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Beyond the Leaf

  • [caption id="attachment_142" align="alignleft" width="300"]
    Bill meeting setting
    Me in the meeting place (very fancy)[/caption] About 2 hours after arriving in the city of Puer the leader of the U.S. trade delegation asked if I would participate in a meeting with Chinese trade representatives about selling more China tea, particularly puer, overseas. I went to this meeting with three other Americans and two Canadians.  It turned out the meeting was not with Chinese trade representatives.   It was with the very recently retired Vice-Chairman of the People’s Republic of China National Congress, Xu Jialu.  Mr. Xu has also been the national congressman from Beijing for the last thirty years.  To give you some perspective, his counterpart in the U.S. would be Nancy Pelosi or Tip O’Neil.  So the meeting was with this one man, and his retinue which included translators, advisors, gophers, and what looked like bodyguards.  There was no mistaking, this was HIS meeting. He was very gracious and explained that since his retirement he had devoted himself to helping educate the rest of the world about China, Chinese tea culture and puer tea culture, which was his great love. Since we westerners had come all the way to Yunnan, for puer, he wanted to talk to us and, in particular, pick our brains.  He spoke a bit about puer and puer culture and its importance in all aspects of Chinese life.  He mentioned that they were planning to do a puer tea culture demonstration in NYC with Yunnan tea masters within the next 12-18 months.  He then said he would like to hear from each of us some ideas to educate our countries about puer and the beauty and benefits of Chinese tea culture (something I am an advocate of). Throughout his remarks I’m thinking, “No pressure, no pressure.  Remember this guy is only Nancy Pelosi/Tip O’Neil.” [caption id="attachment_146" align="alignright" width="300"]
    Me, second to left, and Mr. Xu, in the foreground/right
    Me, second to left, and Mr. Xu, in the foreground/right[/caption] Thank goodness I was the third person, so I had a few minutes to think about (and even jot down some notes) about what I would say.  I would compliment them on the idea of a puer tea and culture demonstration in NYC.  But, I would suggest strongly that this should just be a first step.  They should also think about taking that puer tea and culture demonstration on a road show thru the U.S.  After all, most of the expense was getting to North America.  Don’t just do NYC.  Do the west coast.  Do some interior cities.  I was going to ensure them that even in the interior of the U.S. there could be great interest and success in offering this demonstration. As evidence I was going to recount how just 3 weeks earlier I had brought into Minneapolis, not a large city, an international tea master to do a series of workshops, tea tastings, and demonstrations.  We had reached literally hundreds of very enthusiastic and receptive attendees.  (For those of you who don’t remember, in May I brought Thomas Shu to Minneapolis from Taiwan to teach). And, of course, I was going to say “international tea master”, not Taiwanese tea master.  Mainland China considers Taiwan a runaway/rebellious province (illegally supported by the U.S.A.  This is a very touchy subject). I even wrote down the phrase “international tea master.” I think you can see where this is going. My turn came.  I thanked Mr. Xu for his kind words and welcome and for sharing his thoughts.  I then mentioned I loved the idea of a demonstration in NYC, but they should think about doing this throughout America.  Even in mid-sized cities, like my own Minneapolis, tea education can be very successful.  Why just last month I brought to Minneapolis to teach some workshops, “an international tea master…from Taiwan…” When I heard the word “Taiwan” leave my lips my first reaction was utter shock and I thought, “Who the heck said, ‘Taiwan?” My next reaction was to reach out and try to snatch the word out of the air, like an old time cartoon character snatching a word bubble off the page. Next I tried to look at the translator to try to gesture to him to not translate “Taiwan.” But then I noticed Mr. Xu had definitely come to attention upon hearing “Taiwan.” “Oh crap.” I thought.  I could also see the leader of the U.S. trade delegation turning a lighter shade of pale. Mr. Xu listened to the entire translation of my comments.  Then, rather than making vague nice receptive noises, he turned, looked me squarely in the eye, and directed his comments to me personally. He thanked me for my comments, particularly for my frankness.  (I’m starting to sweat bullets at this point.)  He said he appreciated that I liked the idea of a tea culture demonstration and he liked the idea of doing multiple presentations throughout North America.  Perhaps when they do this, if I thought it was a good idea, they could bring a tea master from Puer, Hong Kong, ….. and Taiwan to do the demonstrations.  His eyes were slightly twinkling at this point, and he had a soft smile on his face.  He thanked me again for my comments and gave me a slight nod. [caption id="attachment_148" align="alignleft" width="300"]
    Mr. Xu in the white shirt in the center, with the leader of the U.S. trade delegation firmly planted between me and Mr. Xu
    Mr. Xu in the white shirt in the center, with the leader of the U.S. trade delegation firmly planted between me and Mr. Xu[/caption] I felt like a lake trout that had been cleanly hooked, netted, and dumped into the bottom of the boat, gasping for breath; at which point the kindly, old, Chinese fisherman picked me up and gently and graciously placed me back in the water and allowed me to swim away with dignity. After the meeting I wanted to say hello and thank Mr. Xu for his time, kindness, and graciousness, but the leader of the U.S. trade delegation was going out of his way to make sure that I, and the foot protruding from my mouth, got nowhere near Mr. Xu. An interesting way to spend an afternoon when you’re exhausted, jet-lagged, and startled in a pressure situation. The good news is Mr. Xu knows who I am and might even remember me.  Who knows, Minneapolis may be hosting a Chinese / puer tea culture demonstration sometime in the near future. -Bill
    Tags: Travelogue

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  • World Tea Expo, Day 3 recap

    World Tea Expo
    And with that, the 2013 World Tea Expo has come to a close. Bill, Michael, and I are all back in Minnesota, the booth has been torn down and packed away, and we're all looking forward to a really good night's sleep and to see our families again. That's not to say we didn't have a great time, and we certainly managed to make sure our last day was eventful. As mentioned in yesterday's post, Bill taught a two day course on tea processing using freshly plucked tea leaves flown in just for the class. Not only were the participants satisfied with their experience, but other WTE attendees were impressed with the logistics of getting fresh tea to Las Vegas and producing it in a convention center room. Quite the experience for everyone! Michael and I spent a little time walking the show floor and chatting with some of the other exhibitors before the Expo opened for the day. The variety of teas and tea accessories available on the market today is impressive, and it was nice to have a chance to talk to people about the growing tea markets all over the country.
    100 Taels Log
    The big event of the day, however, happened at our booth. Bill brought along a portable, variable-speed bandsaw and a log of 100 Taels Dark tea which was cut into pieces right on the Expo floor. After a short talk about Dark Tea, we pulled names from a basket and gave the pieces to the winners (we were in Las Vegas, after all). About 50 people crowded around our booth, clogging the isles and generally creating a scene. It was an experience I'm not likely to forget! We didn't have time to take too many pictures while we were here, but we did get a few and we'll post them on Facebook [and the blog] in the next few days. We're already looking forward to our next trade show, so be sure to check Beyond the Leaf often to catch all of our updates! -Timothy Otte Assistant Wholesale Manager

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  • World Tea Expo, Day 2 recap

    World Tea Expo
    At the end of Day Two of the World Tea Expo I didn't feel quite as exhausted as I did after the first day. We started settling in a bit, and were able to spend some time with some of the new people who were stopping by, as well as give a little time to some of the folks who came back after saying hello on the first day. Our booth was busy all day again, but we were able to take some time to sit down and enjoy a few cups of tea before the Expo opened. Michael and I were fortunate enough to spend some time with a the producers of our new Tung Ting, Light Roast who shared some of their new and unique teas, some of which were only plucked in mid-May. It was an excellent, relaxing way to start out the day. While Michael and I relaxed, Bill was busy teaching once again. Yesterday was the first day of a two part class on tea processing. The class is an experiential lab that Bill is co-teaching with Donna Fellman, the Online Education Manager for World Tea Media. They have flown freshly plucked tea leaves that about 60 participants are using to make 5 different types of tea–white, green, yellow, oolong, and black. Today, the last day of the Expo, the participants will be finishing their tea and tasting their handiwork. Our booth was busy, but less frantic than the first day, so we were able to spend a little more time talking to people, answering questions, and sampling teas. Once again, Bill snuck off to the North American Tea Championships Winner’s Tasting Circle to feature Big Red Robe Supreme, a beautiful strip-style oolong. We're very excited about all of our teas that were honored by the judges! Today is shaping up to be another busy day here in Las Vegas! Not only will we still have a rotating selection of Taiwanese teas to sample alongside our featured teas, but we'll be making a bit of a scene on the show floor. If you're here at the Expo, stop by our booth at 1:30 for a talk on Dark Tea, as well as a rare opportunity to see a log of Dark Tea cut into cakes (don't worry, we have safety glasses). We'll be raffling off the pieces and you must be present to win. If you don't win, however, we do sell the cakes pre-cut! We'll have one final post from Las Vegas tomorrow morning after the show has ended and we're on our way home, so stop by Beyond the Leaf again tomorrow! -Timothy Otte Assistant Wholesale manager
    Tags: Travelogue

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  • World Tea Expo, Day 1 recap

    World Tea Expo Yesterday was the first day of the World Tea Expo here in Las Vegas. As pureblooded Minnesotans, going from 65 degree weather in Minneapolis to 100 degree weather here was a bit of a shock to the system. We're expecting a high of 111 degrees on Saturday, 40 degrees warmer than the expected high in Minneapolis. Luckily, we're inside a huge convention center with air conditioning, so we've managed to remain cool. [caption id="attachment_77" align="alignleft" width="182"]Golden Dragon, from the Guangxi province in China Golden Dragon, China[/caption] TeaSource, however, is HOT. Bill spent Friday morning teaching a class on the reality of opening a brand new tea shop (with most of the class based on opening our Eden Prairie store). While Bill was teaching, Michael and I readied the booth for the day which meant brewing 4 different teas and adjusting the final details of our display. As I said, our booth was popular, and day one of the Expo was one of the busiest days we've ever had at a trade show. The show opened officially at 11am, but we had people stopping by as early as 10 to say hello, and the rush didn't let up until 5:30 when the show closed for the day. We met hundreds of people from all over the world and were excited to share our knowledge and passion with everyone who stopped by. We are sampling a variety of teas at our booth, focusing on 100 Taels Dark Tea Cake, Dark Rose Tea, and Blue Beauty Oolong (which recently took home 2nd place in the North American Tea Championships). We we are also featuring a rotating Taiwanese tea at the top of every hour, which meant people came back every hour to try a different tea. Bill also stepped out for an hour to feature Golden Dragon and our 1999 Green Puerh Cake at the North American Tea Championships Winner's Tasting Circle. No shortage of tea samples from us! We have also made a big splash with our brand new Taste Tea Cupping Journal. I came up with the idea for the cupping journal after my first World Tea Expo last year. I wanted a tool for myself to help me keep track of the teas I tried, but it has probed to be a useful tool for others as well. Already there are almost 200 cupping journals making their way around the Expo floor! I couldn't be more proud of our cupping journal. TeaSource TasteTea Cupping Journal If you're at the World Tea Expo, stop by Booth #400 to sample our teas and pick up you're own Taste Tea Cupping Journal (if you haven't already grabbed one). Bill, Michael, and I are looking forward to meeting you! If you're not in Las Vegas, we'll make sure we enjoy the hot weather for you, though we're secretly looking forward to more mild temperatures. Check back tomorrow morning for a recap of Saturday's fun! -Timothy Otte Assistant Wholesale Manager
    Tags: Travelogue

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  • Taiwan Ambassador Visit

    Thomas Shu
    We were very grateful for the opportunity on May 6th to have Taiwanese Tea Ambassador, Thomas Shu, visit the Twin Cities for an evening course on Taiwanese oolongs.  As anyone who has ever spent time with Thomas knows, you’re not just getting a world class tea education, but a chance to share in the deep and genuine love of a beverage that has been with his family for generations. I was lucky enough to join Thomas in Taiwan in 2011 on one of his annual oolong study tours.  I learned quickly that his talks and teachings, unwittingly and without fail, end up being interspersed with history, personal musings, and even singing – all of which are sincere and sure to charm even the harshest cynic.  He insisted we learn the songs too, and tried to teach us.  The words I have lost, but the melodies I still hum.
    Tea with Thomas Shu
    His visit to Minnesota reminded me that some things go unchanged because they are simply true.  Always happy to have an audience, Thomas jovially walked us through the various styles of Taiwanese oolong, from Pouchong to Oriental Beauty to Baked Ti Kwan Yin to Brandy Oolong (wonderfully complete with all the tangents mentioned above).  As the evening progressed, our un-expecting guests slowly realized this was not going to be an academic lecture on definitive methods, but rather an invitation into a world not often seen (or tasted) from this side of the Pacific - a culture where tea is ingrained into both the toil and philosophy, as evidenced by Thomas’ ever-present smile, patience, and good humor.  It’s his own pleasant way of effectively passing on the teaching that we should use all of our senses to experience tea, and how to use those senses in making decisions on how to prepare, assess, and enjoy it.  In America, it has been my experience that we seem to like very specific and rigid instructions on how to prepare our food, and employ these same tendencies when making tea.  In Taiwan, I saw only scientists use tools other than a teapot.  Everyone else just used their own experience – something much richer and more valuable that goes to the heart of the lesson:  There is no right or wrong.  Be present, trust your senses, share if possible, and enjoy.

    TeaSource and Thomas Shu

    Thank you to everyone who was able to attend.  I hope you enjoyed it as much as I did.  If you were not there for it, check out our full photo album of Thomas' events on Facebook. -Michael Lannier TeaSource manager For more information about Taiwan oolongs click here
    Tags: Happenings

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  • Visiting Puer China

    Hi, I've just recently arrived in Puer, Yunnan province, China as a member of U.S. trade mission and industry group. While here I will be attending the International China Tea and Puer Convention.  I am here as a representative of the U.S. tea industry with a few other tea professionals from various countries and the U.S. In addition to being a great opportunity to learn about puer tea, this hopefully will be a great chance to develop new sources for puer and other Yunnan teas, which I can buy direct from source. While I am here in Yunnan I will try to post more frequently and let folks know what's happening here. Bill Below:  We were wonderfully greeted at the Puer airport as we arrived.
    Tags: Travelogue

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