World Tea Expo Pours Quality, Variety into Mandalay Bay’s Convention Center
The three-day World Tea Expo took place from May 2-4 at The Mandalay Bay Convention Center bringing together purveyors, growers, shop owners and leaf worshippers on a global scale. The Expo featured exhibitors and products from China, Japan, Sri Lanka, Korea, Great Britain, India, Taiwan and South Africa, most of them based in import companies within the United States.
Think you know tea? Know your Sencha (steamed after harvesting, various finishes) from your Assam (malty) from your Darjeeling (notes of Muscat, fruit) from your Matcha (shade-grown and powdered ceremonial)? Know your latte from your infusion from your RTD’s (ready-to-drink)? You’ll be astounded at how much more there is to know about the plants, the leaves, the shade, and the harvest, not to mention the myriad accoutrements that accompany such an ancient and civilized beverage.
Tea is a big business, with sales expected to exceed $10 billion in 2010. Annual imports to the U.S. have increased by 25% in the last 20 years. Green tea, the antioxidant darling of the industry, has seen its imports increase by an astonishing 118%. Among all U.S. households, 76% report that they or someone in the home drinks tea. 60% of American consumers prefer a fruit flavored tea, and 37% prefer organic tea to conventional brands.
Walking down the wide aisles of the convention center, amid gracious displays of teapots, both empty and filled, your humble correspondent experienced a type of aromatic anticipation. With samples to be sipped everywhere, generally from clear glass containers showcasing color variations, it was easy to ingest cupfuls of hot and cold (and frozen) tea infusions. It was also easy to stay awake.
Flavorings expanded the possibilities of each tea type; cinnamon, pear, hibiscus, orange, mango, lemongrass, dragon fruit (prickly pear/red currant notes, raspberry overtones), and even chocolate varieties beckoned the palates of attendees, as did offerings of scones, crumpets (similar to an English-muffin) cookies and crackers. These were topped with fruit curds, jellies, chutneys, and preserves. Cruising the Expo aisles was like being at an extended High Tea where the hosts competed for your attention with exotic brews in enticing displays. Poor me. Tea and sympathy, indeed.
Flowering teas created liquid gardens in glass teapots, their compressed flower buds expanding to release delicate flavors and graceful shapes in poetic and delicate presentations. Exhibitors specializing in peripheral tea paraphernalia offered tea cozies, books, spice enhancements, tiny teapot jewelry, signage options (one board had a “light marker” which wrote in vivid neon hues), and brewers/dispensers with tea settings by type. Granted, tea drinking is a gentle pursuit, but don’t you dare brew a Darjeeling on an Oolong setting!
All this from a leisurely, agenda-free stroll along the convention floor. A more organized itinerary revealed the many special events that the Expo made available to attendees.
Panels and workshops drawing high numbers of attendees included How to Model a Successful Tea Shop, How to Pair Tea and Chocolate, and How to Conduct a Successful Tea Tasting. Your humble correspondent stopped at The Whole Leaf booth to experience an impromptu tasting and was impressed by the solemnity with which it was prepared. Sampling Dragon Well, Oriental Beauty, and the backward-doorbell sounding Dong Ding Oolong required patience and contemplation – the slower pace forcing one to savor more than swig the offerings.
AOI Tea Company representatives explained the history and production of matcha, a green tea dating back 800 years when it was created using hand-crafted granite grinding wheels turned (counterclockwise) by hand. Modern-day matcha is created with granite grindings wheels powered by electricity. Only 40g (1.4 oz) of matcha is created in one hour. A more vivid color means a higher grade, and stronger leaves contain an aroma similar to seaweed.
The Taiwan Tea Manufacturers Association demonstrated the process of creating the country's High Mountain Oolong teas. Leaves are tightly packed into large canvas cloths which are then rolled (by hand, foot or machine) and briefly fired in order to dry and separate the leaves. How’s that for a job description.
Trends highlighted ready-to-drink varieties in flavors such as Citrus Black, Mango Oolong and Blueberry Green, (ITO EN) and the most popular flavor at the Expo, Caramelized Pear (Art of Tea). The cooking with tea trend featured Lapsang Souchong chocolate truffles and tea-soaked mushrooms (PeLi Teas).
Green, it seems, is more than just a tea variety. Products made from recycled used tea leaves include pens, plaster boards, an antibacterial bench, tatami floor mats, cardboard boxes, and an entire vending machine (ITO EN).
Japanese master Sen So'Oku, fifteenth-generation heir to the Mushakoji-Senke School of Tea, held three intimate tea ceremonies in the exhibit hall, two of them in a glass enclosed showroom that allowed attendees to observe without compromising the intimate setting for participants.
Chinese tea master Ting Chaponis, held a Chinese tea ceremony featuring the ritual brewing and offering of tea in a multi-step, sensory exploration emphasizing preparation, pouring, inhalation and the reverential tasting of several varieties.
Unique Products and Innovations:
This Korean company features green tea in a chewable form, a salt, a candy, soap and a sugar. No water needed for this tea (well, maybe the soap).
Elixir tea made with Moringa’s dried leaves contain 17 times the calcium in milk, 25 times the iron in spinach, 15 times the potassium in bananas and 9 times the protein in yogurt. The list continues with Moringa providing 46 antioxidants – all in one cup.
The Teastick in metal or plastic and stainless mesh is a spoon-like contraption that lets you scoop, slide and steep loose tea, making it as convenient as a tea bag.
Botanical Bakery Gourmet Tea Cookies
These crisp, buttery tea cookies are organic and delicately sweet and complement, not overpower tea. The signature cookie is Lavender, but Cinnamon Basil, Lemon Thyme, and Cardamom beckon as well. Who am I to refuse? You won’t want to, either.
Especially designed for the hospitality industry with an un-breakable, non-drip silicon spout, this round, porcelain teapot has a permanently attached lid, optional removable infuser, and is stackable to save kitchen space. Who wouldn’t want a stack of teapots in the kitchen? Very Dr. Seuss.
SEN CHA Green Tea Bars
Certified Vegan, Kosher, and Fair Trade, each bar provides three cups of organic green tea antioxidants. Blending grains, fruits & seeds, they are available in Original, Delicate Pear®, Lively Lemongrass™, and brand new flavor, Morning Lychee™. For tea lovers who like to chew more than sip.
TeaZen is a new way to drink tea, freeing tea drinkers from pots and leaves, liberating you from the bag and replacing it with an eyedropper of tea concentrate in a variety of flavors. Every two-ounce bottle offers 60 servings without a tea bag, infuser, or spoon in sight.
Catalyst Tea Enhancers
All natural Catalyst Tea Enhancers transform any tea, coffee, hot chocolate, etc. into an aromatic gourmet experience. Adding a pinch will transform your next cup into Enchanting Chai, Gourmet Ginger, Fennel Fusion or Sensational Saffron. Instant gratification of the flavor kind.
Flavor Dynamics, Inc. (FDI) offered samples of unusual fruit teas with names like Cherimoya (banana, strawberry, pineapple and raspberry notes), Feijoa (guava, pineapple, and strawberry flavors), and Jostaberry (tones of black currant with gooseberry). Sounds like wine, doesn’t it? Well, now that you mention it…
International Tea Importers (ITI)
ITI introduced a line of wine flavored teas in Natural Champagne, Cabernet and Marsala flavors. Each is a refreshing, cold tea that can be enjoyed in the morning without fear of carpool collisions. The alcohol has been removed; what remains is pure flavor.
The 2010 World Tea Expo will take place June 11-13 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. Although not open to the public, its beneficial product lines will no doubt filter into the marketplace from all over the world like antioxidant-al tourists, packing a nutritive punch, and always happy to be in hot water.
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