tea tastings and slinging trade shows

A tea blog that partys hard in the city.

Hello there tasty tea peeps. How are you all doing today? I hope you are doing well as we're moving into the, well we're well off into the autumnal season. At least up here in Canada where I'm from. The leaves are starting to change colors. We've got some beautiful reds out there. We got some beautiful yellows, some oranges are creeping in. It's starting to get colder. Waking up in the mornings is now becoming all the more difficult as it is getting quite, quite chilly. The frost has not yet covered my car. I don't want that to happen because it is an absolute nightmare to go out and start the car. Let it warm up and then have to scratch that ice off. Some people maybe who are listening down south in the States maybe you do not...maybe you do not have to deal with that and you never have and I am super jealous because it is an absolute nightmare. But that is, again, not what...that is not what the topic of today's podcast is on. Today's podcast is on something much more, much more enjoyable. Much more delightful because over the past weekend this past weekend...what dates where they? It was November 26th? 27th? 25th? 26th? 27thj? The Saturday, Sunday, and Monday. Was just crammed packed. Loaded. Like an over stuffed container full of..of tea. I just  couldn't keep the lid on. It was just that exciting. The lid would not stay on! And I just need to share it, I need to talk about it, because I met some amazing people. Got connected with some, some industry, I call them industry bigwigs. My own little terminology. Because it's the people who are always at the events they have their own tea shops, are well established. Everyone in the industry knows them and here I am as this up and coming little blogger guy. And oh my goodness, "I have seen you before ate events!" but like, "I may not have the courage to come and talk to you because, like, you're like, everyone knows you" right? See going to let that little intimidation factor. But I'm starting to, you I made a lot of friends this week and I guess that's what I'm getting at and so I'm quite happy. And they....you know I just want to talk about it.

So on Saturday, I went to a tea tasting. A while back, because of the tea meetups that I host in Toronto...one of the patrons, Sarah, had known about this tasting event and sent me an e-mail said, "Hey!  Get in contact with Michelle" and then Michelle is this just simply amazing woman. More on her later. So we got in contact and she sent me an email saying, "Yeah, come on over. Let's do the tasting. We need more mouths to do this large flight of tastings." So that was what Saturday was.

And then Sunday, Monday was the Canadian Coffee and Tea Show. And I'm currently right now uploading a video about that. Doing a little recap as I sat my car before I went in and just discussed the happenings and the goings on. And more what I saw from the event. I'd been there for...this is my third time going. In the event for those of you who do not know it, it alternates between Toronto and Vancouver. I don't really know why they just don't have one in Toronto every year and one in Vancouver every year. But regardless this year was Toronto's time and the first time I ever went, I just simply went as media. And I didn't get a lot of attention. Or not a lot of people wanted to talk to me, and I kind of know why now. A little more on that later. 

The second time I went, I went...I didn't go but I went and I didn't stay too long. Because it was just again it wasn't too.....there's just not a lot of tea there. And so being that there is not a lot of tea, it's mostly coffee, I didn't really have a lot of reason to be there. There wasn't a lot for me to do. So, it was like, in and out, kind of here is the trade show floor, walk around it, did my thing and off I went. 

This year I was helping out my friend at a booth and so being at the booth, being behind the counter, was a totally different experience than just walking around. So it really kind of...got to know the ebbs and flows, and the people, and what was essentially the goal of a trade show is. Of a business being at a trade show, business to business (B2B) rather than B2C, business to consumer which is what I'm more used to in larger events. At the Toronto Tea Festival for example. So just drawing those comparisons was really interesting for me as a guy just, you know, working his way through the industry and seeing how things wrap up and go about.

But let us go back to Saturday. And Saturday was the tea tastings and I've never done one before. I know it sounds kind of odd, just hold on a second I to need to pour my tea here. I'm brewing some aged bancha stems. Aged bancha stems, get that pronunciation right TJ, out of Japan that I had stashed away for quite some time. And it was just a tea I was curious about I had heard it on a YouTube channel some time ago and I had reached out to some my friends and see if they can ship me some. Which they did. So it was quite nice, kind of like a Japanese pu'erh of sorts. Kind of, sort of, any ways Saturday. George Brown College. Downtown Toronto. I think it's the most well known chef school in all of..I want to say all of Canada. I know Quebec has some really good ones so don't hold me to that. But it has quite the renown. Anyways that's where the Toronto Tea Sommelier, the tea sommelier course is held in Toronto. I've never done flights of tastings before. I've done tastings, I do tastings all the time in my room. Back in my home, in my own little controlled environment. I do a whole bunch of teas. But to do these flights, and what I mean by flights is...you have those at what are they? The I.T.C., the I.S.O., something, something, something, the registered cups. These cupping sets and they're little cups with a little teeth on the side of the rim where the liquor pours out. And you put the lid on top and most the time, depending on the different standards of testing or how you want to control the test is that you'll take a, I'm going to say a shit ton of tea, because often it is. It's an over needed amount. But you throw that in the cup, of course you don't throw you kinda place, you dribble it. And they you fill it with some water. Usually it's boiling water. So you do green teas with boiling water, sounds completely odd, because you never want to do that. But the point these tests is to brew the ever loving shit out of these teas to get every single aspect of flavour that you can out of it. We did not do that. Ours was a little more, ours was a little bit different. So I think we were doing about five grams of tea. I'm not sure exactly. I interviewed Michelle, it's on a video that I'm making. Better clarification is there. I encourage you to watch the video when I post it. But from my recollection I believe it was five grams. It did not look like more than five grams of tea. And I'm not to sure about the water. The water was straight for all the teas, it was the same temperature. Because I saw them brewing and I don't think there's...it was out of the thermos. I don't believe they waited, "Oh let's get the green teas down to seventy to eighty degrees". And then there was around fifty or so teas that we did.

So I think the first flight we did twenty-three teas. And those were if I get this right, it was white teas, green teas, and pu'erh. And then we did a second flight which was around fifteen teas and they were wulong. And then we did the third flight, and that was all black teas. And I had by the end of it, well we were, of course, we were not allowed to know the teas. Basically, you grab this spoon, and it's your spoon, I was so happy to have a spoon all to myself. Not that this makes any importance, but I had a spoon and you go around and you...there's the tea is poured into the cups and then you take a designated spoon for that cup, pour for the tea into yours and then sip it. And then you have this huge sheet and there are different categories like the aroma, look of the leaf, intensity, mouth feel, and then out of different scoring factors you write down between one-in-ten or one-in-five. You write down your score. But it is very first impression. Very, very much first impression because there is no sitting there and musing over the cup. We had thirty people lined up moving through these tastings. It's not as though you can do a second brew as everyone needs the exact same key to taste. It's really quick. Usually, you get one shot, give your first impression, mark down, and off you go. Thank god we didn't have to put in any comments or notes because that would have taken way too long.

So you're not so much looking for a taste like, "Ohh does this taste like asparagus?" "Ohh does this sheng doe sit taste kind of earthy?" "Ohh this Assam is it more malty or more honey-flavored? I don't know!". No, no, no, it's... does it taste good? In complexity, the density, does the palate hit, does the mid palate hit, and then you're like, "OK!" and click, click, click....uhh yeah this is a six....overall impression yeah, this is a nine. I don't think I gave any....I don't think anyone gave a tea a ten. Out of the fifty teas that we tasted only about three of them, I would have actually wanted to buy. I actually stopped and said, "I would love to get myself a pound of this. Or like at least one hundred grams, because that is good". But the rest of the teas, I did not like. I don't think I rated any tea under a five which may come back to that in a bit. Because I think I kind of screwed up. Not in the sense that my marking was bad but because I, well I'll just go into it now, I know nothing about black teas. Well, I don't know anything, I know very, very little. Because it is...I just don't deal with them. I deal primarily with Japanese teas because I love Japanese green teas. And that's where I put most of my efforts. I know my next that I'd know a lot about would be wulong, So the wulongs I was quite confident with. But when I get into black teas....oh my god. I do not know, I do not know a lot. I'm very bad distinguishing.

Okay, so we had Kevin Gascoyne there and if you know Kevin he's like the black tea guy. He knows he is shit. He knows everything. You have a question, he is like one...well aside from calling up the farmers directly, you probably want to give Kevin a call. So he was at the event and I was so glad to get reacquainted with him because we met at the World Tea Expo a year or so ago, but we didn't have time to have a conversation. It was about 4 am and I had to get to the airport and fly out. So I finally got reacquainted. Kevin if you are listening, I hope your marathon did well. I know you were in a marathon in Montreal. I hope you win, I hope you place. I hope you did well. I'm rooting for you!

So anyways you could tell who were some of the more experienced tasters were. They'd get their spoons, you'd hear them slurping, and then they'd be doing a little more in-depth analysis. I noticed that some of the more experienced tasters would get their spoon filled with the some the liquor and let it drip. They'd have this keen eye and say, "I'm watching you, you little drips" so as to get a better analysis. And then they'd be running through the entire the flight, marking down....of course, I think Kevin was the only person to bring a clipboard. All the rest of us didn't and so by the end of it when I saw his sheet and it had nice pristine lines and marks and here's mine looking like a three-year-old who can't color in between the lines. Everything is all scratched out and the numbers are all over the place. So I apologize for whoever had to read my sheet. Because it was pretty bad.

Back to the black tea thing, I knew nothing. Kevin knows all this stuff. All the other people in the class seem to know a lot more about black teas then even me. So it was kind of a great learning experience for me. Actually this whole weekend, I had some really good conversations with some suppliers about  Darjeeling teas and Assam teas to up my black tea game. 

There was a conversation at the end of it, went something like, "Ohh did you taste that teas that tasted horrible?" "Yeah, it tasted like a chlorine!" "Yeah, it tasted really dirty" And here I am in the corner....."They tasted kinda good?" So I....I know I marked some of them fairly low, but some people I believe we're giving scores of one, two, or zero as an overall impression. But I didn't even get that low. So, that's kind of where....I didn't screw up...just I now know where to focus on my tea game.

But tasting....there were two Japanese teas. Going on to my strengths now. There were two Japanese teas. And they were kind of "meh" they were kind of so-so. The wulongs probably only about, of the fifteen I think maybe three of them were decent. I got the list in front of me right here. It doesn't tell you what teas are which. It just tells me the types. Like type: black. Certifications: organic, black organic, black thirty year organic in transition. Wulong, USDA organic. Wulong N/A. Wulong China organic certified. So it doesn't really tell me anything about the teas. I'll never know which ones I liked. There was one pu'erh that I really liked. There was one, I believe it....well it looked like an Assam. That was really good. And I think there was a white tea, or I think it was a Nepalese tea. I'm getting to the point where I can tell the differences. Going right to the farm. Like some of the guys their know, this is from this farm, this is from this farm, I know it. But for me, it's like, "Oh that's  kinda good, I'll just mark along like that, tick, tick, tick".

But overall it was really good. I met some amazing people. Again got to talk to Kevin which was quite cool. There was Michelle Pierce Hamilton, she was the lady who constructed the whole thing. I mean she's even helping to fund it herself. This study wasn't funded by anyone. So she's fronting out of pocket which I mean, you go girl. The entire point of the study was to, I believe one of the points of this study was to say, "Okay we're going to, we got all these teas, we're going to do a toxicology test. We're going to do a nutritional electrolysis test. And we are going to see which teas have the most benefits. Or have the most help, which ones have the most antioxidants, which ones contain pesticides etc, etc". And then draw that in and compare it to which ones people like the most. Do people love teas x, y, and z? But x, y, and z have the most pesticides or they are the least amount of antioxidants. Or do people like teas a, b, and c. And teas a, b, and c are fully organic and they have absolutely zero pesticides and have the highest antioxidant counts. So I believe that was the purpose of the test of this flight testing was. Again I interviewed Michelle so there's going to be a video going up about this that goes into more clarification. It's been a very busy weekend.

Who did I also meet? Oh, I met Raelene Gannon and she's.....I've seen her before at events but I've never had a chance to sit down talk to her. She is, she owns a company called Tea and All its Splendor and she does like a lot of food and tea related things. Overall a really jovial woman, it was such a pleasure to meet her again and get into talks with her. There's also Bill whose last name I forget but he teaches the tea sommelier course. I've seen him walking, I mean have seen them all walking around at the Toronto Tea Festival. And sometimes at the World Tea Expos, but I've just never had the chance, again, to just sit down talk with them. We all went to lunch, which was quite cool and hearing everyone's stories and what they had to say, so, I totally look forward to meeting them and saying hello everyone again. There's the Hamilton Tea Festival coming up which I hope to see them at. And then there is the Toronto Tea Festival coming up in the New Year. So that should be quite interesting. And that was essentially the Saturday flight tasting tea event that I went to. No regrets. It was cool. I know my strengths now. I know my weaknesses. I made some friends. Overall a great weekend.

So we're going to skip ahead now to Sunday, Monday. And this was the Canadian Coffee and Tea Show. Which I've been to several times. I'm not.....it'd be wrong...it's wrong to say I'm not impressed with it. Because that's wrong. That is incorrect. But I'm trying to formulate how...it's just very different. And by different I mean I touched on this at the beginning of the podcast, that I'm very used to B2C interactions. Business to Consumer. So at a lot of tea festivals, and at a lot of tea events, I'm used to being behind the booth and then I have some products or I'm engaging with the consumer with my podcast. Trying to either sell it or get them to subscribe. And I' used to that interaction. But that differs greatly when you're at a trade show the only event. I've been to the World Tea Expo, well the first year I went I was in a booth. But with the Tealet crew, I wasn't really doing sales, I was more or less just engaging with the other bloggers and I was kind of permitted to do my own thing and then doing some other deals here and there. Talking to people, chatting, so I wasn't really to engage in the selling of the product. Which is more or less what a trade show does, business to business B2B. Within a trade show environment, you're not there to make sales, you're not there...well okay so you are there to make sales, but you're not there to make sales or transactions like, "Oh here, you want to but this tea tin? Here you go!". They'd give me x amount of dollars and off you go enjoy your tea. No, you're making sales to, uh, big fish if I can name it that. Consumers, a one-on-one, small fish. You're making sales or you are trying to get in with the big fish. And by big fish I mean you're looking at major shopping malls, you're looking at major food retailers and outlets, you're looking at even, I mean not so big, but like mom and pop cafes or office spaces. So, like, the people we're dealing....we have people coming from banks, we have people coming from grocery stores, we have people who are large distributors who are looking for different products. So those are the people you're trying to interact with and in a B2B scenario, you're not so much trying to sell a product as you are trying to sell a solution. They have a problem, they need some tea. I have a solution, I have the tea. How do we work together to benefit each other? So it's quite interesting being behind the counter talking with those people. The conversation goes a completely different route while trying to arrive at the same goal: landing a sale, landing a deal. All but it's not so much over this tea is great, this tea here has chamomile in it or has lavender, it's a nice blend. Or this tea is an Assam and it comes from this estate, etc, etc. It's more along the lines of, these teas are good and I can get them at this price point. I can sell this, this, this minimum. I can sell this, this, and this is our maximum order quantity. My lead time on this is one day, two weeks, etc. 

It's just two really different routes and it's really interesting to see because this is where a lot of tea business goes to. A lot of people own, yes they do, they own their own little tiny retail store. And it's on the corner and you go there daily. And that's great, you can make a good living doing that. You can be comfortable and do it. You can do your passion. But there's a lot more money to be made when you're suddenly signed up with say Wal-Mart and you are selling tea to them and they're putting tea in all of their outlets. There's a lot more to be made in that scope. So it was a really interesting experience. And just meeting the different people. 

So Sunday wasn't too much. Too much didn't really go on. I met some people. A lot of the more the independent cafes who might just have closed shop on Sunday and you know, take their weekend and or they may just put a little staff there and then they come around. So people come from all over. I mean we had people from all over the world. We had people from Jamaica, we had people from China, and we had people from all across Canada. But we had people from right down the street too. Which was quite nice, it's quite nice just to see that diversity. To see what or who all comes in but it was Monday that was interesting. Because....I keep giving people labels. That's in the suits came in and by suits, I mean all the corporate guys and all the corporate girls too. There were actually, I was quite impressed there's a lot of corporate females who I was talking with. I was like, "Wow this is like...good. You're trying to see the diversity, I guess speaking from a gender standpoint is was quite interesting to see the amount and different range of people coming in. Which is quite awesome.

They get everyone, all the suits would be walking around holding their briefcases or holding their notes and sending or writing notes down. And you'd be giving them flyers so it's quite interesting. How often you talk with the with the product manager of a major grocery store chain? How often do you get that experience? So it's quite....I'm quite happy to have had that. And to see where that all goes and how it all fits into the tea industry as a whole. 

A couple of days before, I did not go, I believe was the Friday, so the day before my tea flight tasting there was the North American Tea Conference. That was down, I believe, in the Buffalo/Niagara Falls area. That is where, and I call people bigwigs, but no those, like, those are the wigs. Like those are the big guys. You're talking Lipton, Tetley, Bigelow. All the big players who are moving millions of tons of tea around the world. That's where they all come in. It's none of this specialty tea. No, no, no, no you're talking, a lot of it's CTC (cut, tear, curl) a lot it is teabags. But they're the guys who are moving product. That is a lot of stuff. And that's where their conference was held and so I guess it's kind of nice how Tea and Coffee Show lined up a few days later. Because I believe people who were there eventually started walking around on the floor saying, "Hey, what's up?" and you learn that, or at least I learned that Canada is a very small market. And I guess this is just the business person inside of me just finding a real interest in where everything moves and how product ships. But apparently, and I know..obviously, I know this, it's quite common knowledge that America has a huge consumption rate per person. It's a huge consuming country. I was talking to tea companies who moved out, abandoned, well they may not have abandoned, but you know they've left Canada to go sell to the States. Because they have...some cities, compared to Toronto, consume ten times, five times more than what they can sell in Canada. So the product that moved through the States is just amazing. Apparently, there's also some legislation coming down and there have been a few articles about it. That the FDA may be regulating some of the classifications on tea. I'm not sure how that's all going to work out. Personally, from my experience, I don't think that many small people would be affected. I can't see...because it's not just a tea thing. Apparently, it'd be for other products as well and I can see someone just giving the ax to an entire...well that many people. Who knows? More research needs to be done. But that is my initial, initial, pre-initial impression. 

So yeah just talking to a lot of people and then I got to walk around this time. I got to walk around! I met a few people and so I have some tea products here. Do you hear these tea....these teabags...these tea samples? I heard from my friend, who is another blogger, and she was walking around. She said to me, "TJ there's this woman selling this amazing Taiwanese wulong" and I'm like, "Where? Where was happening?" Because, and to give you an impression the layout of the floor is a big square. And there may be what? 50 booths....maybe a little more...and only a fraction of those are tea. So I was trying to find all the tea people. I think the tea is growing, it's getting more and more tea people selling, but not as much as coffee or other industry necessities such as display racks and brokerages and shippers, and coffee people, and suppliers. But Golden Leaf Tea run by Peggy Lee (I'm trying to get her on the podcast because she's right from Nantou Taiwan) she's has these wulong....she had an award winning, she won the national tea championship. The North American Tea Championship with her charcoal roasted wulong which is quite interesting because I also won one in my previous company, with my friend Robert. So we won one so it was kind of interesting to see that. She gave me some samples and I tasted her charcoal wulong and after drinking so much Japanese green tea to taste a charcoal roasted wulong was like, "Oh my god! It's like butter in my mouth". A kind of, like a, charcoaled butter.....and so anyways I got a honey red jade tea and a pine wulong. So I'm quite interested in seeing them...be a....to get those tasted because they look quite nice. And I'm hoping to have he on because I want to, of course, grow my Tea Defined series where I focus in on a specific region and learn all but those teas. So to have her, she had a family farm in Nantou for 30 plus years, so to get her on the podcast, she's out of Vancouver which is quite nice. Would be quite....I think this can be very nice to get a focus on that region. Because I know a lot of you guys like wulongs and it's a great type of tea. So with my brief conversation I had with her, there's a wealth of knowledge I really want to tap into.

Another big thing or another big thing...well thing...another group of teas were teas that were out of Malawi and Kenya. There were a couple retailers there selling teas from those two regions. I got a bunch of Malawi teas. I got a bunch of these samples. I'm going to probably do an unboxing in a few days. I got so many different....from Satemwa....that, that's...yes Satemwa tea and coffee. I'm really interested in tasting these, these teas. I got like...how many do I got? One, two, three, four, five, six...about eight different samples. I got a black tea there, a broken orange pekoe SFGOP. Some more black tea. I got some more black tea which is good because I need to improve my black tea....Father Zambe's Mission? Don't know what the heck that is.....it is an oolong. There is a white tea.... oh my goodness. I did not check this when I was....Oh my what's this? I got a peony? A white tea? It doesn't say White Peony but....oh that's cool. I don't know if that's a Bai Mu Dan or not. Another black tea it's flavored, I got like a bunch of these samples which will be really cool to get into tasting. And these are the kinds of things that happen. People are running around and dishing out samples, "Here take this!" "Try this!" Because, like I said, you're not making a sale often right there. It's going to happen in the follow up, in the weeks to come or going to happen a year down the road when someone is going to say, "I remember this guy. We need this product, let's call them up". So yeah that's a kind thing you're dealing with.

And overall that that was my weekend overall. I loved it. It was fantastic. It was amazing. Definitely looking forward to doing it next year if I can. I don't know if we'll be doing another flight of tea tastings, but it's probably something wise for me to invest in...those tasting cups and then....because I don't have any now. I think that will be probably best and then I can get more tastings and such. A more professional tastings as it were. And yeah, so I mean I got booklets and booklets here, like, on product lists. I got, like, this one I'm looking at now....but it goes over....it's a broker out of India. He has a bunch of pages, here's an Assam orthodox and he lists twenty teas. And Darjeeling second flesh there is like thirty teas. Darjeeling first flush and they go over.....I mean it's a wholesale price booklet and they give a bit...all these descriptions. They have pictures and such. They got maps. So you get a lot of detailed stuff at these events, so it's quite interesting to see what is there. I guess you get so familiar doing the blogs everyday and being more familiar with some the companies who are selling what we're calling now specialty teas. But to go to these trade shows and just to see the other side of the industry. Where most people are buying maybe fifty grams, one hundred grams, here and there, but where people are buying kilos or containers or tons of tea at a time....it's very interesting. I encourage people to do a little bit of research or again, if you have a blog, see if you can get a media pass to these events and just sit back and people watch and observe and just let all flow in. How big this industry is and how amazing it is. Because everyone knows tea. Tea is everywhere. Second most popular drunk beverage in the world. But to see it all play out in front of you is just....is an experience I think everyone should...or everyone who is interested in the industry should at least see and witness. 

So I think that is going to do it this week's podcast. If you want to get a hold of me, you know where I am tj@worldteapodcast.com is my e-mail send me a little, a little question there...whatever you want to do. I'm open to talking and discussing. You guys all know that. If you want to follow me on my social media, we're on Instagram, we're on Facebook, we got Snapchat. And we'll of course we're on YouTube as well, @worldteapodcast that's my handle for everything. Super easy. Of course if you are looking to listen to more we're on Soundcloud, we're on iTunes, if you want to give a little review on those, it always helps out! We're also on the website www.worldteapodcast.com. You guys, you guys keep on going. We'll talk to you next week and of course you know the drill. Keep those cups warm.