Jun 15th 2010 Issue
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World Tea Expo Recap

Charles Cain - Jun 15th 2010

World Tea Expo 2010 (Check back soon for many more pictures)

Adagio's award winning teas

The 2010 World Tea Expo is now over, and I must say it was quite the party. Industry insiders and new tea entrepreneurs gathered from around the world to meet with vendors, share business strategies, keep abreast of industry developments, and celebrate an industry that has weathered the recession of the last two years with a fraction of the scars and casualties of so many others. Here were the highlights from my perspective as I sit here in the Las Vegas airport waiting for a redeye flight that is scheduled to get me home at 4am tomorrow:

New Business Bootcamp
The week started off on Wednesday with the New Business Boot Camp - Two days of INTENSIVE training for just under 100 prospective tea business entrepreneurs. What do I mean by intensive? I gave a two-hour presentation on how to buy tea three times in one day, and then participated in a two-hour panel discussion. After 8 hours of public speaking, the champagne toast at the NBBC graduation ceremony was a refreshing relief.

NBBC students received training on how to start a tea business from a pretty impressive team of long-time tea industry insiders. There is no better place to learn the ins and outs of this industry than from the mouths of those who have been there before, have actually found a way to turn a profit, and are willing to share their experiences.

The attendance at the Expo was up strongly over last year, and was matched by a solid increase in exhibitors. The show floor was steady and busy all three days. George and Kim, the expo organizers, did a great job putting on a show, especially in the current economy. I talked with people from all of the tea producing countries plus entrepreneurs from Germany, the UK, Canada, Columbia, Puerto Rico, New Zealand, Mexico, and South Africa.

New Zealand Oolong
The coolest new tea that I saw was a range of excellent green oolongs from New Zealand. They’ve been working on this for 13 years now, and these Taiwanese style oolongs are just about ready for prime time. The aroma of the brewed leaf was as good as I’ve ever experienced: Incredible floral notes, and an unbelievable staying power even after 7 or 8 infusions. The taste itself made a great first impression, but was light on the mouth feel and a bit lacking in finish. Honestly I think the tea would sell very well between $10 and $20 for 4 ounces, but at this point they are asking for a wholesale price that would put this tea over $40. It’s impressive, but not yet ready to compete with the best oolongs from Taiwan and China.

Hawaiian Tea
They’ve also been growing tea in Hawaii for quite a while, and the quality there is seriously impressive. Unfortunately, labor costs on the Big Island are so high that production is currently limited to only a few kilos at a time. I’m thinking about taking up a collection, or maybe just personally hiring a few extra pickers for them. Maybe if I can convince Steve Wynn to return some of my money…

Chains are coming
I was surprised by the number of people who discussed aggressive plans for launching a chain of stores AND appeared to have the funding to do so. I met no less than three different teams from the UK who were bent on bringing high quality loose tea to that nation of black teabag drinkers. In the US, the recession is keeping banks from extending loans and therefore slowing the growth of independent tea shops. That said, real estate, fixtures and contractors are all “on sale” right now, and so anyone with money is salivating at the opportunities. I actually had a couple people question whether or not I was committed to Adagio, and one made me an informal offer to join their growing business. Flattering, but things are just getting interesting with Adagio! Long story short, the money people see this industry taking off!

Social Media
It was fantastic to meet about a dozen tea bloggers and another two dozen shop owners that I’ve corresponded with via Twitter and Facebook over the last couple years but never actually met. I must admit that it was a bit surreal to have people I’ve never even seen a picture of approach me with comments like… “Charles! I didn’t know you shaved your head!” It was like a High School reunion, only on an international scale and without the snobs who never got over High School. I can tell you this: Social Media is NOT just for kids anymore.

Hilton Hurricane
The Expo Networking Reception at the Hilton Pool was quite an experience. Unfortunately we only made it about halfway through the $40,000 worth of Spanish cuisine before a surprise wind storm blew the tables into the pool. One significant upside is that I managed to catch a beautiful sombrero that began the night as a decorative centerpiece. By that point in the evening it seemed a brilliant idea and I’m guessing a few good pictures will be circulating soon. For all you doubters, a sombrero is a GREAT way to get bumped to the front of the line and “comped” into swanky nightclubs. Thankfully, these were too dark for good pictures.

Anteadote Sweep
The second night of the Expo, the Adagio team had the privilege of being honored for our Anteadote Iced Teas in the North American Tea Championship. We entered a total of three of our teas into three categories (Oolong, Black, and Flavored Green), and won two first-place and one second-place award.

Last, and most importantly, it was so much fun to reconnect with well over a hundred tea business owners who I’ve had the privilege of working with over the last six years. For all the growth that this industry has seen since I joined it in 2004, it still feels like a small family. I’ve been at dozens of trade shows, but never another one where I got hugs from half the people who stopped by the booth. I wish I could give a shout out to a few of the friends that I’ve known since my first Expo, but I’d be sure to leave someone out.

I can’t wait for next year.

Check back soon for many more pictures of the event.

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