It was the last day of World Tea Expo, and I seemed to have lost my “Way”.
That’s how I felt that morning—kinda lost. Rousting out of bed was difficult, as per usual. But today was particularly hard. Last days of anything usually are. To kick the tiredness to the curb, I went from zero-to-“wake-the-hell-up” with a yaupon RTD.
It did the trick.
I checked out of my hotel room, and hailed a Lyft to ferry me to the convention center. My driver was the same chap I had the day before. He got me to the locale in record time.
When I arrived, I made my way to the press room, where tea-infused doughnuts were (again) on the menu.
I went for the chai doughnuts this time . . . munched on one, and stored another one for later in my goody bag.
The only core conference class I cared about this day was Darlene Meyers-Perry’s Tea Vessels = A Way to Steep Up Tea Sales class. (Great name!) In my small tea circle, three people either had their own panels or were parts of others. Our li’l blogger group had come a long way, I thought.
Darlene was visibly nervous. Our best “cheerleader” faces probably didn’t help much. The fact that the room was visibly well-attended probably wracked her nerves a little, too. Jo “A Gift of Tea” Johnson was also visibly proud, seeing one of her best friends at the podium.
Of all the courses I attended that week, even among the ones put on by friends, Darlene’s was my favorite. Not for the subject matter. (Because, let’s face it, I don’t know jack about teaware . . . let alone teaware placement in tearooms.) However, I was enamored with her pure enthusiasm for the subject.
Once she got going, if she was nervous, it didn’t show at all.
She commanded that crowd of cuppa classroom attendees like it was a Zen orchestra. She was doing what she loved, loved the heck out of what she did, and she was gonna share that level of love with others . . . whether they liked it or not. That was one aspect of Darlene’s character I always admired; that enthusiasm. That was her “Way”; her “Dao of Darlene”, if you will.
After her class, I hit the exhibition hall one last time. I had two goals in mind: Tea purchases and networking. The latter of which I had been really terrible at all week. The whole point of a trade show was to talk to people in your trade. Save for reconnecting with old friends and acquaintances, I hadn’t really furthered my own business-related cause. If I had any at all. Case in point: For the fourth year in a row, I forgot to print up business cards. I was starting to wonder if that was on purpose.
On the tea purchase front, I got quite a bit of help from Oolong Owl‘s Charissa. On three occasions, she messaged me about puerh finds or other handy things. Tea For Me Please’s Nicole was also a bad influence, particularly after I saw this photo of a tea pet she purchased.
Dammit, I wanted a teapet, too! So . . . I bought this guy.
Freakin’ creepy, but awesome.
I also had it in mind to purchase a nifty water boiler called a [NAME REDACTED] . . . but the dipshits at the booth lost the invoice I filled out. I suppose that was Fate’s way of saying I didn’t need one. Moving on . . .
As I was wandering the different booths, I noticed two blogger friends sitting with a woman for a tea publication dubbed [NAME REDACTED]. They were local to me, and I thought to myself, Time to put on my networking face.
I introduced myself, and . . . was promptly ignored.
Okay . . . so much for networking.
After that bit of awkwardness, I got a message from Jeffrey McIntosh. He told me to come by the Teabook booth so he could pass something my way. And, hoo-boy, it was a doozy.
I may have drooled a little.
On one of my wanders back to the press room, I caught up a bit with Effie Gidakos—a fellow tea blogger/radio show personality from Australia.
I did a small guest spot for a future episode of her show, and we talked a bit of shop. Earlier in the week, she mentioned that she and her compatriot were coming to Portland following Expo. I cheerfully said we had to meet-up. (Blogger’s note: We did . . . and that’s a story for another time.)
Before the exhibition hall closed, as we tea bloggers herded together, I noticed Tea-Happiness Sara and I Heart Teas Rachel tittering about something excitedly. I asked what all the fuss was about. They explained that they were heading to a booth to fetch a grandpa-style tea mug called “The Wall”. I shoved money in front of Sara’s face and said, “Buy me one!!!”
Then the hall closed down. Another World Tea Expo was done. That feeling of “lost-my-‘Way’” came on me even stronger.
As Team Tea Blogger exited, I received another message. This time from My Japanese Green Tea’s Ricardo. He was wondering what we all had planned. As I received this message, the notion of heading to a place called Milk Teaze was brought up. It was a lingerie-themed bubble tea shop; how very Vegas. We found Ricardo and ran the idea by him. I fully expected him to decline.
“Sounds like fun,” he said . . . to my surprise.
First, though? We all needed food. At tea conventions, it was easy to forget that whole “eating” thing.
We settled on In-‘n-Out because . . . East Coasters were in our group. And everyone considered that a big deal. I was never the biggest fan of the chain, but given my love of Del Taco, I wasn’t one to talk. While we were in line, it was then that I realized there was still a chai doughnut in my goody bag.
I panicked. There were also puerh tea cakes in the bag as well. And, sure enough, the chai doughnut was stuck to the wrapper of one of those puerh beengs. Well, that’s gonna taste interesting, I grumbled inwardly.
Following the fast food frenzy, we all ended up at a coffee shop. No clue why. Of course, most of us ordered tea. I . . . spent a half-hour in the bathroom. Eight hours of tea, followed by fast food, and . . . you do the math.
I came out of the unisex stall pleading for a plunger. The poor barista (who kinda looked like Pedro from Napoleon Dynamite) stared at me, wide-eyed.
They didn’t have one. Another barista scrambled to look for something, anything, and only came up with a toilet brush.
I grabbed it and said, “That’ll do. I’ll take care of it.”
And I did. After all, this sorta thing was what I did for a living back in the real world. I returned to the group.
Joy’s Teaspoon’s Naomi asked me, “Where have you been?”
She palmed her forehead, “Why does this stuff always happen to you?”
Next stop: Milk Teaze.
It was . . . exactly as one’d expect. And it was awesome at doing it. The tea was . . . fine. Perfectly fine. Damn fine. So were other things. I took it all in stride.
Final stop: Tealet HQ.
Every year since 2014, Team Tealet threw a World Tea Expo after-party. This year was no different. This time, since Expo returned to Vegas, the after-party was held at their main office. General manager, Rie, did the pouring of teas in the main room.
Whereas Mike Petersen entertained some guests and luminaries in the back.
At that particular moment, he and representatives from Laos Tea were comparing cooked puerhs from Yunnan and Laos. I dipped in at least once. I had to.
In another one of the rooms, our group set up shop.
“Tea Mafia” Donna Naomi presided over a tasting of random oolongs and other wares.
Most years, this all felt like home. This year . . . everything felt different. For some reason, this felt like my last Expo.
Not my last one, ever—heck no. It just seemed like the dynamics had changed. New tea stars were rising, some were changing their paths, and other still were finding out how brightly they could shine. I needn’t look any further than my own tea social circle to see it.
This Expo had very much been the Year of the Rachel.
NO! No-no-no. Not that.
Yes, that Rachel. Of all my tea pals, she truly found her voice this Expo. Both as a blogger and as a professional.
Usual suspects Jo Johnson and Nicole Martin were recognized as much as ever as the tea educators/professionals we all knew they were. And Darlene Meyers-Perry had also joined their ranks with all the vibrancy and energy of a comet.
Sara “Tea-Happiness” Shacket experienced the whole Expo thing for the very first time. And she took it all in with both wide-eyed innocence and seasoned enthusiasm.
And there were plenty others I didn’t mention. Rising stars, all of ‘em.
Me? I felt like a gas lamp at the corner of these crossroads.
Well-lit, sure, but stationary. Unclear of path or purpose, not exactly amateur or professional, just . . . there. I had lost my “Way”.
Two days later, I was on a plane back home. I opened a bag of Darjeeling gifted to me by Rajiv Lochan—a second flush Rungneet—and brewed it grandpa-style in a paper cup.
I headed back to reality while still sipping on the fantasy.
When I got home, I first took stock of all my swag from the trip.
There was . . . a lot. The most from any Expo I’d ever attended. I figured it’d take me ‘til the end of winter to taste it all.
Two months have passed since then. I spent the better part of the Summer of 2016 writing about that one week in June. The exercise was (and still is) a deviation from my current reality. Going to work, listening to the news, hearing about political fear-mongering, worldwide violence, rampant injustices, yet I sipped those troubles away with an oolong or a black tea.
I still haven’t found my “Way”, but perhaps if I mooched a bit of the “Dao of Darlene” I’ll get a better idea as I mosey along:
Do what you love. Love the heck out of what you do. Share that level of love with others, whether they like it or not.
Maybe it really is that simple.