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September 2, 2014

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World Tea Expo stirs in offbeat offerings

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Melissa Arseniuk

Teas at the World Tea Expo at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

Is orange pekoe not your cup of tea? Earl grey got you down? Why not try a cup of kama sutra chai, or crime of passion green tea?

Those were just two of the hundreds, if not thousands, of loose leaf possibilities showcased at the 2009 World Tea Expo.

The annual conference and show wrapped up yesterday but I visited the Mandalay Bay Convention Center on Monday morning to see what is new in the world of tea before exhibitors packed their teabags and left town.

Before I begin, some clarification: I am by no means a tea expert. I am, however, a mildly obsessed, self-professed tea granny who can appreciate a nice cup of chai or mini mug of matcha.

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Teas at the World Tea Expo at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

More on both of those later. First, let me tell you about a few of the expo's more offbeat offerings.

In addition to their kama sutra chai and crime of passion green tea, Metropolitan Tea's selection of loose leaf selection featured some mighty untraditional names: Names like Sergeant Pepper's orange LHCB rooibos; Hawaiian colada rooibos; Mercedes apple spice herbal tisane, and 100 monkeys white.

Other varieties scattered across the convention floor this past weekend included sassy green tea with acai; cream fantasy green tea; strawberry seduction; and coconut custard rooibos.

A wise range of tea-themed products were showcased, too. While tea pots, teacups and serving sets were available en masse, there were many other unique products.

Examples included "morning lychee green tea" flavored energy bars from Sencha Naturals; funky red and blue BPA-free infuser sticks (simply called "the teastick") from Gamila; Thai tea-flavored tea smoothies from LA-based Glacé Splash Beverage; antioxidant-packed shots of sencha and oolong tea concentrate packed in 6.4-oz, Red Bullesque cans (available at Whole Foods and Vitamin Shoppe locations); Zen green tea liqueur (find it at Lee's, among other local liquor stores); tea-oil-infused dental floss from Linde Lane; bottles of Kim Bees' almond and lemon-raspberry flavored sweet green tea; traditional Japanese journals with matching necklaces and earrings from new San Diego-based start-up Irrobat Books; and $275 tea leaf motif cufflinks from Chamong Tea.

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Teas at the World Tea Expo at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas.

As far as actual tea – real, drinkable, soothing and invigorating tea – goes, however, one thing was clear at Tea Expo 2009: It's all about the matcha.

While India's sweet and spicy blend of black teas with cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and other spices, chai, was the it girl of the tea world a few years back, and green tea had its time in the spotlight, too, matcha is next big thing in terms of tea.

When something is really hot in the world of fashion, the stylish set says "X is the new black." If you were to trade the fashion house for a tea house, the mantra would be "matcha is the new black."

One might even say the potent green tea powder is the hottest thing in the world of tea – regardless of it being served hot or cold.

Matcha is the epitome of tea snobbery. Like a Hermes bag, everyone wants it but not everyone can have it.

It's far more expensive than regular bagged or even loose-leaf teas; it requires meticulous preparation (including a fancy bamboo whisk, if you want to keep tea kosher); it has the ability to intimidate even seasoned tea aficionados; and it's often imitated by cannot truly be replicated.

What's more, like the latest "it" bag, it's everywhere.

(Well, everywhere at the Tea Expo, at least.)

There was matcha at almost every other booth, either in pure form or as part of a matcha and loose leaf mix. Matcha latte mix and matcha smoothies were also spotted.

Like the tea world's equivalent of last season's must-have bag, the aforementioned chai tea, several mass market varieties of matcha have been created and are readily available.

Stash makes a few bagged matcha teas (including a mangosteen variety that I stumbled upon a few months ago at a local grocery store) that are infused with the highly-coveted Japanese powder.

Starbucks carries premixed Tazo matcha, which comes in a 32-oz. carton just like their popular (and, arguably, equally blasphemous) chai tea ($9.90 for two on Starbucks.com).

Unlike chai, however, the pre-mixed matcha has been met with somewhat mixed reviews.

But when it comes to traditional matcha – made exclusively from powder, prepared in a small bowl using the special whisk – tea lovers will be hard-pressed to find it here in Las Vegas.

While Teavana at Town Square and Fashion Show Mall come close, with both kuki matcha green tea (their house mix of matcha and loose kukicha leaves, $7.80 for 2 oz) and traditional matcha powder ($16 per 30g canister), you can't get traditional matcha service.

In fact, I haven't been able to find it anywhere in Las Vegas.

Yet.

Okada comes close and offers matcha on their menu, but theirs is a loose leaf-powder combination; not traditional.

And while there's talk of ceremonial matcha service soon becoming available at Encore, as it stands right now, the traditional matcha talk is just that: talk.

If any tea-drinkers discover traditional matcha tea service within the 702 area code, feel free to e-mail me or share your findings in the comment section below.

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