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Recap No. 1: World Tea Expo 2009

Monday is Teahouse/Tea Room, Accessory and Brand Review Day!

It’s been a week since the end of the World Tea Expo in Las Vegas and I’m still a little heady from the experience. Here’s a recap of my time at the Expo and my takeaway from the event.

Like most people, I don’t work in the tea industry. I make my living doing something else. For me it’s in technology in one form or another (I get around). For others it might be banking or retail work. Regardless of our backgrounds we all have limits on the time we can spend away from the office. You can imagine the general level trepidation I had in spending half my yearly vacation allotment (not to mention the monetary costs) to attend this industry only event almost an entire continent away!

Let me start by stating that Las Vegas has never been my kind of town. No offense to those who enjoy it. I’m not one for gambling, unless I’m starting a business… which is a gamble all its own. And while I can certainly get into pretty lights… all the sex advertising is overkill for me. So Vegas is clearly a bit absurd for me. But I follow the tea… and there the tea went.

Although the expo started on Saturday, I spent Thursday travelling to Vegas. This would give me time to rest up before the expo and explore the town a bit more than I’d had on my only previous visit to Vegas. I spent Friday walking up and down the strip photographing the architecture and window shopping in the stores. There’s plenty to see, even if you’re not out for the gambling or the gratuitous nudity everywhere.

Friday night I picked up my badge and packet for the expo to avoid the morning lines. I missed the opening ceremonies Saturday morning… something I’ve never really enjoyed much at other gatherings. I hear there was a very good breakfast there, and that would have been appreciated versus the $9.70 I ended up paying for a bowl of fruit and some yogurt at the Red White & Blue restaurant in the Mandalay Bay hotel where the expo was held.

Right off the bat I had a session Saturday morning. The first was held by James Norwood Pratt on the Myths & Legends of Tea. Of the six sessions I had at this year’s expo this was probably my favorite. Mr. Norwood clearly and entertainingly discussed the real world drawbacks of concentrating too heavily on the oft complicated and confusing (not to mention long and growing) list of health benefits of tea. Also covering modern societies’ general loss of the ability to tell and listen to stories, Mr. Pratt was captivating and educating all at once. If you have the opportunity to read one of his myriad of books, I highly recommend it.

Also on Saturday I had a panel called “Educating Your Customer,” hosted by Michael Harney of Harney & Sons. If you frequent this site you’ll note a number of Harney & Sons reviews here for both hot and iced teas. After Mr. Pratt’s amazing presentation I had very high standards for this followup. However, as much as I admire Mr. Harney and what he and his family’s company have done for the industry over the years, he needs some improvement in the presentation skills arena. Looking past lots of “umms” and “ahhs” flowing through the presentation, Michael Harney gave a good presentation discussing the intricacies of staff training and engaging customers in their education process.

I hit the show floor after this and spent a whole lot of time (6+ hours) networking and meeting people. I’m a bit of a talker, so I got stuck at several booths discussing their teas, company histories and other things along the way. You would think so much time would have allowed me to meet lots of people, but I don’t think I even finished a full row of booths on Saturday out of the seven or eight total rows.

I ended up visiting with ITI (International Tea Importers) right through the door, then moving on to the Harney & Sons booth and speaking with both Michael and John Harney. Both gentlement are uniquely and fantastically knowledgeable about tea and I had been very much looking forward to interacting with them. I also ran into Tea Escapade, another blogger, while at this booth.

I also met with Rona Tison of ITO EN and learned they have been recycling their used plastic bottles and used tea leaves to make other goods. While I found making their business cards of these materials to be a natural extension of things… they also fashion pens, park benches and vending machines out of the plastics and tea leaves! Completely fascinating!

Saturday evening brought the World Tea Championships out. Far and away Rishi Tea took the most awards… walking away with NINE (9) first place wins and numerous runner up positions across multiple categories. I was most excited to see a relative newcommer with Puripan taking away a win. I’ve long been upset at the seemingly clear bias against Korean teas in the industry. I’m very excited to these teas to receive recognition!

Saturday brought many new relationships into my life… but Sunday and Monday were yet to come. Visit back next Monday for a recap of the final two days of my time at the World Tea Expo (WTE).

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