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World Tea Expo 2014, Day 2: Attack of the Clonals


WTE2014 Day 2 header

There’s more than one way to skin a cat … er … build a tea plantation. The common theme through much of what we saw today was exactly that: how to make tea plants.

Traditionally, humans have allowed plants to go to seed, and then planted those seeds. That involves a male plant and a female plant, and the mixing of DNA, which can have unpredictable results. For many crop plants, farmers came to realize that taking cuttings meant the new plant was identical to the parent plant. If you have a perfect cultivar, don’t pollute the DNA with random Mendelian fluctuations; keep the strain pure.

This process, whether it entails planting cuttings or grafting varietals onto different rootstock, is known as cloning. Today at the World Tea Expo, clonals and interesting varietals of tea plants turned into a bit of a theme for the day.

The day began with fellow tea blogger Geoffrey Norman (the Lazy Literatus) rushing up to me. “Bacon tea?” he asked frantically, “Where did you find this bacon tea?” I took him down to the appropriate booth (see yesterday’s post), and as we waited for them to brew bacon tea, he said, “Did you hear about the smoked green Assam at Tealet?”

I’ve been looking for a good green Assam for quite a while. The overwhelming majority of the world’s green tea comes from Camellia sinensis var sinensis: the Chinese varietal of the tea plant. Camellia sinensis var assamica, the Indian varietal, is quite different.

We wandered over to Tealet’s booth and found that they were in the middle of a video recording. We met up with TJ Williamson, who said that they did, indeed have green Assam (both smoked and unsmoked), but we’d have to wait until they finished the video thing. After we chatted for a bit, he said that he’d like to interview Doug and I for the World Tea Podcast. We spent the next hour sipping tea and talking into TJ’s microphone.

Podcasting with TJ

Totally not a posed picture of me (on the right), TJ (middle), and my son, Doug (left) recording the World Tea Podcast.

The smoked green Assam was unique. The first hit on the tongue was very astringent, and very different from the aroma. It had a full mouthfeel, and it mellowed to a light smoky malty flavor that was very pleasant. They steeped the first infusion with 188-190 degree (F) water, and the second infusion with 175 degree water was much less astringent and much smoother.

Much of our afternoon consisted of placing orders and tasting tea — two of my favorite things to do. We found a lot of different cultivars (many of them clonals), and ordered some great new tea for the tea bar.

One particularly significant stop was at Ajiri Tea. I know I have said a few unflattering things about a particular Kenyan tea company, but I’d like to note for the record that I’ve never had a problem with Kenyan tea. Ajiri in particular is doing some wonderful things.

When Kenya gained independence from Great Britain in 1963, many of the huge tea conglomerates retained their land and operations. Many tracts of land, however, were broken up into family farms and cooperatives, which now represent almost 60% of Kenya’s huge tea industry. That’s who we prefer to buy from.

Ajiri was founded not just to export tea, but to create jobs (the word “ajiri” is Swahili for “employ”), especially for women. The boxes for their tea are hand-made, as are the beaded string ties for the bags. All of the labeling and decoration on the outside of the boxes is handmade from dried banana tree bark, and profits go back to Kenya for educating orphans. This is a tea operation we can get behind. Look for their products on our shelves next month.

Ajiri

Me, with Kate Holby of Ajiri Tea. You can see some of their tea box designs in the upper left. I want a shirt in the pattern of Kate’s dress!

Ajiri tea boxes

Some of the handmade tea boxes from Ajiri. Every one is different.

The day continued with a class in rolling oolong teas, and the tea bloggers roundtable you’ve all been waiting for, but it’s after midnight and I am growing weary. I shall sign off now, and continue tomorrow with the World Tea Expo saga…

World Tea Expo 2014, Day 1: The Saga Begins


WTE2014 Day 1 header

So here I am at World Tea Expo 2014. The day didn’t start all that well. I’ve been attending expos and trade shows for decades, and this has to be the hardest one to find ever. Very little signage, and the parking area had no directions to the expo area. We got there late, there was an issue with my badge, and we didn’t get breakfast.

The day got better quickly, though. One of the first booths we visited had BACON TEA! That’s right. Tea with maple and BACON! Yeah, it sounds weird, but it was quite tasty. Also, my magic press pass has a sticker on it that allows me to take pictures on the show floor. I know, I took pictures last year, too, but a large security guard offered to escort me out of the building and take my badge away if I didn’t stop it. This year, it’s kosher.

Tea Expo Badge

It’s okay, Mr. Security Guard. I’m legit this time.

I won’t even try to cover everything in this one post. Steampunk and vacuum tea infusion systems are going to get their own article. I’ll be writing book reviews separately. There will be an upcoming post comparing yaupan with the other caffeinated holly infusions (guayusa and yerba mate). And smokable mate? That’s definitely another subject all on its own!

country breakfast

They call it “Country Breakfast” tea, but I’m a “tell it like it is” kind of guy, so I’m going to call it bacon tea.

The bacon tea is from the Tovah Group. Its ingredients, among other things, are maple black tea, lapsang souchong (for a smoky flavor), maple hickory smoked bacon jerky, and various masala chai spices. I think this will go really well with breakfast!

The next person to improve my day was Lillie at the Modern Tea Girl. She was showing off a line of tea-based frosting mixes (“just add two sticks of butter…”). To demonstrate, she had tasting cups with little tasting spoons, but that’s not all! She went above and beyond the call of duty by making little cupcakes. After Doug and I sampled — just a few, of course — we decided that the Lady Grey and the Chocolate Chai were definitely standout flavors!

Modern Tea Girl

With some cupcakes in my belly and tea samples from a half-dozen booths, I finally felt that I could settle into my rhythm for the day.

With hundreds of booths showing off approximately 4.3 zillion products, you can’t get overly caught up in one booth unless it’s (a) a good fit for the tea bar or (b) a great subject for a blog post. Oh, since I’m with my 21-year-old (single) son, there’s also a (c) that has to do with pretty girls in the booth, but we won’t get into that one.

As I said, there will be more posts, so I won’t describe the plethora of tea storage containers, yixing teapots, infusers, travel mugs, food products, RTD (ready-to-drink) beverages, tea blends, raw spices, electric kettles, and other wondrous things we looked at. We’ll be buying a lot of this stuff and taking it back to the shop. Some of what we looked at had me itching for a bigger budget (would you buy a $400 teacup with real gold in the ceramic glaze?), and some had me scratching my head.

Infuser Tray

Although this looks like the Grand Inquisitor’s tray of torture devices, I’m pretty sure they’re all tea infusers. The one second from the left is really cool!

Two of the tea blends I encountered caught my eye, and the merchandizing part of my brain immediately jumped to the conclusion that they should be displayed side-by-side:

Elmwood Inn Fine Teas has a new small batch bourbon black tea. No, it doesn’t actually have bourbon in it, but they’ve put together a collection of teas and spices (including a smoky lapsang souchong) that really evoke the flavor of bourbon. It reminds me of what Vintage Tea Works did with their line of wine-inspired tea blends last year.

To go with it, we have Hancook Tea’s “Hang-Over (sic) No More” blend. This South Korean company has blended lotus leaf, persimmon leaf, hydrangea serrata leaf, and mulberry leaf to come up with a surprisingly sweet (but sugar-free) hangover remedy. It’s not something I’d drink just for the flavor, but it’s still rather pleasant — and who drinks hangover remedies for the flavor, anyway?

Bourbon and Hangovers

Have you ever seen a toy that you really wanted, but you just couldn’t have? AOI (our matcha supplier) had a matcha grinding stone device in their booth. It’s two pieces of hand-carved stone with some wooden parts. You place dried green tea leaves in the top, crank the handle, and it mills those leaves into matcha powder.

We tried it out, and it works wonderfully. The kind folks at AOI took it apart and showed us how it works. I’m not likely to ever start grinding my own matcha, and this device isn’t for sale anyway, but I’d sure love to have it in the tea bar, just to show off!

We finished out the day with the networking party, which featured the most 70s band ever, complete with bell-bottoms, afros, and Earth, Wind & Fire songs, and headed back to the hotel to wind down, blog a bit, and put together some orders for tomorrow.

And now, it is time to sleep. There will be more tomorrow. Lots more…

If you follow me on Twitter (@TeaWithGary), you can get updates all day long. Otherwise, check the blog at the end of the day.

And if you’re here in Long Beach, don’t miss the Tea Bloggers Roundtable, which will feature me along with a half-dozen or so of my fellow tea bloggers. They’re not all as strange as me (Robert Godden isn’t here, so I guess I have to be the weird one this year), but it should be a great panel discussion. It’s at 5:00 p.m. in room 104B.

 

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