5 Ways the World Tea Conference & Expo Filled Our Creative Wells
This year, Amy and I had the privilege of representing PARU at the three-day World Tea Conference & Expo at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
The event was founded in 2003 to “meet the needs of the ever-changing global tea community.” Attendees include everyone involved in the selling of tea: retailers, tea shop owners, distributors, F&B directors, spa managers, specialty grocers, mass merchants, and other business professionals.
At first we debated whether or not we could make it. We are a small company, which meant, we would have to be away from the shop—and that made us nervous. We have a stellar team but we’ve only been away from the shop a handful of times in the past four years.
To help us make a decision—should we stay or should we go?—we revisited our company goals. At the very top of the list was our goal to create community. This made me think about something I heard on bestselling author and coach Rachael Herron’s podcast “How Do You Write?” about how creatives need gentle reminders to refill their creative wells. That got me thinking: How do entrepreneurs refill their creative wells?
The TL;DR version: Turns out, conferences are an excellent way to refill your creative well.
In the end, we took advantage of Early Bird pricing and signed up for Tea Guru passes, which included conference classes, workshops, and Tea Business Bootcamp, a full-day program designed for new businesses. A few returning attendees at the Tea Reception, held at the end of the first day, mentioned that this year was different for two major reasons: the conference was moved from Denver to Las Vegas and combined with the Bar & Restaurant Expo.
Here are our 5 Ways the World Tea Expo Filled Our Creative Wells:
1. We learned that we needed to (physically) step away from the business to work on the business.
Don’t get us wrong, there’s nothing we love more than being at the shop. Walking in in the morning when the light is just beginning to creep in and later greeting our guests never gets old. It’s our dream, and we get to live it. But stepping away helped us identify opportunities to improve. Don’t worry, we won’t be making any major changes, but you can expect some additional educational tools and resources to make tea time even more enjoyable both in our shop and at home.
2. We engaged in quali-tea conversations.
“Finally! A place for tea-focused conversations with people who really, really love tea and with people who sell [or provide] tea,” Amy told me.
“Tea was in the spotlight and not an afterthought, which is exactly our vision for PARU in San Diego.”
If I had to describe the expo to someone who has never been, I would say that it’s like Comic Con but for tea professionals—and on a digestible scale. Most of the other folks we met were other business owners, and while it might seem odd to some to “fraternize with the competition,” we didn’t feel that way at all.
The tea community is a gentle one, filled with people who support one another. We want to extend a special thank you to Brandi Shelton (Owner, Just Add Honey), Tim Smith (Chief Leaf, The Tea Smith), Nishchal Banskota (Founder/Owners, Nepal Tea), Pratik Rijal (Chief Operating Officer, Nepal Tea), Michael Don Ham (President, Wild Orchard Tea Company, and so many others for taking time to connect with us in between sessions and/or after the expo.
3. We met like-minded industry leaders.
The conference sessions were a real highlight for us both. From “Standing Out From the Crowd” with Darren Hartford to “Pricing Your Products” with Tim Smith to “SOP for the Small Business Owner” with Jenny Tse, we had access to some experienced industry leaders. If you’ve walked into our shop before, chances are you know how much transparency means to us. Our goal isn’t just to offer delicious tea. We also have a commitment to honoring the people—the growers and the suppliers—and cultures behind the tea.
Founder/Owner of Nepal Tea Nishchal Banskota speaks at World Tea Expo 2021
That’s why Nishchal Banskota’s “Tea and Tech: Is Technology the Answer for Transparency?” session hit home. Nishchal, along with his team at Nepal Tea, has done an incredible job connecting tea drinkers with tea growers by making all the information instantly available. Their products feature a QR code that takes you to the website to soak in all the details you would want to know, if you want to know it (Nischal also made an excellent point that some tea drinkers might not want an overcomplicated experience).
4. We learned that our digital connections translate IRL.
Digital devices in a tea room might sound taboo, but as introverted business owners operating in the middle of a pandemic, we’ve found digital media—Instagram in particular—to be a truly impactful and valuable way to reach and communicate with tea drinkers and other tea professionals. At the expo, we met a few business owners that we recognized from social media and vice versa, and it almost felt like reconnecting with old friends even though it was our first time meeting. Afterwards, we continued some conversations over email and social.
5. It is a multi-sensory experience.
Although we personally source the majority of the single-origin teas in our collection and develop our blends in-house, it was a treat to be able to enjoy tea from other businesses, probably for similar reasons that a restaurant owner goes to other restaurants. We also spent a few hours on the floor to meet with World Tea Expo and Bar & Restaurant Expo exhibitors and attendees.
Amy at World Tea Expo 2021
We made sure to make time to explore beyond the convention center, too. As prefaced in our first point, in order to think outside the box, you have to be outside the box. Fortunately for us, Las Vegas is a culinary mecca, and there is always something new to discover and taste and appreciate.
Selina Yano, owner of Grand Yunnan Tea, practice gong fu cha
This trip, we enjoyed several cups of sheng pu’er at the off-strip Grand Yunnan Tea with the incredibly hospitable and knowledgeable owner Selina Yano (we’ll be returning to Vegas for more tea time with her, and she might make a special appearance at PARU…). We also indulged in sencha at Mizumi, which we paired with hamachi nigiri and Hokkaido Snow Beef wagyu and a pot of Da Hong Pao at Mott 32 at The Venetian, a satisfying pairing with clay pot king prawns.
I could go on and on about our World Tea Expo experience but I’ll save some for tea time. We did want to add another special thank you, but this time to our team—Jon, Kip, and Maria—who took great care of the shop and our guests while we were out.
Will you be attending the World Tea Conference & Expo 2022? Let’s connect. We’d love “tea” meet you there.