By Jacqueline Monahan
The most genteel convention to hit Sin City held a giant three-day tea party (not the political kind) at the Las Vegas Convention Center from June 11-13. Over 200 vendors showcased their bagged and loose leaf offerings, while accoutrements filled other exhibits with tea pots (glass, ceramic and cast iron), colorful cozies, infusers, dainty, flowery books stuffed with finger food recipes, and even water treatments for optimal home brewing.
Adam and Eve had their Tree of Knowledge and tea has its Camellia Sinensis, the native Chinese evergreen tree from which all true tea flows. If it doesn’t come from this tree’s leaves (ranging from smooth and shiny to fuzzy and white-haired) you can’t call it tea. That which is known as herbal tea is really a tisane (pronounced ti-zahn), a drink made by steeping various herbs, spices, and flowers in boiling water; tisanes are naturally caffeine-free, and popular varieties are chamomile, peppermint, and rose hip.
• Black tea requires the most processing and is fermented.
• Green tea is withered and rolled but not fermented during processing.
• Oolong tea lies somewhere in the middle between green and black tea, being only partially fermented.
• White tea is the rarest and least processed tea variety. It is steamed and dried, does not go through the fermentation process and its young leaves contain buds.
• Pu-erh (pronounced pu-air) tea is twice fermented black tea, generally used for medicinal purposes (digestive aid, weight loss, anti-hypertensive).
• Scented teas can be made naturally by mixing various flowers and petals with green or oolong teas. Jasmine tea is one of the best known of the scented types.
Then there are the variations in flavor which come from being grown in sun or shade, and harvesting at dawn or midday.
• Cirqua Water Additive (mixture of calcium sodium potassium)
` turns distilled water into a coffeeshop-like base for brewing coffee or tea. Add the contents of the A and B tubes to one gallon of distilled water and use for brewing for a professional caliber “cuppa.” Since water makes up 98.5% of any brewed beverage, this customization lets you begin at the beginning for a superior ending.
• Flavor Producers’ Peelz is a dry tea flavoring system made from natural orange peel, in Tropical, Cinnamon Roll, and Blackberry; add to brewed green or black tea as desired. Patent pending.
• Highwaves’s Brewfish tea press has a sophisticated design that allows tea to brew in the same high tech stainless steel, glass and silicone container that you drink from – remaining hot through its patented design. It’s all in the flow, and Brewfish manages tea like an experienced traffic cop (wearing white gloves, of course).
• Tea Dyed Tee’s pillow covers, tank tops, scarves, pouches, and book covers retain the natural earthtones imparted by tea, thanks to owner Janis Badarau’s stabilized staining technique. Simply Brew-tea-full work.
• Charming Blends’ Tea Cocktails put a little bit of Vegas nightlife into the brew. Their Irish Tea contains black tea, Irish whiskey and dulce de leche. Other varieties include Queen Victoria (tea, rose petals, verbene) and Earl Grey (tea, bergamot pear). The original recipe for tea liquor comes from Patagonia, Argentina, which might amuse Queen V after all.
• Wind Music’s Tea Music CD collection features traditional Chinese instruments for a “sensual tea drinking experience” with titles such as Tea in Pot and Tea Travel. The only heavy metal here might be the cast iron teapot you pour from.
• Suffuse Tea Drops dissolve in hot water – no need for a bag – and are South African herbal infusions in redbush and greenbush varieties. They look like spheres are darkened butterscotch and are caffeine-free and rich in antioxidants; in licorice, ginger, peppermint, cinnamon, vanilla and fruit blends.
• Ajiri Tea’s Kenyan Black Tea donates 100% of its profits to support farmers, employ women and subsidize orphan education in western Kenya. Taking a sip changes more lives than just your own.
Also making a splash at the World Tea Expo were the lectures and daily events surrounding everyone’s favorite drink. Here are three that caused a veritable brew-haha…
A Painting with Tea presentation was held by artist and former clothing merchant Jeffrey Axelrod. His 3-D tea paintings illustrate a technique known as assemblage (pronounce ah-sem- BLAHZH) incorporating seashells, flowers, stones, candy molds, and slot machine parts. He uses 200 teas for various colors, which he claims are more varied than watercolor paints. The medium is so inexpensive. It’s possible to create “art for pennies.” The finished product, however, costs quite a bit more.
The Oolong Rolling Demonstration presented by the Taiwan Tea Manufacturer’s Association, began with the leaves being basket tossed which bruises the edges abd exposing the leaf's enzymes to oxygen (initiating oxidation). The leaves were then tightly bound into a cloth bundle, and kneaded (rolled) like bread dough up to 50 times; the process was only half finished by this point. No wonder the word “long” is in Oolong.
A Tea Infusion Challenge held on June 11 was won by Suzette Hammond of Peet’s Coffee & Tea. Hammond perfectly infused Mao Feng Green Tea, Jade Oolong Gold Leaf and Assam Ditchu, bringing her own distilled water, which was itself infused for 24 hours with bamboo charcoal, creating a mineral texture for the tea. It’s a delicate but exacting art when the water gets a treatment as well as the tea leaf.
Samples of hot and cold tea and tisanes (herbals) were available by the sip, with Walters Bay Tea Estates offering a full sixteen-ounce serving of the black, iced variety. Stash, Village, Shangri La, and Rishi teas were all represented with rows of colorful boxes and tins.
Decadent treats were on display by Sweet Shop USA (chocolate truffle designs) and Divine Delights, the later featuring tiny hat-shaped petit fours.
Tea soothes and comforts, and some even swear by its healing capabilities. It’s made by the pot to be enjoyed by the cup for those who know they can always return to its aromatic wonders.
The World Tea Expo itself will return to the Las Vegas Convention Center from June 24-26, 2011, steeped in exotic flavors and tradition. Call it Deja Brew.