What I love most about tea is how often I find myself sharing a cup with a friend and chatting about life. Teatime offers those opportunities to just focus on friendship while sipping something truly fantastic. If alcohol is referred to as a “truth serum,” then tea is a “liquid companion,” best when shared with others.
That being said, I’ve recently had the chance to ask a handful of fabulous individuals about their experiences in the tea world. I look forward to sharing their answers that are filled to the brim with noteworthy tales and insider tea info to excite your palette and your curiosity about the world of tea.
I am honored to begin teaspoons & petals’ Tea Chat series with George Jage, owner of World Tea Expo. Many thanks to George for taking the time to share his tea insight below:
Since you have been owner of the World Tea Expo for the past 7 years, can you share a few of your favorite memories from the Expo?
Honestly, during the Expo life becomes a blur as the work our team put into planning the event comes to fruition. One of my favorite stories never happened at the Expo. In 2008, when we launched the World Tea Championship, TeaGschwendner won the Assam category. Following, Charles Cain forwarded us a letter from the garden he bought the tea from. The family had been tea growers for decades and was facing extremely difficult times. The father told his son he had to sell the farm and would look for work elsewhere. His son pleaded to try and hang on just a little longer, their family had been tea growers for generations and this is their craft. After the Expo, Charles contacted them to share the news that the tea they grew on their farm and made with their skill had won the top prize in the WTC. The reason this story is so important to me is because it is the quintessential reason I love doing what I do everyday. We have the ability to have a profound and positive affect on people’s lives all over the world. It also embodies the connectivity we all have in the world, and the mindfulness we should all have when we drink our tea.
What tea trends were you made aware of at this past expo?
There were so many new products at this year’s expo, but most significantly I see continued growth for specialty tea as a whole, major retailers doing private label, and strong growth in the under 30, or Millennial generation drinking tea. The industry is really still young in the US and there are a lot of directions innovation is heading. I also do see companies developing “quick-steep” methodologies to bridge the gap between the time it takes to make tea and the attention span of customers to increase to-go sales for tea.
What are your 5 favorite pieces of teaware?
We have so many beautiful tea pots and tons of accoutrements both at our office and home. One of my favorites is a hand painted clay tea pot from Rishi Tea that is perfect for brewing kukicha. Northwest Glass also introduced this year a double walled glass that is amazingly simple, but perfect for pouring the same kukicha into. We have had them for years, but the steepware made by The Tea Spot is perfect for brewing a single cup of loose tea, I usually use this for my oolongs. At this year’s expo, I was given an amazing gift by Lambert, a new exhibitor, from The Whole Leaf in San Diego that was given to him by a tea family in China. The pot has been used by the family and conditioned for over three decades. Again, it is the simplicity of this pot that makes it a favorite.
What are your top 5 favorite teas at the moment?
I primarily drink green teas and occasional a nice cup of puer. With the greens, I have been drinking a ton of kukicha as some great friends have keep me supplied and this is always best drank as fresh as possible. I have also been enjoying some excellent Korean green teas presented to me at the Expo by an amazing young lady, Jiyu and her mother, who represented the Korean tea culture association. And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention some wonderful dark oolongs made in Hawaii that I was given on a recent trip there. I hope the US tea community pays attention to what is going on in Hawaii. They only have about 10 acres under cultivation at this time, but the potential is huge. Almost all of the tea is grown by small famers and hand-crafted.
Can you share any news about next year's expo?
Some I can, other news we will be announcements in the months ahead. First, we are actually doing a second event in Boston this September, World Tea - East. It is a smaller conference and pavilion held in conjunction with Natural Products Expo – East. This is really geared to give us a presence on the East coast without diminishing the value and demand for the event in Las Vegas. The most important part of this co-location is we are defining tea as a natural product, not just a beverage, and certainly not a commodity. For our annual Expo, we will remain in Las Vegas , but will shift back into June (and will be for the future), and will be moving over to the Las Vegas Convention Center. Both of these will have a very positive affect for the Expo. But do stay tuned, we will have a major announcement at the end of July. Here are a few pictures from this year's Expo that George graciously shared with us.