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  • Writer's pictureNeldon Hamblin

Vegas, Baby! A Photo-journal of the 2022 World Tea Expo

Hello friends! Recently, I was given the wonderful opportunity to attend the 20th World Tea Expo, held this year in Las Vegas, Nevada. I started blogging about tea only a year ago, though ever since starting in the world of tea with my Instagram posts back in 2019, I’d always dreamed of one day attending the expo. I had seen posts from other bloggers who had attended and it always looked so amazing. To be able to attend the expo this year was an actual dream come true. I’m so grateful for the opportunity to attend and enjoyed every second of it. Even now, as I write this wrap-up and photo-journal, I find myself missing the lively atmosphere that the expo had. So, without further ado, I hope you all enjoy this wrap-up of World Tea Expo 2022.

Day 1: March 22nd, 2022

I arrived here in Vegas on the 20th and picked up my press pass and credentials from the registration desk yesterday morning. Cody (“TheOolongDrunk”) met me at my hotel and we traveled to the expo together (we had spent the previous day exploring Vegas’ strip and meeting with AJ of AJP Films). Along the way, we picked up Nicole (“Tea For Me Please”), and had breakfast at the local IHOP, which we went to after seeing a decidedly sketchy breakfast place with bars on its windows that definitely did not scream “fun breakfast time”.

Today was the first official day of the expo, which opened its doors to us at noon. Eagerly, Cody, Nicole, Chase (“David’sTea Share A Day”) and I waited outside of the expo hall. Now, it was definitely clear that the main emphasis for this expo would be the Bar and Restaurant side of things. The sign for the World Tea Expo was quite small and unlike the Bar and Restaurant Expo, there wasn’t a set background for photo opportunities. Also unique to the event was a DJ opening the expo off with a lively and energetic set of what sounded like Bruno Mars remixes. It was definitely much more high-energy than I’d expected for a tea expo to be, which honestly made waiting outside for the expo to start a fun and memorable experience. Here we even see Cody excitedly grinning with the potted ficus that was near the media/press room.

We dropped our stuff off in the official media/press room they had set up outside of the expo hall before heading in. The announcer mentioned that it was the 30th Bar and Restaurant expo and the 20th World Tea Expo and had a ceremonial ribbon cutting before letting all of us into the expo.

The expo itself was massive. Being combined with the Bar and Restaurant expo, it was a bit of a trek to get to the tea vendors, though it was fun walking through and seeing all of the new innovations in the bar and restaurant industry (I will say, the White Claw booth was quite friendly and they referred to me as “hey Utah” both days). Fearing we would miss out on a branded gongfu cup, we quickly made our way over to the Tea Bar, where we picked up our commemorative tasting cups. Interestingly enough, they said “Denver, Colorado” on them, due to the previous year’s WTE being scheduled for Denver and being changed at the last minute to its original destination, Vegas. That was kind of funny but also nice that they were being thrifty and not wasting materials by ordering new branded cups.

I met Marie (of Marie’s Teas on instagram), who was volunteering at the expo and working at the Tea Bar. The Tea Bar itself was set-up similarly to a cocktail bar, with volunteers working tirelessly to fill our teacups with whatever we wanted off the menu. My personal favorite was the bitter lemonade from Dethlefsen and Balk, though the Japanese teas there were also pleasant. I also had a wonderful Turmeric Zest herbal from the International Tea Importers, or ITI, who were sponsors of the expo’s tea bar.

The first official tea of the day was the Kumari gold from Nepal Teas. A sweet, malty black tea with notes of cocoa, it was a great pick-me-up for the tea binge to come. Making my way through the booths, I stopped at Miaroo and had their lemon raspberry matcha, which was deliciously refreshing and a nice take on matcha. To be quite honest, this was actually the first matcha I’d ever had (y’all know how I feel about green teas) and I really enjoyed it. Next up was Steeped Games, who were presenting their dice trays and tea-themed board games. Their booth was great. I’ll definitely be picking up a set or two of their tea themed dice, which they told me are being released next year. Their dice trays would be perfect for my Dungeons and Dragons campaign and I know others who would go crazy for DnD tea merch. I also stopped by the Matche booth, a unique matcha made exclusively from olive leaves! Their matcha was thick and felt like olive oil, but tasted very refreshing and had a nice, lingering flavor. I also stopped by the Forlife booth, who were debuting their new range of colors for their amazing teaware and had a rainbow wall of teaware. Their brewers are always fun to use! I also stopped my the Mennä tea display, where I was given a detailed demo on how their travel tea infuser works. It is such an ingenious design and the fact that all parts of the tea filter come apart for easy cleaning is honestly so amazing. Bobacino, a boba-making robot, was debuted here at the expo as well. It was cool, though it's something new to the US market and not to the world of tea as a whole- boba robots have existed in Asia since at least 2018. Their approach to boba and trying to get into the American boba wave (something that is definitely massive at the moment and will only continue to increase- and this was definitely reflected at the expo itself, with multiple boba booths set up) is definitely admirable and was cool to see. However, my favorite booths of the day were the Sri Lankan Tea Board, Sugimoto Tea Company, and Marumatsu Seicha (“Marumatsu”) tea. There weren’t many vendors from Asia this year, though the two Japanese tea booths definitely stood out.

Nicole, Cody, Chase and I managed to sneak a tasting of Sugimoto’s reserve teas with Noli Ergas, Sugimoto’s resident “Matcha Cowboy” (their words, not mine). He prepared their Homare sencha, reserve Shizoku gyokuro, and their reserve Mizuki matcha for us to drink. The gyokuro was mind-blowing with a strong, lasting finish and an aftertaste that lingered. However, my definite favorite from the tasting was the Mizuki matcha. According to Noli, their Mizuki matcha is fired at a slightly higher temperature than usual, which imparts a lovely nuttiness to the tea, similar in flavor to a Japanese toasted rice cracker. It was such a nutty, creamy, and clean matcha that I honestly will be stocking that for my personal stash.

Sugimoto’s booth itself was beautiful, as well. They used traditional cedar sake cups (masu) as displays for their teas:

Marumatsu’s booth was gorgeous and had a lot of foot traffic, understandably so. Hailing from Japan, Marumatsu has been producing Japanese teas since 1899! They were serving cold-brewed Japanese green teas and sampling their matchas. They had a Kyoto-drip style brewing mechanism for the green teas, which was beautiful to see and meant that their sampling was limited to the speed at which the ice melted and dripped onto the leaves below. However, having tried both their sakura sencha and their yuzu kukicha, I can say that this is definitely a method that makes green teas enjoyable. The umami and seaweed-y flavors associated with Japanese greens really popped when brewed this way and there was no bitterness at all. It was delicious and the employees representing the company were so friendly.

In total, I had 19 different teas, which I have compiled into this gallery here. I had 4 types of matcha (a raspberry-lemon one from Miaroo, an olive leaf matcha from Matche, Sugimoto’s Mizuki reserve, and Marumatsu’s Silk ceremonial grade), 4 senchas (including the delightful Sakura sencha from Marumatsu), 3 herbals/tisanes (turmeric zest from ITI, Bitter Lemonade from Dethlefsen and Balk, and a ginger-lemon tea from Kendel teas), 4 black teas (Kumari Gold from Nepal Tea, Ceylon black from the Sri Lankan Tea Board, Paris from Harney and Sons, and an Earl Grey blend from the Sri Lankan Tea Board), a kukicha, a yuzu hojicha, and 2 types of chai (a delicious ginger-y chai from Flowerhead Tea and a spicy, warming chai from The Chai Box).

Also unique to this first day was the Devan Shah Tea Tycoons. This was similar to a Dragon’s Den (also known as “Shark Tank” in the US) episode, with eight finalists pitching their products and company values to compete for the award in three different categories: Sustainability, unique customer relations, and innovation. The winners for the Tea Tycoons were Littorary in sustainability for their all-glass VITRI tumbler, Cured Leaves Tea Company in unique customer relations for their social-responsibility approach to tea, and Clarke’s Tea in innovation for their all-vegetable teas.

The other sustainability finalists included Karma Tea Company for their sustainability-driven business model, and Uproot Teas for their emphasis on transparency. In unique customer relations, Flowerhead Tea was a finalist for their emphasis on the diverse and changing landscape of Northern California as well as their emphasis on sustainability and ethically sourcing ingredients. In innovation, we had Kubo Tea for their high-energy, caffeine-dusted teas (a fascinating concept), and TeaBud for their approach to CBD teas. Pictured below is a gallery of the contestants as presented.

This first day was great. I definitely got very tea drunk and loved every second of it! Meeting multiple vendors and hearing about their companies as well as spending the day with some of the coolest people on the earth was definitely an amazing time.

Chase, Nicole, Myself, and Cody having dinner at a local Mexican restaurant at the end of a busy first day

Day 2: March 23rd, 2022

This was the second and final day of the World Tea Expo. I attended the Blogger’s Roundtable panel, which was moderated by JoAni Johnson (yes, the famous model and tea blogger of Scandalous Tea). The panel included some of the biggest faces in the tea world: Babette Donaldson of T-Ching, Cody of TheOolongDrunk, and Nicole Wilson of Tea For Me Please. It was a fascinating and insightful session during which we learned about the ins-and-outs of tea blogging, the current state of the tea blogging community, the future of the tea community, and how to avoid blogger burnout. After the session concluded, Cody, Nicole, Chase and I all went down to the expo hall for the final day. We ran into Satemwa Tea, who gave me a sample of their Zomba Pearls and Thyolo Moto Black tea, as well as a nice sized bag of their Satemwa dark tea to share with Nicole, Cody, and Chase. This was such a fun and unexpected surprise. I also met a literal legend in the tea community: James Norwood Pratt! He is nicknamed “America’s Tea Sage” and is an influential author and pioneer in US tea culture. Meeting him was crazy. I also ran into Michael Harney of Harney and Sons, who was extremely friendly and talked with me for a while. While browsing the expo floor, I also stopped by The Beauty Tea Company's booth. Their herbal tisane was delicious and honestly one of the best tisanes I've ever had. Plus, their packaging is gorgeous.

Cody unfortunately had to leave early, which was a very sad moment. We returned to my hotel room at the Westgate and spent about an hour talking about our lives and how much fun this had been. We then dropped Cody off at his Uber, had a tearful goodbye, and went back to the expo hall for the final few hours.

The second day was great, though you could definitely feel that the event was winding down and coming to a close soon. Exhibitors were handing things out like candy and towards the final hour, exhibitors themselves started walking around and chatting with other exhibitors. It was a fun experience and a great way to end the tea expo.

Overall, I’d say that this expo was an amazing experience. I managed to taste almost 20 different types of tea and came home with 8lbs (or just over 3kg) of tea samples and tea-related things to review, like a copy of “CHAI!”, the board game from Steeped Entertainment. I'm excited to play this with my friends and a review will definitely be coming soon!

My only feedback would be what I’d heard from other vendors: the pricing structure of the expo is a bit strange. Many of the exhibitors couldn’t get into the business incubator sessions without paying extra for those in advance, despite having paid significant fees to exhibit at the expo. Exhibitors also couldn’t attend workshops without paying the fees for those. Additionally, while the tea expo itself was great, there were only 51 exhibitors listed (compared to the 265 for the Bar and Restaurant Expo) and several weren’t there or only showed up for the second day of the expo. I was talking with individuals who had attended previous World Tea Expos and they said that there was a significant drop in exhibitors and things to do. This could definitely be blamed on the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, however, many said that the expo is in a sort-of transitional stage, as it was bought by a different company recently. The impacts of COVID-19 and running an expo during a pandemic could definitely be seen; travel restrictions for many are still in place globally and both the tea community and industry itself are still recovering from its effects.

My Biggest Takeaway

I loved this event. I would say that while being combined with the Bar and Restaurant Expo caused some confusion and even hesitation/concern among some, it was a great way to make tea more accessible to a wider audience. One of my favorite parts of the expo was talking with people who are involved primarily in the bar industry as they came over to the tea bar and experienced some of these teas for the first time. One woman in particular was blown away by the bitter lemonade tisane and the hojicha she tried. Having the World Tea Expo in conjunction with the Bar and Restaurant Expo is a great way to show that the world of tea is expanding. Tea is becoming more accessible to the masses and is slowly becoming less of a stuffy drink for elites and more of an everyday pleasure.

I would also say that this is a great reminder for all of us in the tea community. We are not a monolithic group and can’t be. For the world of tea to survive, it really needs to ditch the reputation for stuffiness that it has historically acquired while embracing new innovations instead of shunning them. Within the community, we ourselves need to become more open to new ideas and new innovations in the world of tea, rejecting any notions of gatekeeping as they arise. The World Tea Expo showed that tea is something much more than a drink, it’s a connecting factor that brings us together from all walks of life. Making tea more accessible and reaching out to a wider audience is a great way to start, and events like the World Tea Expo definitely showcase this.

I definitely loved my time here and meeting other tea bloggers and vendors. Spending two days drinking tea and hanging out with tea friends is an amazing experience and I’m so glad I attended. Meeting one of the biggest inspirations for my tea blog, Nicole, and spending time getting to know her was really unreal. This was my first expo and it was great to get her veteran’s approach to the expo (being her fifth year). Spending the week with Cody, who has honestly been the biggest supporter of this blog and one of my closest friends, was definitely an insanely trippy experience that I’m so glad I was able to do. I also loved getting to know Chase and watching him play roulette at our little afterparty on the first day. This expo was such an amazing experience and I’m very grateful that I had the opportunity to attend.

World Tea Expo 2023 will be held March 27th through the 29th in Las Vegas at the same location, the Las Vegas Convention Center. It will also be held in conjunction with the Bar and Restaurant Expo. I hope to attend again next year and watch as it continues to grow and expand.

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