honey-like sweetness, and it's going on my 'to buy' list. I'm not too familiar with the estate, so I'm excited to do a bit of research.

I had two other white teas that stick out in my memory, both from Thailand from the Araksa garden. The 'morning' (Arun) picked tea, and the 'evening' (sayun) picked tea. Each tea was unique, fresh, and quite fruity. I have samples of these, and I look forward to taking more time to observe their nuances. I hope to post a side by side comparison of these two teas.

So Many Things To Learn

There is always so much to learn at the Expo with endless seminars and workshops. I won't go into too much detail about them now, I hope to write another post or two about them if time allows. Here are a few highlights:

Learning all about Terroir with Kevin Gascoyne. There was quite a bit of interesting information to take in, and I was most interested in how human interaction, choice of cultivars, and garden practices changes the outcome of the tea. I have also been wondering how climate change will influence the flavor of tea, something I think we'll have to confront in the near future.

I attended an interesting session about growing tea in the US with Jason McDonald. I think I'd like to try and grow a few (and by few, I mean like 4) tea plants in my little Brooklyn backyard. I probably can't plant anything in the ground until next spring, but stay tuned! Tea will grow in Brooklyn, at least it will attempt to. I have quite a bit to learn to make it happen. At this session we had the opportunity to taste the two teas Jason grows and processes in Mississippi, and they are both so, so good. I actually purchased a bag of each when they were being sold online, and I feel fortunate to have some left.

It was fascinating to learn about Taiwanese tea directly from a tea farmer. Alfredo Lin from Nantou gave a great seminar about Taiwanese tea, and it was exciting to meet him in person. As with everyone else I met during this trip, he just wants to talk tea, enjoy tea, and spread his love for it. I haven't read that much about Taiwanese tea history, so this seminar was particularly helpful. It was a unique experience to get information directly from a tea farmer that comes from a long line of tea growers.

Image of Jeff Fuchs in the film The Tea Explorer

Of course, I have to mention the panel I was a part of, the Tea Bloggers Roundtable! See Geoff's post for some photos, as I didn't get any! I was too busy I guess. It was such a pleasure to be on the panel with fellow bloggers: Geoffrey, Anna, Rachel, Char, Ricardo, and Gary. The panel was moderated by our fearless leader, Jo. We discussed tea blogging, and screened the documentary The Tea Explorer. Afterwards we discussed how we'd craft a blog post about the film. I loved to see how everyone had a unique perspective to bring to the table. After the panel someone asked me 'aren't you bloggers all in competition with each other?' I explained that there is so much we can learn from each other, since we each have a unique perspective. We all bring different experiences and knowledge to the table, and that's what makes our community so great.

Virginia Utermohlen Lovelace

I cannot forget to mention the tea pairing and tasting workshop I attended led by Virginia Utermohlen Lovelace. Virginia was a professor for many, many years and you can see it in her presentation skills. She presents scientific information very clearly, in a way everyone can understand. She used a 'temperature' approach to how we taste and what it means for pairing teas, and it worked really well. I will save all of the details for a post dedicated to this workshop that was over three hours long! I enjoyed every minute of it, and I can't wait to use what I learned for our next Tea Pairing 101 series.

Timothy Gipson, me, Jason McDonald, Jo Johnson 

I enjoyed reconnecting with many of my dear tea friends, and meeting new ones. I could go on and on about all of the wonderful folks, but I'm guessing no one would ever finish reading my post! I left the expo filled with positive vibes and a notebook filled with inspirational ideas.


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