What was trending at the 2017 World Tea Expo?
Lots of Korean Tea – The most common question I was asked was “I got X-amount-of-time, what do I need to check out that stands out this year?”
My answer every time was “Korean Tea!” There was so much Korean Tea this year, at least 7 booths! Previous years there was only one or two Korean tea booths and they mostly carried traditional medicine stuff. I’ve been busting my butt trying to get Korean tea for years, but so much of it doesn’t leave Korea.
This year was the year to try Korean Sejak greens, black teas, fermented teas, along with impressive herbals with pumpkin and yuzu. Each main growing area was represented, and they came with other treats like Korean matcha chocolates, jams, and spreads to get you sampling. Most brewed their tea on demand in a gaiwan. Almost all the vendors were selling their display stock. What did not change was the prices were quite high, but they could get away with it as where else am I going to get it?
Purple Tea – Purple tea, whether it was from Kenya or Yunnan, was pushed hard this year. Some were calling it a brand new tea type, whereas some was saying it is just regular old green tea with purple colour. I asked each one why theirs was different and answers were mixed of different cultivar or ours is more purple. What I didn’t get was there was purple tea last year, but this year it was marketed hard, especially with buzz words of antioxidants. I reviewed some recently and wasn’t impressed as it is very dry. I personally think it is a hard sell due to taste and some experimentation is needed.
More Tea Tech – 2016 was full of Tea Tech, so lots of devices to make tea easy and fast without having to learn about tea. 2017 continues with vendors believing people want tech gadgets to make tea easier. There were plenty of tea making machines with apps (home and commercial use), machines that do pods for both tea and coffee, and teas packaged into pods.
What I liked this year was seeing the new tea kettle tech. There were more sellers who put variable temperature on their kettles (Brewista/Gourmia) so I got options outside Bonavita/Zojirushi/other big brands. Many with cool features with the tea person in mind like preset temperatures, flash boil, pour timer, keep hot, travel sizes, built in filter baskets, glass, and goosenecks.
White Tea isn’t trendy – To my dismay, there was very little white tea this year. One whole seller had some great looking 2017 white teas, but the usual Silver Needle and Shou Mei. Nepali Tea Traders was the only seller who had an interesting collection of white teas I found- Jade Spring White & Rara Willow White. There was a couple white tea blends, but overall white tea was greatly underrepresented this year. There was some aged white tea at World Tea Expo 2016, but none this year. In my tea career, I seen white tea go in and out of trend multiple times that it is a strange phenomenon.
Oolong Owl Thoughts
Here are things I noticed at the World Tea Expo that are a mix of my own rantings and personal opinion.
Conflict of Traditional vs Convenience Teas – This year was odd as there was about the same number of tea tech and some new instant tea sellers, but the vibe felt different. Last year tea tech people were saying this was going to replace how we make tea. Instant tea sellers said their powder was as good as loose leaf. This year I spoke with the instant tea sellers, and majority of them were clear in saying they wanted their product as the quick fix of tea, not competing with the good stuff. I talked with one seller who was doing the fancy tea pod machines and they were annoyed that the machine wasn’t doing well today as people pointed to the gaiwan on display and wanted traditional tea.
There were still tea tech pushers, but with the reaction I am wondering if the fad is dying or the bad rap (cough Jucerio cough) made people realize tea isn’t that hard and you don’t need a $$$$$ for home brewing.
Light Tea – I found almost all vendors (except Old Taiwan Tea and LongRun puer, who made their tea powerful enough to kick in your teeth) brewed their tea super light. I watched someone do a gongfu session in a 120ml gaiwan with barely a few grams of tea (volume wise looking like a 1/4 teaspoon). I personally found it frustrating as I found it hard to assess the teas. One session was very frustrating as I purchased the tea last year and wanted to see the difference with the 2017 harvest, but it was made so light it didn’t taste the same. Many sellers told me they make it light as they worry about new tea drinkers not liking it. However, I think if the tea is made too light, new tea drinkers won’t be able to taste it!
Hectic AF – Every year I find the World Tea Expo more crazy. The last 3 years I managed to stop at every booth, try their tea, and chat. Seeing every booth did not happen this year. I made a list of who I wanted to see and got through it. I completely avoided the Japanese green tea and Darjeeling areas as those are teas I generally don’t write about or drink myself, only hitting the matcha people.
One big factor was there really wasn’t many bloggers this year. With the usual big tea blogger clique not in attendance, I was one of the few tea review bloggers in the house. Most in attendance were more of the story/life/news tea writers. My social media and email was lit with requests to meet, some weird as they didn’t say what company they were from. Vendors were pretty in tune to looking for the orange press badge and waving me down even on Day 1. Day 3 was the most crazy once I got past their first hour (as everyone was slow to arrive and be ready) with people stationed everywhere with flyers and even more waving down.
What, you drink this? – A common question a vendor will ask at the World Tea Expo is “What do you like to drink?” I say oolong and puer, then I point to their puer and ask to try it. I might get to try it, often ones who sold various things didn’t have it for sample and gave me green tea instead. Bleh. It made it sound like I was some bratty owl pulling their leg to try something weird they know I will dislike. At least this year was the first me saying “I like Puer” was followed up with, “Oh it is great for losing weight, has it been working well for you.” Yeah NO.
A number of times vendors could not answer my questions which I found frustrating. They were not expecting some crazy gal with a stuffed owl to ask “Where in Yunnan is your puer from?”, “When was this harvested?”, “Where was your tea stored?”. The most cringe moment was trying an excellent puer at a competition tasting and they couldn’t tell me anything other than it was puer and from Yunnan. No year, no region. As a tea writer this lack of information is tough – I can’t write about it if you got no info on it. I am happy with the answer, “Found in a corner of a warehouse,” or “A trade secret blend of material made to be sweet.” as at least I know as much as they do. As a consumer interacting with a new tea seller I want to know what the hell I am drinking and expect some sort of knowledge of their products. I understand if there is a language barrier, but all these omission answers seemed as if the vendor didn’t take the time to learn about their product or think my question mattered.
That said, I hope you tea sellers are reading this – thanks to the internet many of us North American tea drinkers know our stuff and you need to be prepared for it. Other puer sellers who were happy to answer questions were very pleased at how excited we were to learn, or how we understood their tea already. Those sellers got written about and my cash.