by Naomi Rosen
World Tea Expo has come and gone but I am still reveling in all of the wonderful people I met and tea that I slurped. I had a Japanese puerh for the first time, met with fellow bloggers that I have "known" for years and finally met in person, and was able to sit in on what I consider to be an epic, and groundbreaking gathering: the first meeting of The United States League of Tea Growers. 58 people were in attendance and ranged from growers to retailers to consultants. Led by Nigel Melican (Teacraft) and Jason MacDonald (The Great Mississippi Tea Co.), the goal was to discern the interest in US grown tea and begin the conversation that will organize the growers. Here's a little background on the US tea growing scene:
- Tea is currently grown in: CA, HI, AL, MS, WA, MI, OR, LA, NC and SC
- There are 30+ tea gardens in HI alone
- Tea was first grown commercially in the US in 1890 in SC
There are small tea farms currently growing in non-traditional regions. The United Kingdom, New Zealand and Australia are a few that have recently entered the niche tea market. A trend to localism (buying from local farmers), a booming tea market here in the US, and a distrust of foreign markets has created a "perfect storm" for US farmers.
Projected tea sales in the US alone are expected to reach $15 billion by 2014 and our tea growers have the opportunity to make a splash with high end teas, diverse tea offerings (geography alone being a major player), and exclusivity due to smaller batches being created. All in all, an excellent chance for tea growers to be competitive with world markets in the category of artisanal teas. The meeting felt pretty epic to this tea nerd!
The excitement of being a fly on the wall for that first meeting still has not worn off. It will be interesting to re-examine how the US tea growing industry will have morphed and changed over the next 5-10 years. I will be examining ways I, as a retailer, can support the industry and I encourage tea drinkers to do the same!