Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Month: June 2013

Workshops, Bandsaws, and Keemun Against Humanity – A Vegas Tea Party, Conclusion

For Day 1, go HERE.

For Day 2, go HERE.

For Day 3, go HERE.

It was the last day of World Tea Expo…and I was already running late.

I know, big shocker. But this time it wasn’t entirely my fault. My co-pilot for the morning, Lady Earl Steeper was also running slightly lagged. Cut us some slack, it was 7AM.

On top of that – par for course – I ended up missing the turnoff for the Convention Center at least two times. Finally got it on the third go-around. (I think?) We made the mad-dash inside only to make it fifteen minutes late for the “Blogging for Your Business” workshop.

Tea Blogging In Your Business panel

Taken by Jo Johnson

Luckily, our truancy was only partially observed. By everyone.

The panel discussion was moderated by Michael “Tea Geek” Coffey, and the panel consisted of Linda “The Tea Stylist” Gaylard, Chris “Teaity/Tea-Guy” Giddings, Darlene Meyers-Perry, Naomi “Joy’s Teaspoon” Rosen, Jason Walker [Tea Review] and last (but never least), Robert “The Devotea” Godden. To my shock-‘n-awe, it was a very low-key panel. And by that, I mean, cups weren’t being flung across the room, teabags weren’t being torn asunder, and no fist-fights broke out over the pronunciation of “Ti Kwan Yin”. As a matter of fact – dare I say it? –  it was downright professional.

*****

I left the panel with a bit more information than I started with, and with…uh…

Absolutely no tea!

It was about 9:30AM at this point. The Expo floor wasn’t open yet, and there was no tea anywhere. I had no time that morning to grab a cuppa caffeine before dashing out the door. My lack of wakefulness was starting to show. There was a second panel on digital marketing I wanted to attend, but it took me a good ten minutes to find the damn room. Signs of a tea-deprived brain.

I finally made it to the “Digital Marketing Trends” workshop before its start-time. Tony “World of Tea” Gebely was the speaker on hand. Frankly, I didn’t know what I would take away from the workshop, only that I wanted to see Tea Pimp Tony in action.

Tea Pimp Tony

Tea Pimp Tony

Oddly enough, I came away with far more than I anticipated. Many of the tricks he suggested applied not only to vendors, but also to regular “brew-buzzard” bloggers such as myself. For instance, my analytics numbers have always been somewhere in – or around – the toilet. In one hour, Tony pointed out a few things I was doing wrong regarding overall social media exposure. I left somewhat e-enlightened.

By the time that workshop was finished…I really needed tea. The moment my caffeine gland groaned (yes, I have one; I’m sure of it), my phone vibrated. It was a tweet from Mountain Tea Co.

Mountain Tea Tweet

I made a mad-dash to the Expo floor. In less than three minutes, I arrived at the MTC booth – panting. Chicco Chou saw me, blinked twice, then gave greeting.

“I just got your tweet,” I wheezed. “I need oolong. Stat.”

He poured me a couple of cups of brandy oolong that they’d just brewed. I let the feeling of time-released energy permeate throughout my very being. Then, with a sigh of relief, and a bow of thanks, I dashed back off to the workshop rooms. (Seriously, I bowed.)

Chicco making Mountain Tea.

Chicco making Mountain Tea.

*****

The third and final workshop I attended was one near and dear to my heart – mainly for the speaker. Verna L. Hamilton was one my oldest “tea-tweeps”. We had a peculiar bond in that we shared the same birthday. Funny considering that we were like night and day (and, no, I’m not referring to skin color). Where I was a cynical, portly, and often neurotic little man; she was a tall, statuesque, vibrant, and sunny human being.

Verna

Seriously, she could lighten the room with a smile and a shake of her head. I’ve only known three women that had that effect on me. It’s by mere coincidence that they were all African American. Or maybe not, I dunno.

Her workshop also had the best name ever: “Steep Social Media Without Getting Bitter”. Wish I’d thought of it. She even had the lecture (if that’s the right word) organized according to blending and steeping. Seriously awesome.

To say she was the most engaging speaker I encountered at Expo would be an understatement.

Verna Presentation

*****

Aaaand for the third and final time, I hit the Expo floor. I’d seen all that I’d intended to see. This time ‘round, I was making my obligatory farewells to the more memorable booths. That and returning to some other vendors to make purchases. But before that…

I ran into Lady Joy’s Teaspoon and Lady Earl Steeper, who informed me that they’d just tried some Ugandan tea. While I’d stopped by the Care to Uganda/Igara Tea booth on my first Expo day, I had no idea they were serving tea as well. In seconds, I bee-lined to their booth and requested their BP-1. It looked like a typical CTC-grade tea, which had me hesitant, but then I took a sip…

Best. CTC tea. Ever.

Ugandan Tea

*****

Dark Tea LogAt 1:30PM that day, I arrived at the TeaSource booth for what was to be a momentous demonstration. The day prior, I marveled at a tea log they had on display. It was perhaps the largest – and most imposing – heicha (dark tea) log I’d ever seen. The thing was about two feet long, six inches across, and with quite a bit of girth. I felt wholly inadequate in its presence.

The big demonstration was to be the cutting of the tea log. I had no idea what this entailed; all I knew was that there was going to be a raffling off of pieces of said tea. When I got to the booth, I expected maybe ten or fifteen people. There were more like thirty. All crowded around to watch the display.

On the far side of the booth, I caught a glimpse of someone I recognized. AmazonV was watching the event from the periphery. Instead of compressing myself against total strangers, I thought it more prudent to be near someone I at least half-knew.

After some discussion, the show began. Bill Waddington – TeaSource’s founder – donned a pair of safety goggles (???)…and whipped out a saw. A f**king bandsaw!

BAMF!

BAMF!

They placed the tea log on its side, and carved into it like a downed tree. I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything so manly in the tea world in my entire life. My Beasts of Brewdom compatriot – The Devotea – put it best when he said:

Petrol fumes mixed with aged tea aroma in the testosterone-drenched air, as without gloves or goggles, our hero sliced like there was no tomorrow.”

Alas, I didn’t get a piece of said tea log. People could only participate in the raffle if they had a business card to submit. I had no such thing. Mental note: Next WTE, make business cards. Badass ones.

*****

With that display of tea-machismo outta the way, it was time to make my last-minute Expo purchases. I had three in mind:

Hankook Tea’s Gamnong Matcha:

Oppa Gamnong Style!

Oppa Gamnong Style!

I tried it my first day at Expo and instantly fell in love with it. Never did I think I would try a Korean matcha and like it – let alone, love it. Or maybe I purchased it simply for the future tweet: “I’m having matcha – Gamnong Style.” Yeah, that was probably it.

Immaculate Leaf’s Aged Oolong:

Also tried this the first day. This aged oolong was a 20-or-so-old from the Chin Xin varietal (?). I can’t quite recall. Point being, it was roasty…but not too roasty. Zesty and downright Zen-inducing. For the price, it was a must-buy.

Wild Tea Qi Ancient Moonlight White Bud Bar Tea:

Probably the second most unique white tea I encountered at Expo. It was first brought to my attention several months back by Jo “A Gift of Tea” Johnson. I was a pricy little devil, and I’m almost positive it was merely compressed Yue Guang Bai. However, it had the best story of all the compressed teas I came across thus far (besides a Taiwanese white I loved).

*****

The last of my World Tea Expo floor farewells was probably my most poignant. Lord and Lady Devotea were wandering when I encountered them. I meant to impart a “pleasure-meeting-you-both” followed a handshake or five, but ended up leaving with a parting gift for my mother.

Tea blended by the Lady Devotea herself, aply titled, “Lady Devotea”.

Lady Devotea holding "Lady Devotea"

Lady Devotea holding “Lady Devotea”

Thankfully, they gave me permission to try it once I got home. Even though it was a gift intended for my mother. Hey, a son has to judge the quality of it first. That’s the excuse I’m sticking with.

(P.S. It was superb.)

The Convention Center doors closed soon after, and I was left with a feeling of…loss? Was that it? Such a weird emotion welled up within me. Never before had I been so in my element! Admitting that it was over was like admitting that, well, endings were a “thing”.

"All good things..."

“All good things…”

I only wish I had tracked down one particular tea – just one. The only one I couldn’t find was some Keemun Hao Ya A. Even the Chinese distributors didn’t have it – save one, and they weren’t letting go of any of it…short of a large wholesale order.

Later that night – after copious amounts of all-you-can-eat sushi – Lady Joy’s Teaspoon, Lady Earl Steeper, Teaity Chris and myself decided to keep the tea party going. We steeped pu-erhs, blacks, and various other things as we played yet another raucous game of Cards Against Humanity – as was becoming par for course.

Somewhere amidst our laying down of inappropriate cards and fitful guffaws, the suggestion was made to steep another black tea. Lady Earl Steeper whipped out a Keemun. And…

It just happened to be a sample of Keemun Hao Ya A. And it was glorious. I could not think of a better way to cap what was – sparing no hyberpole – the greatest week of my life.

Photo by Audrea Fink

Photo by Audrea Fink

Beer, U.S. Grown Tea, and Lunchroom Mixers – A Vegas Tea Party, Day 3

For Day 1, go HERE.

For Day 2, go HERE.

I wouldn’t say it was a bad day. Heck, far from it. So many wonderful things transpired – dare I say, epic, even? However, I was off step from the natural rhythm of the day’s events, and it all started the moment I thought I lost my press pass. It took me a good ten minutes of panicking and cursing to find the damn thing. Fittingly enough, it was hidden amidst the spoils acquired from World Tea Expo Day 1. Correct…amidst a pile of tea.

Press Tea

After finding that, I made a mad dash to the Las Vegas Convention Center, and I still managed to get horribly lost in the interim. Even with my GPS. That’s gifted, I tell ya. Luckily, I made it just in time for the “Steeped and Brewed: A Comparative Tasting of Tea and Beer” focused tasting. Another ten minutes passed before I actually found the room I needed to get to. Jo Johnson met up with me a few moments later to get me in.

Once we entered, I took a seat at the front of the class. (It’s beer and tea, why wouldn’t I?) And waited to start. In the meantime, Jo introduced me to the proprietress of an online op, and she took a seat next to me. A few moments after that, Tea with Gary sat at the same table.

The hosts of this tea-‘n-beer comparison workshop were Kyle Stewart and Chris Beard of A Cultured Cup, and master wine sommelier James Tidwell. The teas used for the comparison were a pre-QingMing Long Jing, a Phoenix Dan Cong, and a Keemun Hao Ya B.

(Un-related Sidenote: Why does it always have to be Keemun Hao Ya B?!? Why can’t people splurge on Hao Ya A?!? It’s the only Keemun I haven’t tried yet! Okay…gripe over.)

On to the beer.

Selected for the Long Jing pairing was a Kölsch-style ale. Both bore similar color palettes but differed on the palate. Whereas the Long Jing was grassy, slightly winy and buttery. The Kölsch was pungently sweet, thicker-bodied, and possessed a floral (almost heathery) mouthfeel. While I’m loathe to say it, I think a lager would’ve been a better pairing.

Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the woman next to me mixing the two together. I exclaimed: “Dude! Why didn’t I think of that?!” And gave her a high-five.

Seriously, I’m surprised I didn’t think of it first. Usually, that’s my thing. Both together tasted…oddly superb.

The second pairing was much more successful: The Dan Cong with a Weihenstephaner Vitus weisen (read: “wheat”) beer. Both the oolong and beer were bronze in color, floral on the tongue, and evenly light-bodied. The only area where they differed was mineral aftertastes – the oolong had one, the beer did not. However, both were very floral and sweet dance partners.

Last, but definitely not least, was the best paring of all. The Keemun Hao Ya was pair-mated with a Taddy Porter from Samuel Smith – a macrobrewery out of England. I’d had some prior experience with that very porter, and with Keemun. So, I had a rough idea of how well they would get along.

Pairing both was better than I could have imagined. Following up the wood-smoke-sweetness of Keemun with a burly/chocolaty porter was like Christmas delivered on monster truck wheels. Gary and I both groaned like honey-satisfied bears in our seats. And when the tea and beer were combined…er…I think my brain melted.

Once all the comparisons were done, I was a tad…bouncy. While the beer provided for the tasting was in thimble-sized cups, combined with the tea caffeine, I was jittery in my seat. The uppers and downers played lacrosse in my brain. A happy, buzzy sorta game.

The woman next to me observed this and commented, “Wow, you’re a cheap date.”

I paused for a moment to muster up something witty. I managed a…

Buzzard

Nailed it.

*****

Once that bit o’ business was concluded, I decided to hit the Expo floor again to see what I’d missed. I was so sensory-overloaded the first day that I figured there were booths I’d missed. And, indeed there were. Plenty.

Expo Day 1 was about visiting the booths of vendors I knew. Day 2 was about introducing myself to new vendors. And I. Sucked. At it.

I learned an important lesson on my second booth-wandering. If you have a press pass, some vendors are going to assume you’re some sort of brew-buzzard, looking to score free samples.

Brew Buzzard

Well, they’re not completely wrong. I did indeed want to try everything there was to try. However, it was in their best interest to at least pretend to be nice to folks that could make them look nice on e-paper. But that was a minor annoyance.

When I hit the floor for the first time, I encountered AmazonV in my wanderings. She informed me that there was a product that combined iced tea and aloe, and that it was worth a try. I shuddered at the thought.

I ran into The Tea Stylist soon after in front of the ITO-EN booth. We marveled at the bench off to the side, which was made of recycled tea leaves. At that moment, I had an epiphany.

“Can you take a picture of me on the bench?” I pleaded.

The Tea Stylist agreed to, and I got into position.

Ito-En

Best. Picture. Ever.

Shortly after that, I meandered a bit until I encountered a group of taste-testers in an enclosed area. It was a judging booth. Nineteen of the year’s iced tea winners were up for competition. Random sippers were allowed to come up and weigh in on which was the best of that year’s offerings. We were all given a white token, and we were tasked with placing it in a voting bucket (?) by the booth of our choice.

My pick was…*sigh*…TeAloe.

TeAloeSeriously, it was phenomenal.

*****

The most epic thing I encountered that day, though, was a meeting of sorts – the founding of The League of U.S. Tea Growers, proposed by Nigel Melican and Jason McDonald. Everyone was there. And I mean, everyone. Growers from Hawaii, Mississippi, South Carolina, Louisiana, and even some well-known ones – The Charleston Tea Plantation director, Richard Sakuma of Sakuma Bros., and the aforementioned Jason McDonald of FiLoLi Farms. Even James Norwood Pratt was there.

US Grown

Press folks (such as myself) vastly outnumbered the growers in attendance. And even as the idea was proposed, it didn’t sound like everyone was particularly on board with the project. That said, something was happening. The whole thing seemed big. Like, Founding Fathers big.

I even voiced as much with, “I have nothing useful to contribute. I’m just fanboy gushing. I consider you all luminaries.”

Then sat back down.

Many people weighed in on the pros and cons, their own personal experiences, helpful advice, and anecdotes galore. Perhaps the most effective proponent was James Norwood Pratt. He only said one thing – short, sweet and to-the-point.

“This is something that has to happen – period.” And he surrendered the microphone.

Pratt being Pratt

Pratt being Pratt

Point made.

Something had happened that afternoon. I’m nowhere near experienced enough in “teaconomics” to wager as to what…but something grand had occurred. And I can’t wait to see it grow.

You can follow their progress on Facebook HERE.

Or on Twitter HERE.

*****

The last event of the day was where my complete lack of rhythm was most prevalent. And, no, I’m not talking about dance moves.

Dance Magic

Right after the LUSTG founding meeting, everyone retired to the Las Vegas Hilton for the annual Expo social. All the vendors, press people, and other tea luminaries – all in one room schmoozing. Small problem. I never learned how to schmooze.

When it came to finally meeting people I’d associated with in some fashion online, I was well within my element. However, effectively networking at a mixer?  I might as well have been a freshman at a new high school in the middle of a lunchroom.

lunchroom

Seriously, it looked like a high school cafeteria.

I spent most of the time foraging for food and congregating with people I already knew, such as Lady Joy’s Teaspoon and Lady Earl Steeper. One particularly precocious photographer even caught us partying X-TREME-ly hard.

Party animals.

Party animals.

Jo Johnson caught up with me as I stumbled about from food kiosk to food kiosk. “You look uncomfortable.”

“I’m extremely uncomfortable,” I said, mouth full of quesadilla.

Bashful Buzzard

“The secret is to be yourself,” she imparted.

I nodded, still chewing.

Alright, be myself, I said to…um…myself. Be myself.

Then I had a follow-up thought. Wait a minute. Myself wouldn’t be caught dead at a mixer like this. Moments later, Lady Joy’s Teaspoon mentioned that she, Teaity Chris, and Lady Earl Steeper were thinking of grabbing junk food and retiring to a game of Cards Against Humanity.

You can guess what option I went with.

Cards Against Humanity

I didn’t get to sleep until well after midnight.

To be continued…

“What Happens at Expo…” – A Vegas Tea Party, Day 2

For Day 1, go HERE.

I’ll be honest, I was scared s**tless.

Expo Floor

World Tea Expo

Never in my life had I participated in something so…well…grand. The Las Vegas Convention Center was huge, and just peeking through the doors almost made me soil myself. It was like a Comic Con but for tea. I was so stunned by the sheer scale of it all that I nearly forgot to acquire my press pass.

Oh yes, that. I forgot to mention that. This was my first convention/expo/tradeshow/thingy as a member of the press. I picked it up at the World Tea Media press booth and just…stared at the thing.

Press Pass

For what felt like forever. Think Charlie when he found his golden ticket; that was me for a solid minute. Once I came to, I ventured onto the Expo proper, took it all in…

…and ran into people I knew from Portland.

Me, Chuck 'n Heather - The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants

Me, Chuck ‘n Heather – The Jasmine Pearl Tea Merchants

That immediately put me at ease. After that chance meet-up, I hit the Expo floor like a china shop-hungry rhino. My four-hour exploration of the vendor booths was a blur. However, amidst my frenzy, I can remember a few highlights. There were three booths specifically that I had to hit. Why? They were folks I corresponded with prior. And they were…

AdventureTea

I actually have an odd history with the co-owner of this outfit. We met at random in Portland prior to Expo. His start-up’s tea focus was the same as my blogging shtick – odd teas from odd growing regions, hence the “Adventure” in the title. Plus, they already earned my favor by being a seller of Greek Mountain tea, always a plus. I sampled everything they had on hand – including an exquisite Himalayan oolong.

Himalayan OolongThey also had the most distinctly original booth of all the participants at Expo, even going as far as to don safari attire. Way to commit, guys! My female compatriots also took to calling them the “hottie” booth…for whatever reason, I could only guess.

AdventureTea

Something about thermal underwear maybe? I dunno. Women are beyond me.

Ahem.

And speaking of Himalayan oolong.

Nepali Tea Traders

I’ve already written about this family-run outfit twice – once for a Nepalese oolong (with the word “Yeti” in the title), and once for a pu-erh. You heard right. I finally got to shake hands with Maggie Le Beau, the owner of the op who I corresponded with. And, of course, sampled some wonderful Himalayan black and white teas.

IMAG0855

Future write-ups are…uh…in the future.

Norbu Tea

Greg (I can’t remember his last name) was a guy I’d been meaning to track down for a while. I’d reviewed several of his teas, and had spoken to him about meeting at Expo. One problem: His booth wasn’t even listed. Well, not entirely true. He was there in a sideline capacity, promoting the Taiwanese family of farmers that grew and processed his tea.

The Tsou-Vayiyana Alishan High Mountain Tea brand. So much easier to pronounce than Norbu. If I hadn’t taken to Twitter prior to searching, I wouldn’t have found it.

Greg Norbu

Sarcasm aside. It was truly a pleasure to finally meet him in person and to sample some truly wonderful Ali Shan teas. And the best part? The ones featured weren’t oolongs, but rather a black tea and white tea. Extremely rare. Truly a taste-tester’s wet dream.

IMAG0842

The Taiwanese family were also incredibly gracious.

Great seeing you, Greg. Next time, don’t stay so hidden. Wear a tu-tu or something.

The Charleston Tea Plantation

Mere moments after leaving the Tsou-Vayiyana booth, I saw it. In all its glory was the proto-form for American teas everywhere. A couple of years prior, I had the chance of sampling CTP’s American Classic and Governor’s Gray. Both were good. However, what they had on display trumped both of those by several spades. Their 2013 single estate first flush American Classic was available for tasting, and it…was…

IMAG0854

Sigh.

Have you ever wondered how angels taste? Or patriotism?

Something like that.

American tea. F**k yeah.

*****

In my frenzied wanderings, I received a text from Mrs. Joy’s Teaspoon herself. She mentioned that Thomas Shu was going to do an oolong baking demonstration in roughly a half-hour. I poked around a little bit to kill time, tasted some more teas, got lost in the reverie…until I realized I was running ten minutes late. Typical of me.

I cut into the giant Taiwanese tea booth, issued several kowtows and apologies, then took a seat. As a result of my less-than-inconspicuous entrance, Thomas Shu zeroed in on me. After showing us how the baking process worked, he guided us through comparing the baked and unbaked versions of an amber oolong.

Then he called me up to give my thoughts.

Me and Thomas Shu

Me and Thomas Shu

You know that feeling you used to get when your name was called while you were sleeping in class. The jolt I had was something like that. I got up nervously, took the microphone, and gave my thoughts. In the interim, Mrs. Joy’s Teaspoon snapped this still.

BAMF!

I sat back down, somewhat timidly. A woman across the table reassured me that I came across fine. I’m not sure exactly what I said in return, but I think it went something like this:

Cage match

She recoiled in horror.

Yep, still got it.

*****

While participating in the Shu-led oolong tasting, I caught a tall sight out of the corner of my eye. A tall man, actually, in a black cowboy hat – strolling by contently. He stuck out quite awesomely. So much so, that I immediately recognized him. T’was Gary of Red Lodge Tea/Tea With Gary fame – a vendor and fellow blogger. I immediately ducked out of the booth.

We had discussed bumping into each other on the Expo floor, but I never thought it’d actually happen. I grilled him about his Lapsang-Earl Grey blend, and he related the entire story. Perhaps someday, I’ll reveal it to you, if he’ll let me. But only if I have permission.

IMAG0906

Tall Montanan Is Tall

*****

Once I was done making an absolute arse of myself on the Expo floor, the evening brought about my main excuse for coming to Vegas in the first place – The Tea Bloggers Roundtable.

Image mooched from TeawithGary.com

Image mooched from TeawithGary.com

It was an informal panel, but I was just stoked to be one of the panelists. The main subject we covered was, well, blogging about tea. Our missteps, our advice, our anecdotes. I thought it turned out rather well, and the audience turnout was better than I’d hoped.

Two dynamics occurred:

(1)    It was established that Michael J. Coffey and Robert “The Devotea” Godden were the “Abbot & Costello” of World Tea Expo.

Tea Geek and The Devotea. Tickets available.

Tea Geek and The Devotea. Tickets available.

(2)    It was also established that Chris Giddings and I were the “Beavis & Butthead” of World Tea Expo.

Beavis & Butthead Do Tea

“Beavis & Butthead Do Tea” – Pic mooched from An Int’l Tea Moment

Such is life.

*****

Following the bloggers panel, The Devotea looked at me and said, “Are you going to the ITCC cupping?”

“I wasn’t invited,” I replied.

“I’m inviting you, let’s go.”

And off we went.

The moment I stepped through the doors, I saw a familiar face. He was an Indian man with a perma-smile on his face. The formal thing to do would’ve been to go up, introduce myself, and start a conversation. Um…that’s not what I did.

The moment I saw him, I shouted – practically at the top of my lungs, “RAJIV!!!

Me and Rajiv Lochan

Me and Rajiv Lochan

Par for course for my social skills.

You see, I’d wanted to meet the director of the Doke Tea  estate and Lochan Tea for well over two years.  And there he was, front and center. Luckily, he recognized me. Or else that would’ve been awkward.

*****

After all the “teavents” drew to a close, a group of us bloggers went out for dinner to a place called Firefly. It didn’t take me long before I started humming the theme song to a long-gone space-western TV show. Rachel “I Heart Teas” Carter told me to stop, citing that it made her sad. I did so…once I couldn’t remember the rest of the lyrics.

As we were all deciding what to eat, we heard the distinct sound of a smart phone camera over our heads.

Candid

Tea with Gary stood over us, phone in hand, and said, “What happens in Vegas stays on Facebook.” The reaction from us was pure guffaw. How did a six-foot-something Montanan sneak up on us like that?!

Answer: Ninja training.

Without exaggeration, this was the best day of my life. And the event wasn’t even half-done.

To be continued…

The Infusiast’s Book Launch and a Meeting of Beasts – A Vegas Tea Party, Day 1

Brace yourself, this is a three-parter. Maybe four. Depends on if I get the information all organized. Liking herding cats, it is. Kittens, actually. Hyper ones.

First and foremost, I need to get a few acknowledgements out of the way. Planning for this World Tea Expo trip has been nothing short of murder. Four fantastic folks made it as smooth as possible. My mother spotted for the plane ticket to Vegas as an early “birthristmas” present, and my dad helped put spending money in my pocket after a mutually beneficial business transaction. I’ve written about both occurrences.

The other two, I have not written about. Naomi Rosen (aka Joy’s Teaspoon) was gracious enough to put me up for the five days I was in Vegas. That kind gesture alone saved me hundreds. Second is Jo Johnson (A Gift of Tea), who acted as a mentor as I took it all in when I needed it. She kept me apprised of the expo goings-on so that I could maximize my experience. Both went completely out of their way for a schmo they’d never met in real life. Gratitude abound.

And now for a picture of the Rosens’ Basset Hound sitting on my feet.

Teej

With that out of the way, on with the show.

The Meeting of Beasts

I didn’t arrive on the day of World Tea Expo proper, but rather a couple of days before. My “official” reason was to help Joy’s Teaspoon out with the U.S. book launch of The Infusiast: Diatribes of the Devotea by Robert Godden. However, my ulterior motive was to finally meet the writer for the first time and trade barbs. Oh, and buy his book. Gotta show support and all that.

The wacky Aussie and I had e-known each other for over three years. We even (very occasionally) collaborated on a “manly tea” blog – The Beasts of Brewdom. This was to be the first meeting of the minds.

Lord and The Lady Devotea arrived – not by chariot, as one would expect – but by humble Vegas cab. The moment I saw the fedora’d, suit-clad Aussie, I said: “We don’t serve your kind here!” With a smile, of course. Dunno how well that joke translates Down Under.

And the Universe didn't explode.

And the Universe didn’t explode.

He immediately grasped me in a hug. Like we were old friends. And technically, we were.

The rest of the evening consisted of him regaling tales of teashop ownership and anecdotes from his book, while his captive (of their own free will) audience drank some of his blends – Lord Petersham and Rose Blush, respectively.

Said book launch and tea party provided another delight – chance meet-ups with The Tea Stylist’s Linda Gaylard, Teaity’s/Tea Guy’s Chris Giddings, and the aforementioned (and striking) Jo Johnson.

(Left to Right) Me, Chris Giddings, Jo Johnson, and Lady Devotea

(Left to Right) Me, Chris Giddings, Jo Johnson, and Lady Devotea

My favorite exchanges:

The Devotea: “Oh, Geoff. I have a present for your Mum. Because I give her such a hard time on Facebook.”

…And…

Jo: [to me] “You’re going to the tea and beer pairing…”

Me: “I dunno. It’s a hot commodity, plus I’m not sure I can afford it.”

Jo: “That wasn’t a question. You’re going. It’s already been arranged.”

Me: [pause followed by grin] “Okay, then.”

The book launch ended with as much fanfare as it had begun. Teaity Chris and I opted to do Joy’s Teaspoon a favor and pick up her cousin, Lady Earl Steeper. Thus completing our unintentional Vegas Tea Party quartet. Once that task was done, we retired to Chez Joy for a generous dose of a card game called…well…Cards Against Humanity. Think Apples to Apples, only sick and wrong.

We were up until 2AM.

And this was only Day 1.

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To be continued…

A Pre-Vegas Tea Trilogy

Short version: It’s been a hectic couple of weeks.

But for once I can say, “Hectic in a good way.” I’m not used to being busy. As my oft-used moniker suggests, I rather enjoy my leisure time. That and any activities I participate in are brought gradually into fruition. Well, the month of May wouldn’t let me. One of the things that got lost in the fray was this blog. Or any writing for that matter.

At present, I’m about three write-ups behind. Eleven-hour work days, general weariness, and generous helpings of whimsy have contributed to my [current] delays in updates. However, as I write this, it is currently 10PM-ish, and I have some modicum of downtime while doing laundry. A necessary chore before packing for World Tea Expo. (Oh yeah, there’s that, too.)

So, I’m going to use this here time (and space) to cram three different topics into one write-up. They were subjects that probably deserved more thorough prose, but I’m on a time crunch. The effort might be  incoherent, but it’s late…and I have a vacation to plan at the last-minute. Sue me.

Meeting Tea Pimp Tony

Picture if you will a tea guy that writes a blog, posts it on a forum, and the thing goes viral. A publisher catches wind of the blog and says, “Hey, could you turn that subject into a book?” The tea guy gives it the ol’ can-do. Around the same time, picture – if you will – the same tea guy being interviewed about his blog. And, after some time passes, ends up engaged to the interviewer.

Sounds like my fantasy, doesn’t it? Well, it’s this guy’s reality.

Tony Gebely is one of the most well-known personalities in the tea community. He is the former purveyor of Chicago Tea Garden, and his personal blog – World of Tea – is one of the most frequented. Seriously, I’d kill for that guy’s analytics.

By some stroke of luck, I had a chance to meet him. Business brought him to my fair berg, and I was tasked with showing him the some of the sights. And by that, I mean we drank beer. First stop was the Widmer Brewery – a must see for any out-of-towner. While there, I picked his brain on all things from blogging, books, business, tea, and remaining the statistical outlier to my “tea and dating” theory.

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Our second stop – The PDX Green Dragon – saw us talking more about tea…while we drank tea-beer! As if hailed from on high, they had a double-fermented Earl Grey beer on tap. I settled on that while Tony dug into a Chamomile ale.

I dropped him off back at his hotel, or at least as close as I could. No, I was not drunk, but my GPS apparently was. And we hoped to touch-bases again at World Tea Expo. (There’s that name again!)

Pu-erh Into Darkness

It was a Thursday.

Star Trek Into Darkness was premiering at midnight. Throughout the course of the day, I was torn as to whether or not I wanted to stay up that late to see it. A part of me just wanted to wait until that following Tuesday when I knew it would be cheaper, but the Trekkie in me wanted to see it “NAO!”.

While I was mulling over that geek debacle, I was in the middle of finishing another blog. All the while, sipping some Nepalese pu-erh. You heard right. Nepalese. Pu-erh.

It was the product that actually brought me to the attention of Nepali Tea Traders – an outfit that sources from private farmers in the Ilam region of Nepal. They had quite the extensive collection of Nepalese oolongs, but it was the pu-erh that really caught my eye.

The first time I steeped it, I went with the NTD’s Westernish instructions – about a teaspoon of leaves in 8oz. of water for three-and-a-half minutes. The result was a cherry wood red liquor with a very earthy nose. Like, legitimately earthy and not “dead fish” earthy. It tasted like a shou pu-erh twice its age or older. The earthy aspect was complimented by a chewy, almost fruit-like lean – roasted plums or something to that effect.

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On a second go-around – this time, gongfu prep – I did four successive at thirty and forty seconds in a gaiwan. With slightly more leave to play with. Each of the four infusions differed, but not enough to relate each steep individually. The flavor more-or-less deepened rather than changed. The infusions were sweeter, richer, more nuanced, and heavier on the Himalayan muscatel lean. A winy note also showed up gradually over each attempt. Plus, it was a treat to see liquor darken as the leaves opened up more.

It was during this second gong-fu-ish go-around when I was having my Trekkie crisis. I don’t know if it was “boldy steeping a tea I hadn’t steeped before” or what…but Trek won out. I went to the midnight showing, hopped up on seven-or-eight steeps of an exploratory pu-erh. Fitting for a kid that grew up Trek.

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Scenes from Smith’s

One particular Monday morning, I was obligated to pick up my sister at the airport. I had time to kill before heading out to PDX. I did what I always do when I was  around downtown Portland; I headed to Smith Teamaker.

In the span of two hours, over a pot of Uva Ceylon, I observed the following things…and jotted them down. Because that’s what writers do, occasionally:

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–      There was a short, nerdy guy with a woman that bore a striking resemblance to Sophia Loren circa 1970-something. Strikingly gorgeous. No matter what she said or did. He seemed enraptured. He was just happy to be there in her presence. In his shoes, I would’ve been, too.

–     A couple off toward the display wall were arguing over whether or not to by one of their mother’s the Lord Bergamot. They couldn’t remember whether or not she liked Earl Grey. I almost wanted to chime in, but didn’t.

–    A gorgeous, sandy blonde-haired woman came in – clad in jogger attire – headed for the display wall, picked out some Brahmin, turned, looked at me and gave a slight smile. I bashfully stared at my pot.

–   Another couple were having a conversation with the tea bartender about the pronunciation of “rooibos”. As if on cue, a Smith employee, who was from South Africa, appeared to assist.

–  Got to talk with the owner for a spell about travel.

–  Tony – the lead blender – looked in my direction and said, “You should have your own plaque over that seat. You’re here so much.”

I love this place.

I meant to turn that two-hour period of time into a longer write-up, one leading into an idea about a tearoom anthology…but it never came to pass. There have been many more such occurrences, but these are the three that stuck out.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I heard the dryer chime. Time to start the actual packing for World Tea Expo.

Sigh.

Oh yeah, one more thing. If you’re going to be at World Tea Expo, you can find me here. I hear it’s going to be hoot.

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