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World Tea Expo is a trade show devoted to furthering the tea industry held every year in Las Vegas. It draws thousands of people for several days of tastings, educational sessions and general discussion about how to move the tea industry forward.
Given the size of the show, virtually everything related to tea was covered from the educational sessions to the exhibition floor. Nevertheless, a few trends stood out as being exceptionally widespread across the Expo.
The powdered Japanese green tea matcha was inescapable at the Expo, with numerous booths offering it in a variety of forms. While this was World Tea Expo, much of the innovation in matcha is currently coming from exploring matcha not as a tea but as a food additive. Many of matcha’s new consumers are interested primarily in the health benefits of this “superfood” and are not especially loyal to any single format.
As a result, many of the matcha products on display were designed to be added to other foods and beverages rather than consumed on their own. Lattes and smoothies are among the more popular methods for consuming matcha but there is a great deal of room for creativity (one exhibitor was showing a new matcha pancake mix).
For those who were promoting matcha as a beverage, the key was making it accessible. Single-use packets were fairly commonly seen. Large packages of quality matcha can be quite expensive and single-use packets make it easier and more affordable for someone curious about the category to sample.
Matcha was by no means the only “superfood” that was talked about at the Expo. Many exhibitors displayed natural ingredients unfamiliar to most Americans aimed at capturing the attention of fickle health-minded consumers always looking for the next big thing. Strolling around the floor you could see mate from Brazil, guayasa from Ecuador, amaranth from Mexico and even yaupon from Texas. While these are not teas in the sense of being from the plant camellia sinesis, most were available in tea bags or otherwise designed to be consumed as a tea. While there were also numerous herbal teas at the Expo as well (which are also not derived from camellia sinesis) many of these beverages were caffeinated, making them more directly comparable to black or green tea.
Other superfoods served as additives to more traditional forms of tea. Exhibitors were showing that ingredients like Holy Basil can be added to tea blends to give the consumer an extra health boost.
The ordinary American tea drinker is generally drinking tea produced by CTC (“crush, tear, curl”) – a method of producing tea that creates a generic flavour with little trace of the tea’s origin. Many at the Expo were trying to gradually move tea drinkers in a direction where they pay greater attention to origins. The end goal is to bring tea to the place of wine, where sophisticated drinkers look for specific origins because of their unique characteristics.
Producers were thus trying to highlight how their tea’s natural origins made it unique. Kenyan producers, for example, were displaying purple tea, a unique strain noted for its purplish tint and high flavonoid content. This was especially true of countries not traditionally known for their tea production. Producers from Colombia, for example, were highlighting the unique flavours of their tea and trying to show people who instinctively associate Colombia with coffee that it is a tea producer as well.