Steep Stories

of the Lazy Literatus

Month: June 2014

The “Tease” of World Tea Expo

The Road Trip Sextet, Part 3 – “The ‘Tease’ of World Tea Expo”

For Part 1, go HERE.

For Part 2, go HERE.

You know it’s been awhile since you’ve blogged when your mother says as much in a Facebook message. Earlier this week, my Mum sent me such a message: “So, is June 9th the last entry of Steep Stories?”

Obviously implying something morbid.

To prove that this is indeed not the end, let’s continue wear I left off.

As I mentioned in my last write-up, I went to World Tea Expo this year with a plan of attack. Since I was going to be limited on time, I double-checked the list of vendor booths I wanted to hit and beelined to those first. Basically, it was a “unique tea” hunt. And the way I kept track of what I tasted? Twitter, of course.

Twitter was handy for two reasons: (1) It helped me keep tabs on everything I tried and things to follow up on. (2) It provided a good outline for any future taster notes I wanted to put in blog form…such as now.

So, I present to you – in no particular order – a stream-of-consciousness, Twitter-fueled rundown of some of my tea-related highlights from World Tea Expo 2014.

bacolapsang

The second booth I went to was based upon a blog I read by Gary Robson. He had mentioned coming across a Bacon Lapsang blend. When I found him on the Expo floor (which wasn’t hard to do), he offered to guide me to it. The folks that put out the blend were from The Tovah Team – an outfit based out of Las Vegas, NV. Said blend was dubbed “Country Breakfast”…and I’ll be damned if it didn’t taste like a country breakfast. A darn good start to the festivities.

Ujeon

I would’ve been remiss in my du-teas, if I didn’t stop by the Hankook Tea booth at least once. Their Hwancha was a favorite of mine from a couple of years back. This year, they had their Ujeon available for sampling – a high-grade green tea from Korea that’d been on my “list” for a while.

Ujeon

 

It was perfect. Like, gyokuro perfect, only with that sejak bend and something more. I don’t really remember exact nuances beyond the initial “Mmmmmm” effect.

Chris Giddings (of Teaity fame) grabbed me as I was moseying by and outright insisted I stop by the Elmwood Inn booth. The reason? A bourbon-scented black tea, of course.

Bourbon Black Tea

While not barrel-aged, like some other teas I’ve tried, it was instead a black tea blend infused with the essence of pure Kentucky bourbon. The results were creamy, slightly peaty, and sweet. Definitely one I want to revisit sometime soon.

Although I didn’t have a quixotic Twitter update about the booth, I have to talk about Tealet.

Image mooched from Tealet's Facebook Page.

Image mooched from Tealet’s Facebook Page.

Theirs was by far, the best booth at Expo this year. It was also the largest. They shared their space with the International Tea Farms Alliance. The result was a mega-tea-booth of sorts, complete with tasting tables and an interview space. The highlight there?

Four words: Smoked. Assam. Green. Tea.

Smoked Assam Green

The Heritage Tea Estate in Assam, India had smoked a green tea over firewood, and the results were pure manly bliss. Smoke, grass, astringency, and epic-ness fumed from my little taster cup. I would say more about my Tealet experience, but that’s a whole ‘nother entry unto itself.

WulongMaocha

In my wanderings, I came across the Seven Cups booth. Regrettably, I didn’t run into Austin Hodge this year, but I did try some of their wares for the first time. The tea that really caught my eye was – as mentioned above – their Wuyi Rock Wulong Maocha.

Wuyi Maocha

It tasted like a Wuyi oolong, only rougher around the edges. I wouldn’t say incomplete because that would imply imperfection. I would say it was more in line with a sheng pu-erh right before fermentation.

CamSin99AliShan

Along the same lines, and somewhat nearby, was the Camellia Sinensis booth. My goal there was to finally pick up some Laotian pu-erh for sampling. Unfortunately, they hadn’t brought any for sale this year. However, they did have a bit of aged Ali Shan oolong for the tasting. That was…well…yeah…awe-inspiring.

Satemwa

I was overjoyed to see a Malawi tea estate represented at the Expo. The name Satemwa had passed by my computer a few times, particularly their white teas. This year, though, I was hoping to taste one of their oolongs. Lo and behold, they were happy to oblige that simple request.

Satemwa

Their white teas were as good as I remembered. Their black teas: On par with others I’ve had from the region. The oolong? Man, I wanted to spend more time with that. Very nuanced flavor – almost like a midsummer Ti Guan Yin by way of a Taiwanese low-altitude oolong. Very interesting flavor.

They also had a pu-erh available for the smelling, but not enough to brew up. Looks like I’m going to be doing a highlight on that sometime soon…after some mandatory begging.

ModernTeaGirl

I had yacked with the folks behind Modern Tea Girl on Twitter for well over a year, even though I was nowhere near their target market. That said, when I learned that they were hosting a booth at Expo, I had to at least stop by and say, “Hi”. I wasn’t sure what they would be featuring – or if I could mention it – but those fears were assuaged when I saw their spread.

Modern Tea Girl

Matcha cake frosting…what more do I need to say?

It was fan-f**king-tastic. No nuance needed.

And finally…

YauponAsi

Of all the teas and herbs on display at Expo, this was the one I was most eager to try. After years of research and a few scant mentions, I was finally able to notch off this American-grown Yerba Mate cousin, thanks to Yaupon Asi.

Yaupon

 

Those that compare the taste to Yerba Mate don’t know what they’re talking about. Sure, there are similarities, but they end with the herbaceous forefront. Yaupon has more in common with another cousin – Guayusa. There’s a sweet underpinning throughout the taste that is just remarkably pleasant. I would say more, but I have an entire feature piece I want to do on this wonderful caffeinated herb.

And that about wraps up the notable tasting experiences this year. My swag bag of bounty was not as hefty as last year’s Expo, but I didn’t expect it to be. As I said, I was there with a specific goal in mind, and I more than met it. Yes, there were other wonderful teas I tried that weren’t mentioned above. Mostly because I plan to do something with each of them individually – TeaCuplets and whatnot. (Speaking of which, READ MY TEACUPLETS!!! Okay, done.)

When I returned home, I was also greeted by a box from TeaVivre. So, by proxy, I sort of included it with the WTE swag, just by sheer proximi-tea and timing.

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Next time…the epic beach house party.

For Part 4, go HERE.

Nicole Sandwiches, Blogger Rountables, and World Tea Expo

The Road Trip Sextet, Part 2 – “Nicole Sandwiches, Blogger Roundtables, and World Tea Expo”

For Part 1, go HERE.

Trying to plan for this year’s World Tea Expo was a nightmare personified. Even more so than last year. At least with 2013, I had a plan (sorta) set in motion by December of 2012! This year, though? I wasn’t even sure I was going until two months prior to the actual event.

As some of you might have read in an oft-changed article, I originally set out to e-publish a book, get a press pass, then use the meager profits of said e-book to fund Expo. Those plans fell flat nearly as soon as I announced them. Plan B was to use my tax return to fund the trip. This was also curbed when the need to pay off some back-debt reared its ugly head.

There was no Plan C. Instead, I skipped ahead all the way to Plan W. After three trips to the same brewery with a friend, a miracle happened…and months later, I was off to California with my mother in tow.

For the first couple of days, I hung out in San Diego with family. All the while, I received texts , tweets, and taunts from fellow tea friends wondering why I wasn’t at the World Tea Expo, yet. My plan was to attend that Friday – the day of the Tea Bloggers Roundtable. Everything else was a bit of a crapshoot. However, I did have a basic plan in mind:

Step 1: Hand off tea gifts to people I promised things to (but never mailed).

Step 2: Visit new and old booths and try certain teas I researched prior.

Step 3: Nicole Sandwich.

Step 4: PROFIT!!!

(No, that South Park reference never gets old.)

The morning of Friday the 30th, I got up, donned my “uniform”, took an obligatory selfie

…And announced I was on my way to Long Beach. It was a mere two-hour drive from San Diego, and I scheduled the trek so that I’d miss the majority of California’s infamous traffic.

By 11:30-ish, I was inside the press room – basking in the glow of the trade show below.

World Tea Expo

This was way bigger a space than the year prior. Last year’s press box was a cubicle; this was a penthouse. Just like last year, Aaron Kiel – World Tea Media’s press guru – was there to greet me and hand off my press pass. I waited a moment in the room, gorging on candy, using the restroom, and quizzing Aaron on the etiquette this time around.

As I was on candy number…five?…my first bloggeriffic encounter appeared – Naomi (Joy’s Teaspoon).

Joy's Teaspoon

We yacked for a moment or seven, and then it was off to the Expo floor proper. I had no rhyme or reason as to how I was going to encounter other folks, so I went about enacting Step 2 of my Expo Plan – booth-hunting.

However, that plan got sidetracked frequently. In the best of friendly ways.

The first two I encountered on the Expo floor proper were International Tea Moment’s Jen P., and Nicole AmazonV. Another mandatory selfie ensued.

International Tea Moment

Further down the line, I encountered father-‘n-son team Gary “Tea With Gary” Robson and Doug Robson. One was in a cowboy hat, the other in a utilikilt. They weren’t difficult to spot. Sadly, I forgot to photograph said encounter. Yet gifts of un-Yunnan-ish “pu-erhs” were bestowed upon the duo.

Also – regrettably not photographed – was my chance encounter with the couple team from The Jasmine Pearl in the company of Zhi Tea’s Doctor Oolong – Jeff Lorien – Chris “Teaity/Tea-Guy” Giddings, Linda “The Tea Stylist” Gaylard, and everyone with Team Tealet. There were likely others that I’m forgetting to mention, but it’s all a blur. I was a wee bit tea drunk by that point, sue me.

Once my booth errands were finally completed (I’ll get to that in another blog), I tried to keep an eye out for another Nicole – Tea For Me Please. In my wanderings, I had yet to encounter her. I even tweeted as such.

Untitled

Around the same time, the League of U.S. Tea Growers meeting was convening. Per Naomi’s mention, I wanted to sit in on that, and see how things were coming along.

968934_4947558241961_1052879800_n

Several growers were there, and Jason “Great Mississippi Tea Company” McDonald did the opening remarks. Bylaws were discussed, presentations were given, and slideshows about tea growth efforts were plenty. I envied everything they were doing.

After said meeting, I finally caught up with Tea For Me Please. She was – without peer – the oldest of my original tea contacts. Not in age, but duration. We both used to contribute to Teaviews.com. She went independent around 2008; I didn’t follow that example until the latter part of 2011. Aside from Google Hangouts, I’d never met her in person. We were like fast friends.

Tea For Me Please

That was when I declared that I had one more mission to accomplish. We found the other Nicole at the Teas Etc. booth. I commissioned Chambre De Sucre’s Lisa to take a photo of myself between the two Nicoles.

Nicole Sandwich!

Nicole Sandwich mission: Accomplished. (Not to be confused with a “knuckle sandwich”, which is far more unpleasant.)

Following the U.S. Growers meet-up, and the sandwich, there was the main event I wanted to attend: The Tea Bloggers Roundtable.

The Tea Bloggers Roundtable

Back in January, I himmed-and-hawed, complained-and-crawled to get on the panel. But my dubious chances of attending the Expo curbed such ambitions. In my place, Tea For Me Please took the chair. Frankly, she was the better choice because she actually worked in the industry. Joy’s Teaspoon’s Naomi presided over the panel like a pro.

 

I was overjoyed at the fact that among those in the audience were Ricardo of My Japanese Green Tea and Alex from AdventureTea. I had wondered if I was going to encounter either of them. That left only one more person I had to meet.

Dinner plans were made after the Roundtable concluded. Half the group went off to grab Ethiopian food, while the rest of us settled on an Irish pub across the street from the Long Beach Convention Center.

Yes, I know the picture sucks; I blame my phone.

Yes, I know the picture sucks; I blame my phone.

Beers were had, jokes were made (sometimes at my expense), and a good time with good company (and food) were had all around. Members of Team Tealet also joined our merry band. It was then that I found out the whereabouts of the final person I had to meet. The Snooty Tea Person, herself.

Rie (Oolong City) and Tea For Me Please discussed how they were going to pick her up at the LBC airport, and I forced myself along. Sure, I was pushy, but then I wouldn’t have gotten this:

And she was the final person I had to bestow a tea gift bag on.

Snooty Tea Person

Final mission: Accomplished.

Whoah, I haven’t even gotten to all the teas I tried yet.

Oh well…tune in next time. As they say.

For Part 3, go HERE.

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