Being vaccinated and eager to engage in any activity that resembles pre-pandemic life, attending the recent World Tea Conference & Expo 2021 felt decidedly indulgent. And so very normal. People sampling tea, discussing tea, learning about tea.
But you may well ask this: Who cares?
After more than a year that was like no other we’ve experienced, with the fallout still continuing, who cares? Why does it matter?
Back in 2018, I talked about the importance of the World Tea Expo. Bringing together buyers, shop owners, bloggers, producers, etc., the Conference & Expo provided a venue for everyone in the industry to see new innovations, whether tea or merchandise. Tea store owners could not only pick up new products, but they were able to talk directly to tea producers. Workshops and lectures enabled attendees to learn more about the industry, allowing them to pass newly acquired knowledge on to others.
But this year? With the show pulled together faster than usual—including a move to Las Vegas from the planned Denver (note the tasting cups!)—and lacking the usual complement of vendors, of what value was the show, especially to those consumers down the line?
This year, the experience of talking to growers and seeing innovative products and teas was severely limited, with very few companies were represented. With the status of the show in limbo for so long (would it be virtual again, or in-person?), there wasn’t time for vendors to make arrangements to attend. Or there were still travel restrictions in their own countries. Or they were unwilling to take the risks of traveling at a time when the pandemic still rages in many areas of the globe.
Also, shipping costs remain high, and timelines for delivery still uncertain. In past years, there’d be large equipment on display, and plenty of tea ware. This year, almost none.
So, of what value was this year’s Conference? And again, how does that impact the consumer?
As always, the Conference wasn’t just about the tea sampling and vendors. Rather, there were many educational sessions—ranging from learning about tea itself to learning how to run a business—and that’s where most of the value of this year’s event was found.
With the Conference piggybacked on the Nightclub & Bar Show, it was also quite fitting that many of this year’s speakers addressed the role of tea in the hospitality and culinary industries.
How do we increase consumption and elevate its status, such as its use in cocktails and culinary applications, treating it akin to fine wine in the restaurant business, and improving marketing and education?
And here is where consumers will eventually gain from this year’s Conference, even if they never realize it. Education improves consumer experience.
If your local tea store owner learned something new about tea, chances are they’ll be sharing that knowledge with you. If they discovered a new tea that they haven’t stocked before, you too will be exposed to that tea. And when local tea store owners are excited about new teas, it’s a sure bet that their customers will be hearing about those teas as well!
If your local chef learned how to use tea as a spice, or your local bartender tried using tea as a cocktail ingredient, your dining and drinking experience will be the richer for it. Knowledge and new ideas get passed along, eventually down to all of us as consumers.
Bloggers and news writers also disseminate information about new teas, innovative products related to tea, novel ideas, and more. You’ll eventually read about some of this somewhere along the line.
Perhaps this year more than other years, coming together is vital.
All of us involved in the tea industry want it to remain robust. It’s taken a real hit, with the pandemic compounding other serious problems (climate change, political unrest, poor working conditions, disparity in profit sharing). To even begin to work on such staggering problems, sharing knowledge is essential. When enough customers demand high-quality tea that’s produced in a garden that pays fair wages and ensures the working conditions that we would want for ourselves, then the tea industry will need to meet that call.
By supplying a venue for learning and experimenting and discussing, the Conference certainly supports the tea industry. And with this year’s white paper focused on tea in bars and restaurants (download here), it’s also quite fitting that the event was held in a city filled with incredible restaurants and bars, a place that epitomizes the hospitality industry.
So yes, this year’s World Tea Conference does matter, and it will, in some way, at some time, matter to all of us.