Thursday, June 30, 2016

World Tea Expo 2016 - The Night Life

**Warning - this will be a long post with lots of pictures!**

We were in Sin City for World Tea Expo but I also made sure that my fiance and I were able to hit the town a time or two. We haven't been able to go on vacation together in years so it was really nice to get away from everything back home for a while.

We stayed at The Mardi Gras Hotel and Casino, which was a bit a time warp. It was a bit run down but served the purpose well enough. It was a very short walk to the Las Vegas Convention Center so that made life a lot easier. It was a little far from "the strip" and some of the main touristy attractions but that wasn't much of a big deal. Thank god for Uber carting us around! It was hot but not unbearably so and there was a nice breeze for pretty much the whole week.

Temps climbed to over 100 degrees a few days after we left so we really lucked out as far as weather goes. I would say that the only complaint I had about Las Vegas was the fact that people are allowed to smoke EVERYWHERE. As an asthmatic non-smoker, this presented a lot of challenges and sent me home with a slight cough. I actually had to stop walking through my hotel's lobby altogether.

Wednesday was our first night out and we decided to go see the sights. We started at the High Roller, the world's tallest observation wheel. We then hoofed it all around the strip. Although I enjoyed our jaunt, the crowds there were a lot to handle. I think EDC being in town probably had something to do with that.

Cheesing :)
The High Roller

View from the top
View from The Venetian

Thursday we decided to hit Fremont Street. This is where a lot of the older casinos are located. We found a cool local microbrewery called Banger Brewing thanks to a recommendation from our friends at +Tealet. Although it was crowded on Fremont Street, the vibe was quite a bit different than what I found on the strip. There were some decent bands playing on the different stages and the light show going on overhead was pretty cool.

Can't beat $8 beer flights

Jason and I absolutely love to eat. I think the highlight of the trip for him may have actually been a sandwich. We found a cute little place called Park on Fremont where we ordered Philly cheese steaks...where the cheese was macaroni and cheese. They were as amazing as they sound. I also really dug the hidden seesaw and the wall of porcelain plates on the back patio.

On our last night in Vegas, we spent some time gallivanting with my fellow tea bloggers. We hit two local tea places as well as the inevitable stop at In and Out. The first tea place we visited was PublicUs, a really cool little restaurant and coffee bar. I made Jason pose with a giant steak while I drank my Golden White Peony from Song Tea & Ceramics. Their mugs kept the tea so hot! I've never actually been able to capture steam with my camera before. Only a tea blogger would get excited about something like that but it made me happy.

Next, we visited a little place called Milk Teaze. For those that don't know it's a bubble tea shop where the waitresses wear lingerie, sort of a tea Hooters if you will. All of the drinks were made fresh on the spot.

I'm not really a fan of boba so I ordered the matcha ice cream milk green tea sans the icky bubbles. It was very sweet but absolutely delicious. Imagine drinking melted matcha ice cream with a scoop or two of matcha ice cream added on top. Their heart shaped bendy straws were adorable to boot. The staff was also really good sports given the general oddness of a large group of tea bloggers gathered in one place.

I have to give those girls props because I burn myself making tea at work while fully clothed. Doing it in my underwear would likely end up with a trip to the emergency room.

And with that, I'll end my WTE coverage for 2016 (with the exception of part two of the WTE edition Friday Round Up tomorrow). It really was an awesome experience and as always, I'm so glad that I went. Here's to next year being even more awesome!

Wednesday, June 29, 2016

World Tea Expo 2016 - The Seminars

The educational conference at World Tea Expo is something I always look forward to attending. As someone trying to make my way in the world of tea, the search for knowledge never ends. Having the opportunity to learn from so many voices in different fields is invaluable. I couldn't make every session on my to-do list, mostly due to scheduling conflicts, but the ones that I was able to attend were fantastic. This also my very first year speaking on my own. Talk about nerve wracking! I'll save all of that stuff for the end.

Re-evaluating Tea Education

The first thing on my WTE agenda was a panel helmed by +Jo J. I don't think she could have chosen a better group of people to discuss a hot-button issue. James Norwood Pratt, Austin Hodge, Kevin Gascoyne and +Darlene Meyers Perry each offered their perspectives on some very thought provoking questions. The validity of the many certification programs was called in question. Although some in the audience seemed to take this personally I think these comments were meant to spark a much-needed conversation, not to denigrate anyone. The industry seems to be coming to a crossroads and what happens in the coming years will determine where we go in the future. +Geoffrey Norman furiously typed quotes on our phones and there were quite a few gems.

"The harder it is to describe the taste, the better a tea is." - James Norwood Pratt

"The more we know, the more we realize we don't know much." - Austin Hodge

"I think it's important to understand where we are. And where we are is at the very beginning." - Austin Hodge

"It's more the facts that I'm worried about. Some people are teaching absolute crap." - Kevin Gascoyne

Working with the Media: Learn from Top Tea Editors

As a beginning tea writer, I was extremely interested in this seminar. Aaron Kiel (press guy extraordinaire for WTE) headed up a panel packed with some of the big names in tea media. They consisted of Jan Wiegel (Fresh Cup Magazine), Gail Gastelu (The Tea House Times), Lorna Reeves (TeaTime Magazine), Vaness Facenda (Tea & Coffee Trade Journal), +Dan Bolton (World Tea News/Tea Journey Magazine), +Linda Gaylard (The Tea Stylist), Scott Reitz (Freelance Journalist), and +Kathy YL Chan (Condé Nast Traveler, Ritz-Carlton Magazine). I left the room with so many takeaways about pitching to magazines and successfully getting stories published. Perhaps the most poignant for the bloggers in the room was Kathy's advice about never working for free. This is a lesson that I wish I had learned a long time ago.

Tea Vessels = A Way to Steep Up Sales

Fellow blogger +Darlene Meyers Perry gave a fantastic presentation on teaware. She often made us giggle with funny little vignettes of her own teaware acquisitions. I think these real world examples also helped to bring the ideas she presented alive for the retailers in the audience. Darlene's background in sales and experience as an online retailer really enable her to speak from the level of her audience. I think everyone left the room with several easily executable ideas. Her enthusiasm for the subject was positively contagious. Do you think my fiance will buy it if I blame Darlene for the gaiwan and tea pet that I bought later that day? I sure hope so!

Make sure that you check out her blog, The Tea Enthusiasts Scrapbook.

She also sells tea and accessories at The Tea Lover's Archives. I'm secretly in love with the "Turquoise Waters" matcha bowl but I need another chawan like I need a hole in the head.

Utilizing Social Media to Connect with Customers Authentically and Grow Your Tea Business

Last of all, we come to the seminar that I presented on social media. My fellow blogger's convinced me to submit a proposal after I won the World Tea Award for Best Social Media Reach last year. Never in a million years did I think that my presentation would actually be selected. I was beyond nervous, especially when I saw the room slowly becoming quite crowded. I was not mentally prepared to present to that many people! Somehow I made it through without falling apart too much (though there were plenty of nervous um's...). I was relieved to step off stage but shocked to find that there was a line a people waiting to talk to me. What? This isn't the kind of thing that happens to a tea blogger from New Jersey. So many of them left me with kind words of encouragement and gratitude. A few even brought gifts to share. My fiance (aka faithful tea sherpa) Periscope'd the presentation for the folks at home. I've included the video below for anyone who missed it.

 I know there were a lot of seminars that I did not get to this time around. Let me know in the comments which sessions you enjoyed!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

World Tea Expo 2016 - The People

One of my favorite parts of World Tea Expo is the people. Most of the folks in attendance live far afield so I only get to see them this one time of year. It's also a rare to chance to rub elbows with some of the folks that I look up to in the industry. The North American tea industry would not be what it is today if it had not been for the groundwork that they laid down before most of us were sipping.

Hanging out with my fellow tea bloggers is always something that I look forward to. These are some of my favorite people and I often find my face is sore from laughing so much. My famously funny fiancé joined me as my speaker's guest so I think that effect was amplified. Somehow I neglected to get a picture of the Tea Bloggers Round Table but this year's gathering was excellent. Thankfully Effie of International Tea Review was kind enough to lend me hers.

Tea Blogger Round Table - photo courtesy of Effie Gidakos, International Tea Review
We welcomed +Ricardo Caicedo and +sara shacket to the panel for the first time. They both added some excellent points to the conversation and it was really nice to get some new perspectives. The remainder of the panel consisted of +Geoffrey Norman+Naomi Rosen+Rachana Rachel Carter+Linda Gaylard and I. +Darlene Meyers Perry did a great job moderating and our coordinator +Jo J's emotional introduction brought a tear to my eye. There's a reason that several of us have dubbed her tea mom!

There's no one else that I'd rather share a matcha donut breakfast with!
Rajiv Lochan of Lochan Tea/ITCC
Rajiv Lochan is one of my favorite tea producers. Not only does he make incredible tea but he is hilarious and extremely knowledgeable. I was at the ITCC booth waiting to interview Dan Robertson for an article. Rajiv entertained me with tales of eating tea leaves like a cow and somehow harangued me into signing up for ITCC (International Tea Cuppers Club) in the process. I'm not sure how that happened but I'm looking forward to joining in on their activities in the future.

I was determined to get books signed by some of my favorite authors because I wasn't able to do so in years past. It was difficult lugging a stack of books across the country but I think it's safe to say, mission accomplished!

James Norwood Pratt
James Norwood Pratt is probably the person that I look forward to seeing the most each year. I could listen to him pontificate about tea for hours. His book, The New Tea Lover's Treasury, was an integral part of my beginning journey with tea. Although it was the out of print version, I carefully carried my beloved copy to have it signed. Norwood insisted on gifting me an updated copy, The Ultimate Tea Lover's Treasury, and then signed both of them for me. How lucky am I! He posed for a picture but later that evening I was dismayed to discover that the picture wasn't saved to my camera. Thankfully he was gracious enough to do a retake the next day.

Bruce Richardson
Bruce Richardson of Elmwood Inn Fine Teas is another person in the industry that I look up to a lot. I carried my copy of The New Tea Companion to have it signed up somehow managed to forget it in my hotel room. I didn't want to risk missing him altogether so I picked up another book that I didn't already have, A Social History of Tea. There's lots of summer tea reading in my future!

I made more new friends this year than I could possibly list. As a general rule, tea folks are pretty awesome so that wasn't much of a surprise. Everyone was incredibly friendly and supportive, especially after I gave my social media seminar. People stopped me all over the show floor to offer encouraging feedback.

Sometimes I get the idea in my head that I won't attend next year's expo but then I realize how sad I would be to miss out on all of this. It might be hard to swing with the wedding planning but we'll find a way to make it happen.

Monday, June 27, 2016

Word Tea Expo 2016 - The Booths

This year got a bit hectic so I wasn't really able to see much of the show until the very last day. Jason and I hit the show floor hard as soon as I got out of +Darlene Meyers Perry's morning session on teaware. Going systematically row by row, I somehow managed to see almost everything. It was lucky that he brought his backpack because it was quickly filled with purchases and samples. In this post I'll list some of my favorite booths from the expo.


I first discovered this purveyor of Columbian grown tea (that's right, not coffee!) at last year's expo. They were kind enough to send me home with lots of samples so I'll be sharing those with you all soon.

Eastern Elm

I'm a sucker for beautiful teaware and Eastern Elm's booth drew me in every time I passed by. Although I tried to be good a gaiwan and derpy teapet still managed to follow me home.

Gorgeous puerh wrappers at Denong's booth
I was exhausted and tea-less at the end of the second day. With 15 minutes left to the show, I grabbed +Geoffrey Norman and told him to bring me to tea. I instantly felt better after sipping some really great sheng puerh at Denong's booth. Their staff were so sweet and friendly to boot. I couldn't stand going home without some of their tea. They were sold out of the one that I had my eye on but I did bring home some Elegant Tranquility. They threw in a pretty little puerh pick which caused the TSA to open my checked suitcase but thankfully it still made it home with me.

Nepal Tea LLC

It figures that I would go all the way to Vegas just to find a tea outfit in my backyard. I tasted some really nice Nepalese teas that are produced by a coop of small farmers. What struck me most was their initiatives to improve the lives of the farmers. More than 200 of them are provided free housing and a scholarship program has paid school tuition for more than 2,000 children.
Leave it to +Geoffrey Norman to lead us to an amazing fermented Taiwanese high mountain oolong. Not only was I crazy about the tea but I also finally had a chance to been Greg Glancy of Norbu Tea. I've been a fan of the teas he carries for years so it was a real treat.

The leaves, they smelled awesome!

The tea being expertly prepared for us

I was in love with this piggy lid rest

Teforia doing its thing


It was great to see the Teforia in action again. Jason even said he'd buy it for me (if we win the lottery). I really haven't had any tea maker wow me in quite the same way. Although it does carry a pretty hefty price tag, it does so many cool things! The level of customization it offers the end user is unheard of in the tea world.

Qi Aerista

I'm always on the lookout for new tea gadgets and this one definitely caught my eye (once +Rachana Rachel Carter and +sara shacket told me that I had to see it). Think Breville One-Touch but with next level technology and a smaller footprint. I'm really excited to see what they do in the coming months.

Royal Tea NY

I was very much impressed by the teas offered by this new wholesale outfit. There are so few places on the east coast for tea stories to find quality products. I'm happy to have someone I can confidently refer people to.

Young Mountain Tea

It was so nice to finally meet Raj of Young Mountain Tea in person. He's seriously one of the nicest guys in tea and his team was super sweet. I have some of his Kumaon White headed my way from the Tea Journey Kickstarter and I can't wait to dig into it.

The spread of delicious teas at Young Mountain Tea

I've been a fan of the teas produced by PT Harendong in Indonesia for some time. Their organic black tea smelled amazing. Even on a busy floor with lots of aromas we could smell the tea in the gaiwan. That first cup of black tea was exactly what I needed at the moment. They also offered samples of cold brewed medium oolong and they were incredibly refreshing. I was beyond flattered when Melanie told me that she reads my blog. Tea really is a world-wide and I love it can connect me with someone in Indonesia without my even knowing about it.

Harendong Organic Tea Estates' offerings

Joseph Wesley Tea Importers

One of my favorite tea companies made the trip all the way from Detroit. I was really excited to see some of their new limited edition teas. We usually associate them with black tea but there was white tea, green tea and oolong to oggle at their booth.

One booth that really caught my eye, especially as someone who tastes a lot of tea, was Scentone. They manufacture aroma kits that help to train your palate. Similar kits are used in the wine and coffee worlds. I'm excited to see the possibilities for tea education.

Scentone aroma testers
These smells were spot on

There really was so much to see that I could go on forever. I'll leave you all with a picture of everything I brought back with my from expo. If you attended World Tea Expo, I'd love to hear about your favorite booths in the comments!

My World Tea Expo haul

Friday, June 24, 2016

Friday Round Up - World Tea Expo 2016 Edition

All of my World Tea Expo coverage will be coming out next week. This week's round up should get you all through until then. These brave souls managed to get their blogs up right away. There will be a part 2 to make sure that we don't miss anyone next week!

Niu Gu: Tealet After Hours (World Tea Expo 2016)

My Japanese Green Tea
World Tea Expo 2016
World Tea Expo 2016 Part 2

Oolong Owl
Oolong Owl Hoots the World Tea Expo 2016 – Day 1
Oolong Owl Hoots the World Tea Expo 2016 – Day 2
Oolong Owl Hoots the World Tea Expo 2016 – Day 3
Sunday Tea Hoots 22 – Tea Binge and Withdrawal
Oolong Owl’s World Tea Expo 2016 Hooty Haul

Scandalous Tea
World Tea Expo 2016

Steep Stories
Tea-Fueled Las Vegas Tourism

Steph's Cup of Tea
World Tea Expo: New Product Showcase and Regional Events

The Tea and Hat Lady
Immersed in Tea

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A Look at Black Tea Leaf Grades with Emrok Tea Factory

Emrok Tea Factory emailed me earlier this year and asked if they could send some samples of their Kenyan black teas to get feedback. It had been a while since I tried any African grown teas so I was definitely game. I thought this might be rare chance to be able to show you all the differences between the different black tea grades.

First up to bat was two teas from their specialty tea line. SFTGFOP1  (Super Fine Tippy Golden Flowery Orange Pekoe) and FTGFOP1 were both very nice teas. In both cases, the leaves were mostly unbroken. If I didn't know any better, I might have thought that these were from Darjeeling. There was even a hint of muscatel in the taste along with a pleasant citrus-like quality. The two teas were very similar, even when drinking them side by side. I would say that the FTGFOP1 has a slightly duller liquor with just a touch more astringency.

Kenyan teas have a reputation for being high volume but lower in quality. It's really encouraging to see that change is happening. I was also touched to find out about all of the good that Robert and Emily Keter have done for their community. They even support a rescue center for girls who run away from female mutilation and forced childhood marriages.

Emrok Tea Factory has also started a new commercial orthodox line (plucking standard of one bud and two leaves). I was originally going to split this all into multiple blog posts but I thought there might be beneficial to have all of the teas in one place. As you can see, the differences between the grades are subtle.

CTC - Bracing and astringent but not unpleasant.

Pekoe - Full bodied but considerably smoother

Orange Pekoe - Smooth with very prominent citrus notes

GFBOP - More aromatic, fruity with some astringency

GFOP - Complex with less astringency than GFBOP, muscatel aroma

SFTGFOP - More robust than SFTGFOP1, still had nice muscatel notes

Monday, June 20, 2016

What Tea and Social Media Means to Me

Last week was spent in Las Vegas at World Tea Expo (you all expect in-depth coverage next week). It's an event that I look forward to every year, mostly because it's a time of connecting in person with those who I usually only converse with online. I thought this might be a great opportunity to share my thoughts about what tea and social media mean to me. The topic is particularly timely because I just gave a seminar on this very subject.

When I first discovered tea, I was living in a bit of a vacuum. Dorming at a college about forty miles away from home meant that it was just far enough that I didn't get to see my friends and family as often as I would have liked. Not being able to share my newfound passion for tea with anyone nearby led me to turn to the internet in search of knowledge and a sense of belonging. I found that almost immediately on Twitter. It was so exciting to find real people who were even bigger tea nerds than I was at the time. I'm a rather shy by nature so exploring tea online suited me just fine.

I wrote reviews for for a number of years but decided to give tea blogging a try after discovering a couple of the tea blogs that existed back then. It was never intended as a serious endeavor. +Tea for Me Please started out as a log of my personal tea experiences. It actually came as a shock when other people started reading what I was posting. Since then I've connected with some truly amazing people around the globe through blogging and using social media. There is a core group of fellow tea bloggers that have become more like a family (you all know who you are!).

For this reason, social media is so much more than analytics and the number of followers. It's how I explore tea and connect with my readers. It has also provided an opportunity to form friendships that I would have struggled to find otherwise. An introvert like myself is very unlikely to speak in public. I was beyond nervous while doing it but I was able to push past those insecurities in large part because of connections formed on social media. Seeing so many familiar faces in the audience was more reassuring than I can find the words to explain.

What do tea and social media mean to you? I'd love to read your thoughts in the comments!

Friday, June 17, 2016

Why Tea Shouldn't Be Made in K-Cups

Can tea be made in K-Cup? Of course it can! That doesn't mean that it should though. I've tried them while staying in hotels across the country, at friends houses and in office break rooms. Convenience sells but I'm here to tell you that K-Cups are quite possibly the worst thing to happen to tea since the invention of the tea bag. I don't mean to come off as a tea snob but they simply don't work. Here's why:

They're Poor Quality

While it's certainly possible to make a K-Cup with a high-quality tea, it just isn't very likely to be found on the market. The whole principle behind the product is for them to be cheap (albiet deceptively in the same way that tea bags are priced) and quick. I can very easily find a cheap, drinkable loose leaf tea and brew it myself for pennies a cup. Why would I pay someone more than that for a lower quality alternative?

Tea Needs to Be Steeped

Coffee is generally prepared by grinding the beans into very fine particles and pouring water through. Tea, on the other hand, needs to be steeped in water for a specified amount of time. Even when using gongfu methods, the water is not poured immediately through. It is impossible to extract all of the flavors that tea has to offer in this way.

There's No Temperature Control

Teas often require different water temperatures, especially when it comes to more delicate varieties like Japanese green teas. Keurig's website states that the optimum temperature for coffee, tea, and hot cocoa is 192 degrees. Even if the machine is accurate, that's too hot for green tea and too cool for a lot of black teas and herbals. I've actually measured the dispensed temperature on a few different models and they actually vary quite a bit.

Your Tea is Going to Taste Like Coffee

Even after running several water only cycles to rinse the machine I can always still taste a faint hit of the coffee that was left behind. Coffee has a very strong flavor that usually sticks to whatever you make it in. While coffee in tea is definitely a thing (dirty chai lattes are awesome!), this is generally something most tea drinkers want to avoid. I've also had the unpleasant experience of accidentally running hot water for tea through someone else's used coffee pod. Yuck!

What do you think about tea in K-Cups? Have you actually tried any that are decent? Let me know about it in the comments!

If you're looking for easy ways to brew tea, check out my post on How to Brew Loose Leaf Tea.