I had the great fortune to attend the World Tea Expo last week in sunny Las Vegas.  This is an expo and conference focused on tea sales, production, and discussion about issues relevant to the tea industry.  Like many Expos, it included a large Expo floor with tea vendors and suppliers and lectures and events.  I attended a number of the lectures, all showcasing different aspects of the tea industry and saw a lot of commonalities in topics relevant to tea, that I observed at the Specialty Coffee Association Expo in April and the National Restaurant Association Expo in May, including sustainability, fair trade, functional foods, CBD, and plant-based. 

A few of the talks I attended spoke about these topics – Nigel Melican from Tea Craft Consulting focused on Fair Trade certification and how it is used (and opportunities to have it better utilized), Joe Gagnon, the CEO of Performance Tea, spoke about functional tea ingredients, including CBD and mushroom powder, and Hannah Crum, the founder of Kombucha Kamp, spoke about the functional benefits of Kombucha for gut health and the work she has been doing along with other Kombucha producers to formalize the production and certification process through Kombucha Brewers International. These talks all paralleled those on sustainability and fair trade in the coffee industry and the inclusion of functional ingredients in coffee and foods.

Other talks I attended as well as the Expo floor revealed some trends for the tea industry, which also are relevant across the food and beverage space.  On the Expo floor, Matcha and other super-food-type tea options like Purple Tea (higher in anthocyanins than traditional tea leaves) were being shown by a number of vendors, as were some of the functional products talked about in the lectures, including Kombucha and teas combined with mushroom powders, herbs, and chia seeds.  Also on the Expo floor, were some alternate packaging options for tea leaves, with a few vendors showing a stick format for tea bags, making it easier to stir the tea or place into water bottles to make a cold brewed tea.  Teas from non-traditional areas of the world were also shown, as were bulk specialty teas, destined for private labels.  

And, what is a tea expo without some tea tastings?! I tried a number of teas from around the world – the purple tea, grown mainly in Kenya is like a green tea with a unique color and higher astringency – it was most often showed as a blend with fruit juice or other flavors; Matcha tea and instant Matcha tea powders were also prevalent and showcased a number of dairy-alternatives in latte format. I tried a number of Kombuchas with different levels of sourness/acidity and varying the fruit and herbal flavors added, as well as black and green teas from China, Japan, India, Africa, Colombia, and Vietnam. I also attend the Rarest Teas in the World Tasting on Wednesday evening, led by Kevin Gascoyne of Camellia Sinensis, where we tasted 6 rare teas in a candle-lit room with a custom musical selection for each tea. We held all discussion of the teas until the end of the tasting, resulting in a relaxed, almost meditative way of tasting – very different than this sensory scientist is used to, but quite an enjoyable and unique experience. I found it allowed me to focus on the holistic tea experience, rather than the individual flavor and texture characteristics.

It was a great show with wonderful people to meet and taste with! If you’re interested in learning more about the experience or the sensory evaluation of teas, please contact us

About the author:

Ivy Koelliker joined Sensory Spectrum in 2010. As a Director at Sensory Spectrum, Ivy manages a team of consultants whose expertise spans a wide variety of consumer product categories and sensory research techniques. Ivy specializes in food descriptive analysis and training food descriptive panels, and has expertise in statistical techniques, including linking consumer and descriptive data.

Ivy has an M.S. degree in Food Science from Rutgers University and completed her B.S. in Biological Sciences there, as well. She also has a Grand Diploma in the Culinary Arts from the French Culinary Institute.

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