It only starts with tea leaves (Camellia Sinensis). Where it ends has yet to be discovered, like the mathematical digits in pi. It’s a good thing that tea and pi go well together and the 2011 World Tea Expo* once again posed the question – what doesn’t?
From June 24 - 26, the Expo poured itself into the lower level of the South Hall of the Las Vegas Convention Center. Attendees were greeted with the sight of a mammoth tea pot; although it had the handle and spout, it could hardly call itself little, short or stout.
If you wanted to compress the vast world of tea, its varieties, manufacturing procedures, accoutrements, sales, advertisements, magazines, paraphernalia, accompanying treats, and regional histories into four walls bursting with information and steeped with flavor, this would be the place. Tea is big business.
Tea has an enormous constellation of topics, trends, harvesting techniques, storage options, along with a kettle full of information regarding its growth, processing and consumption. Throwing a teabag into hot water is the end result of a product that has many beginnings and mid-points.
Each year the Expo showcases new products and events, several of which are listed below for your brewing pleasure:
New Products, Trends, and Standouts:
Aiya - Tea Smoothies made of powdered green matcha and crushed ice were offered up in refreshing samples from Aiya’s charming (and tall) representative. Matcha, the ceremonial Japanese green tea has been called the Queen of Tea, but she’s let her hair down with this refreshingly fun beverage, packaged in one tablespoon measurements for fool-proof American enjoyment.
AOI Tea Company - Super Fine Matcha was one of the new products highlighted at the Expo. It has a smoother texture and brighter color, and its mouth-feel is creamier. It seems the Matcha world has an even finer Queen in its region.
Arette – This company’s organic Wild Tea Seed Oil is organically grown in remote, pollution-free mountains, and can be harvested only after young Camellia trees produce seeds – that’s seven years. It takes another full year of growth for them to swell with nutrients before they are hand picked and cold pressed to produce Arette Tea Seed Oil. Aside from its smooth flavor, tea oil is purported to be one of the most nutritious and healthiest edible oils. It’s 100% organic, high in antioxidants and unsaturated fat content and can help to maintain a healthy cholesterol level. The flavored samples, eaten with bits of bread, prompted attendees to linger at this booth a bit more than the others.
This is NOT the same as tea tree oil (from the leaves of the Melaleuca alternifolia tree).
Kitchen T.L.C. – The initials stand for Tea – Life – Chocolate. That means tea infused chocolates; need I say more? I will, because until you taste these delectable treats, you wouldn’t know how compatible tea and chocolate can be. Enjoyable with or without a cup of tea – either way, you get the tea experience, and this one melts in your mouth.
Petali Teas - This artisanal company featured tea blends, fine porcelain tea pots and brewing systems, glass teapots, agave nectar, tea sugars, crystallized flowers…and compostable to go cups, lids and straws. Made of either corn or plant sugars, the containers look like any other paper product, except THEY don’t hang around in landfills for centuries. They will help you enjoy your tea knowing that you’re doing one more green act for the planet.
Squeezmo - Think of it as a little silicone pitcher just for your used teabag. The brightly colored little product is so handy, so useful, and so sanitary, not to mention aesthetic, that you’ll wonder where it’s been all your life. Its flexible design squeezes the essence and moisture from a tea bag into your cup with gentle compression, and it promotes the drip-less use of a bag to brew multiple cups of tea. The handy little Squeezmo is dishwasher safe, and will soon have little cloth carrying cases available for easy portability.
Stash/Chanakara - This tea company continues to astound each year with the sheer number of its varieties of tea, blends, and tisanes (herbals). With flavors like Coconut Mango, Chocolate Mint, Goji Berry, Ginger Peach, Licorice Spice, Meyer Lemon, and Blueberry Superfruit in addition to black, oolong, green, white and decaf (Stash), the company also produces a new line of teas inspired by the seven chakras (Chanakara). The seven teas include Dragonfruit, Blue Ginger, and White Lotus. An eighth box carries the whole assortment for a total tea/body experience.
Telesonic – Their tea bag production machine is not a new invention at all, just an interesting game of Mousetrap for loose leaf tea as it meets its bag and tag within the confines of a 7 ft. metal marvel that combines, attaches, seals and deposits the finished product at the end of its journey. Next step: your cup, of course. This was simply the ideal place to see tea technology in action.
The Artful Penguin – This company produces shiny, bejeweled accompaniments to go with or around your cup of tea. The Artful Penguin recognizes the elegance of the brewed beverage and complements it with items that will make you want to sip while pointing your little finger oh, so daintily.
Yedi Houseware – Their eye-catching designs enhance the tea drinking experience with brightly colored teapots, tumblers, travel cups and mugs that are too pretty to be called mugs. The booth’s vivid displays and clever designs make it apparent why Yedi is among Oprah’s favorite things – oh yeah, the magazine is displayed with the wares providing a formidable seal of approval.
Events and Seminars:
The jewel in the Expo’s crown was the World Origin Tasting Tour, an interactive and informative program that allowed attendees to experience the tastes and cultures of various tea-growing regions in the world, (Sri Lanka, India, China, Japan and Taiwan). Expert tour guides led attendees on a journey through each country's tea culture and manufacturing processes. During the "tour," attendees tasted six to eight teas authentic to each origin, imparting an understanding of the flavors and profiles of those regions.
Functional Tea Trends featured the latest news regarding the science and regulation of tea and how to assess these scientific and legal merits of new marketing opportunities in the industry.
Educational seminars ran the gamut of topics from introductory (Tea 101: The Basics of Tea) to professional (Detecting Defects in Tea Manufacture, Legal Requirements for Labeling Tea in the U.S.) In-between were sessions entirely devoted to tea lovers and merchants alike, including those with titles like Experiencing Yan Cha, Dark Oolong from Wu Yi Mountain, Cupping: Professional Techniques & Protocol, Untraditional Tea Rooms, Marketing Tea to Baby Boomers, Generation X and First Wave Millennials, Using the Health Message to Sell Tea, and Creating Blends out of the Box with Teas, Botanical Blends.
Founded in 2003 by George Jage (a Las Vegas resident) the World Tea Expo once again showcased a comprehensive program for the eight billion dollar tea industry and its many buyers, retailers, merchants, importers, and sellers. This is one trade where the competition can literally be steep, with many reaching the boiling point – all for the benefit of the consumer.
About World Tea Expo
It is the largest and most prominent event for the tea industry, and caters to tea retailers, restaurateurs, food service leaders, hoteliers, spa owners and other business professionals who want to learn more about the latest opportunities and tea trends.
For Further Information:
*for further information on the World Tea Expo, (statistics, attendance, history) see Judy Thorburn’s article in this issue. Your humble correspondent’s version is decidedly more Mad Hatter than Edward R. Murrow.