The Summer version of the World Tea Expo was held June 24-26, 2011, in Las Vegas, Nevada USA.
Each summer a large contingent of representatives from the different sectors of the worldwide tea industry converges in Las Vegas for World Tea Expo. There are other large tea-industry trade shows held throughout the year, but World Tea Expo is the largest in the United States. This annual event has grown considerably since its inaugural year in 2003, when there were far fewer exhibitors and visitors, and the show was called “Take Me 2 Tea.” This year boasted over 200 exhibitors, with entire aisles on the show floor (or “Pavilions” depending on where and how they were positioned) dedicated to the tea industries and major growing regions of China, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, and India. Other significant regions were well-represented also, including Japan, Korea, Kenya and Indonesia, and many of the major specialty tea purveyors based in the United States had an active and prominent presence, both as exhibitors and as presenters.
As an industry-focused trade show, World Tea Expo is primarily geared towards tea professionals and the media, although the show’s appeal reaches beyond people currently employed in the tea business. It is a grand passion for the leaf which brings such a diverse assembly of people together in the desert each year. Like last year, attendees in June 2011 included aspiring entrepreneurs going through New Business Boot Camp, tea people seeking to further their knowledge through Specialty Tea Institute (STI) Certification, seasoned industry experts like Nigel Melican and James Norwood Pratt, and leaders in the US specialty tea industry like Beth Johnston of Teas Etc., and Joshua Kaiser of Rishi Tea. The commonality among all of the people at the show is an open amiability and air of cooperation, and a genuine desire to network, teach, learn, and experience.
For a full week — including two days of STI events on either side of the three-day Expo — attendees were presented with a host of opportunities to learn more about tea and the tea industry. The educational conference included the New Business Boot Camp, Executive and Technical Series, and the Core Conference seminars. In more hands-on types of tea education, there were workshops and focused tea tastings.
On the Expo floor there were displays and demonstrations of the latest processing and packaging machinery alongside traditional tea wares and storage. Naturally, there was an enormous variety in the styles and cultural associations of tea and tea products. There were also numerous casual opportunities to taste a wide variety of tea and tea-related foods and beverages at the booths of the many tea vendors on the show floor. There were more exhibitors at the Expo this year, and from my perspective there was a higher overall quality level of teas and tea-related products on display, as compared to last year.
One highlight among the vast sea of exhibitors on the Expo floor was the Taiwan Pavilion, where Thomas Shu and his wife Josephine Pan hosted tastings and demonstrations. They were aided by their compatriots in the Taiwanese tea industry and at one of the tastings I attended, by Bill Waddington of Tea Source, who waxed poetically about the special Taiwanese varietal developed in Taiwan in the ’80s named Ruby18. A few lucky visitors to the booth were also given the rare opportunity to hear Thomas Shu sing Hakka songs during the course of his presentations, one of which was about Baozhong (Pouchong).
One of the events during the Expo that I found considerably more interesting and valuable than I expected was the Keynote address by Chuck Underwood, Founder and Principal of The Generational Imperative. His talk, which was geared towards the people in the business of selling tea and tea-related experiences directly to consumers, very succinctly laid out the primary categorizations for consumers based on their age range, and spoke to the values and interests of each group: how they differed and how they aligned. The Generational Imperative website has a broad overview of the definitions of “America’s Living Generations” that Mr. Underwood discussed. Rather than being a reduction of people into broad and meaningless generalizations, the summaries provided valuable insight into what elements of products appeal to different cross-sections of the American public.
In the midst of all of the products and talk about ways to sell stuff to tea drinkers, one of the most enjoyable elements of the experience is the social aspect. I have met some really fabulous people in the world of tea, and it is great to get to talk to so many of them over the course of a few short days. For many of us who mainly interact with each other online due to geographic constraints, the Expo is the one time during the year that we get to see many our friends in the tea world in person. It is also a chance to meet some of the people we have only met previously through the virtual worlds of social media. I believe that attending the Expo is an experience that nearly any person seriously immersed into the world of tea would find valuable and enjoyable. Maybe I’ll see you there next year!
Editor’s note: Didn’t get to the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas in June? Don’t worry. Another one is scheduled for early September in Philadelphia. See the WTE website for details.
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