Lasting Impressions from the 2016 World Tea Expo


When it comes to travel I am a very odd person. When I plan the trip I am super excited. Then as the trip gets closer I start to dread it, no matter where I am going. I want to back out and just stay home. But once I get where I'm going I have a great time and am always glad that I went. This was exactly the case with the World Tea Expo. It was my first time attending and I wanted to back out right before I left. Now I am already planning my trip there next year!

With anything that takes me away from work for several days, I pay for it when I get back, so I haven't had time to post anything about the trip until now. And then I thought, why not post about what is still on my mind a week later? It's easy to get excited about things when they are in front of you, but what is still in my head now? With that, here's a hodge podge of trip memories and some unofficial "awards" from me.

Once I started writing this post the words just poured out, so it's long. Very long. I'm sorry/you're welcome? I divided it into sections to help you out a little.

The Basics

So picture this. The Expo hall was huge. There was a little bit of ceremony involved with a ribbon cutting and then hundreds (thousands?) of people were jockeying for position to start streaming to the booths.

Entering the Expo floor felt a little bit like the scene where the kids enter Willy Wonka's place. When I saw the crowd going left so they could make a left to right path through the hall, I decided to start at booth 500 and work my way to the end the first day, then go back to the beginning the second day and work to the middle. That worked really well. It also helped that booth 500 was Zojirushi, and they were giving away enormous bags! The bag that came from the Expo was tiny compared to the Zo bag, so that's what most people ended up carrying once the samples began piling up. I also got a chance to tell the Zo people how much I love my bread maker.

It was a nice touch that WTE provided a sampler cup in the bag. Most of the booth reps were surprised when I had my own cup though and they offered disposables anyway. I heard that WTE ran out of the logo cups, so that was unfortunate for those who didn't get one. One last tip for next year WTE - the name tags were problematic. They kept flipping over and showing each person's itinerary instead of their name. It's much nicer to have name tags in plastic covers that also provide a place to hold the business cards you collect (and the ones you want to give out).

Since I took this odd route (booth 500 to the end), it wasn't long before I ran into something unexpected. Let's back up for a minute. There were many talks and classes going on that my press pass didn't allow me to attend, and some that I could attend. It surprised me when I walked past a booth and there was a classroom set up in place. Someone beckoned me over and invited me to sit, and very soon I was given a tea cup and some tea. It was a pretty intimate setting, maybe 15 chairs. I was shocked to see that the speaker was none other than James Norwood Pratt! Sure, I had heard of him - who hasn't in the tea industry? But through these informal talks I got to know him a little, and now I am a huge fan. Allow me some time to tell you about this experience, please. The impression it left on me was powerful.

Best Educational Experience

I had no idea that this would be going on, and it was just luck that I found the booth just in time for the first session. But there were EIGHT one-hour talks planned over the three days. This worked on so many levels. There's a lot of walking at the Expo, and not many places to sit. These sessions (every two hours) gave me a chance to get off my feet, have some tea, and learn things. It doesn't get any better than that.

James Norwood Pratt (JNP from here on out) spoke at every session and had guests depending on the theme of the teas being sampled. I was able to attend the 1st Flush Darjeeling session, Teas From India, and Oolong Teas (where I got to sit with my tea friends Hokdor and Oolong Owl!) I would have loved to attend the two sessions on the last day, but my travel schedule didn't allow it.

What did I love about the sessions? Well, JNP and his wife were just lovely people. And even though he is a highly esteemed tea expert, he comes across as very humble and very much a student. A few things that he said that I found very endearing were, "Sometimes I drink a tea and I think, 'Am I actually tasting anything here or am I just making it up in my head?'" Bombshell moment. That was so validating, since all of us - whether we admit or not - are not tasting the terrior where llamas grazed every time we have a tea. Sometimes we just don't get anything. I also really appreciated it when he said, "I still don't really understand pu'erh" because if he doesn't, it's ok for me to not understand it yet too, right? The third thing was when Thomas Shu was talking about Oolong, JNP asked for someone to take notes for him because he really wanted to remember everything that was being said.

I loved being in a place where everyone was passionate about tea. I recorded a short video clip where JNP talked about Darjeeling flushes. Forgive the potato quality, it's all I could do at the time - but I think if you watch it you will understand what it was like to be there. We tried a rare white Darjeeling and met the man who runs the Okayti tea estate. He talked about the harvesting of the tea and how little is produced each year.

Another highlight was on the second day in the Oolong Session. Thomas Shu (JT and Tea) taught us about the different types of oolong, and introduced us to a new varietal that he anticipates will take off soon - TaiTung. When he was finished talking he sang a Taiwanese song about tea for us.

Biggest Communication Issues

When they said "world" Expo, they meant it. I lost track of the countries represented. There was everything from Columbia to Russia. You name it. One thing that I found difficult to understand was the number of booths there that had no one that spoke English at all. That seemed most prevalent in the Chinese Pavilian part of the Expo. After several awkward interactions I gave up and moved on. I bet they had fantastic tea, but communication was just impossible.

Most Fun Experience

There's this company called Plum Deluxe. You may have heard me mention them a few times (or a few dozen). Andy and Carrie from Plum Deluxe attended the Expo and hosted a small get-together on the second night. So. Much. Fun. We started out in their AirBnB having tea sangria and light nibbles.

There was much laughter and camaraderie. We had so much fun that we decided to not let it end and go get dinner. We had some great Thai food at a place called Lotus of Siam. Delicious - and very affordable. I also had my first Thai iced tea!

The Booth I Kept Returning to, Like a Moth to a Flame

This is an easy one - Dethlefsen and Balk (which we lovingly renamed Def Leppard and Balk). Wholesale only, sorry! I loved this booth for several reasons. One, Benjamin! Nicest guy ever. Most effervescent personality ever. He's the kind of guy I just want to pack in my suitcase and hang out with. I would love to fix him up with someone and be next door neighbors.  At the Plum Deluxe gathering the subject of Benjamin came up and everyone agreed that we just loved him, and a funny coincidence, we all met back up at his booth on the last day, totally unplanned. Seriously- other companies, you should all be fighting over this guy!

Two, the teas at this booth smelled amazing. They weren't brewing samples but had dozens of teas out in open bowls and just standing over them was a transcendental experience. They were very, very generous with the samples and I ended up sharing the love with Aaron in the press lounge and with my taxi driver. I really need to find a way to buy these.

Third, they had a display of amazing flavored sugars. They tasted amazing.

Best Booth With A Cause

Nepal Tea LLC/Kanchanjangha Organics hasn't been off my mind for a single day since I got home. This is verbatim from the literature I picked up at the Expo: "Each purchase goes toward free housing for more than 200 farmers and towards a scholarship program that KTE offers to the farmers' children. Since 2002, 2300 students have received an education with the scholarship and 96 are currently enrolled in this year's program." What can I even add to that other than to say, THAT is a cause I can get behind. I will blog about their teas in a standalone blog soon, but kudos to these guys for making a difference.

The First Tea I Drank When I Got Home

This might surprise you, and it surprised me. But the tea I wanted to drink when I got home was an instant tea from Waterfall Teas. Don't judge. It was delicious, and super easy to make. Add powder to water - even the milk part is in the mix. I was walking through the Expo floor and the kind lady at the Waterfall booth handed me one and said, "You look like you need an afternoon pick me up." She was right, I was dragging. Their chai fixed that, and I have had a taste for it since! I can't find it on their website but I sent them a message on Facebook. I finished the sample she gave me so it's on to something else now.

World Tea Academy

I have kept this fairly quiet - only my closest tea friends know. But over the past 7 months I have been taking classes with the World Tea Academy. In April I completed all classes needed to become what they call "Certified Tea Specialist." I know a lot of people scoff at these types of certifications, but after completing it I can say that I learned a lot, and any education is good education, right? Can you learn the same stuff on your own? Sure, probably. But I liked having guidance while I was learning. Who knows, maybe at some point I will continue taking more classes. There was a graduation ceremony at the Expo where I would have been able to walk the line, but my stupid airline canceled my flight and I had to take an earlier one. Here's a shot of me manning the booth at the Expo.

The Samples

Crazy right? These are the samples I brought home. Keep in mind that I avoided booths that were purely green, rooibos or honeybush, mostly because those aren't my favorites. I have material for many blog posts to come. But first, I owe a couple from earlier in 2016 so those will be up soon.

I had so many more pictures from the show, but this post is long enough already. If you're really interested you can see a bunch of them on my Instagram feed.


Andy Hayes 2 years, 3 months ago

Thanks so much for coming to our Plum Deluxe party, and thank you for being part of our tea community!

I agree about the badges, this was very frustrating as a buyer. I'm glad I brought my own notebook & paper too.

Looking forward to next year! :)

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Nicole Martin 2 years, 3 months ago

It was so nice getting to meet you in person. Those badges drove me crazy too! Especially because the grumpy security guards kept stopping us because of it. I usually spend time at the ITI booth but did not have time this year. Definitely regretting that now.

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Heather Curtis 2 years, 3 months ago

I'm glad I got you to try the thai iced tea ;-)

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Cwyn 2 years, 3 months ago

Excellent summary! I think I'd work opposite the crowd too,

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Mary Ann 2 years, 3 months ago

Nice overview, especially for those of us who weren't able to attend but wish they could! Thanks.

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Cup Above Tea (Alison) 2 years, 3 months ago

Great read Judith. Glad you enjoyed yourself - looks like you'll be having some fun with all those samples for a while to come yet!

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