George Jage, Tea Catalyst

LONG BEACH, Calif. – America’s specialty tea industry steeped quietly for a generation dating to when Eunice and David Bigelow introduced the first flavored tea sold in supermarkets.

As is often the case, reactive elements can lie idle for a long, long time. It is not the potent mix but the catalyst that ignites consumer enthusiasm and investment.

George Jage with TeaSmaller gatherings preceded World Tea Expo and many festivals and seminars would follow. Maybe it was just good timing but George Jage, a talented, ambitious and energetic showman became the catalyst for specialty tea.

The charismatic Jage embraced the role of promoter, seeking media attention and shining a light on hundreds of new products and emerging companies. He reached out to established overseas firms in Europe and Asia seeking a foothold in North America. He invited the Chinese, Indian, Korean, Taiwan and Sri Lankan governments to finance delegations.

Ultimately he provided a grand location and excuse for everyone interested in specialty tea to learn the exotic and share their excitement making World Tea Expo the most congenial gathering of competitors.

His inspiration began in 2002 when he, Faith Ann Bailes, and Steven Taylor successfully launched Take Me 2 Tea with the support of 65 exhibitors, several of whom continue to exhibit to this day.

Jage boldly called it “the tea industry’s premier marketplace” at a time when tea shows overseas were attracting crowds of 150,000 people and 3,500 exhibitors.

Two years later George met Kim Frost and the dynamic duo soon transformed the early “meet-up” World-Tea-Expo---Kim-and-George-Jage-2011into one of the 50 fastest growing events in America. The event was re-christened World Tea Expo and exciting new elements were added annually including the first-ever Tea Auction on US soil, Cooking with Tea Demonstrations by Celebrity Chefs, a Tea Infusion Challenge, a Top Tea Cocktail competition, and countless tea ceremonies, skill building sessions, tastings, and scientific and technical presentations.

World Tea News, a digital newsletter, was launched to keep attendees up-to-date between events and the well-respected North American Tea Championship followed. A growing retail segment led to the establishment of the Tea Business Boot Camp, a two-day program to train retailers. The show expanded to two locations, with a fall event in Philadelphia, Penn., and later Atlanta, Ga.

Last year, Jage launched World Tea Academy, an online tea certification program.

Establishing the Cha Jing Award for Lifetime Achievement in 2011 brought attention to luminaries including Harney & Sons Founder John Harney and Tea Association of USA President Joe Simrany. Devan Shah, founder of ITI in Los Angeles was the latest recipient.

WorldTeaExpoDuring his 12 years specialty tea transformed the tea industry from a commodity business selling tea at retail for $12.50 a pound to a high-value, high-margin specialty product selling for $150 a pound. Tea retail, known for its small-town charm, became a big-time business earning billions. Ready-to-drink tea displaced carbonated soda.

The cadre of first-generation specialty blenders like STASH, Tazo, Choice Organic Tea and Metropolitan Tea in Canada grew in size while many new firms emerged. Republic of Tea, Numi Organic, Rishi Tea, Mighty Leaf and Two Leaves and a Bud blossomed. Grocery chains expanded their offerings and loose leaf tea became widely available in coffee shops.

Regional blenders and importers like Mike Spillane at venerable G.S. Haly and Andrew Wertheim at Tea Importers, Inc., encouraged the innovation from newcomers like Jurgen W. Link who founded SpecialTeas Inc. in 1996 and would later supervise the tea program as senior vice president at Teavana.

Jage understood the importance of tea’s health benefits. He also recognized an opportunity to elevate the traditions and ceremonies surrounding a humble beverage shared globally. The impact of World Tea Expo will continue. Next year’s event returns where crowds of attendees will learn more in three days than they can imagine.

It will be the first year George Jage will not appear in the limelight, but he can rest assured the show will go on.

To reach George, you can email georgejage@gmail.com