Dan Robertson has been deeply involved in the international tea industry for decades. In addition to operating his tea trading company, The Tea House, he is an internationally recognized tea educator, writer and judge for international tea competitions. He works with tea people and producers around the world to foster relations between countries and has introduced thousands of industry and consumer tea lovers to a greater appreciation of high quality tea.
Over a quarter-century ago Mr. Robertson founded World Tea Tours, the first commercial tea tourism company and shares his passion for tea, leading a variety of comprehensive tea tours and immersive study programs to multiple countries of origin. Mr. Robertson is also the founder and director of the International Tea Cuppers Club (ITCC) a world-wide community of tea people of all levels. ITCC is the sponsor of our Tea Tasting Contest.
Dr. Virginia Utermohlen-Lovelace
Virginia Utermohlen Lovelace MD is a Tea Flavor Enthusiast and author of the acclaimed book "Tea: a Nerd's Eye View," available on Amazon. A second revised and expanded edition will be published this October, in time for the International Virtual Tea Festival!
Through her workshops at conferences, tea festivals, and World Tea Expo, amateurs and professionals alike have discovered how they actually experience teas in mouth, nose, and brain, and why they prefer certain flavors over others.
Virginia began her scientific exploration of tea's flavors and how we experience them as faculty member in the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University. While there she earned numerous teaching awards, including the State University of New York’s Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.
She says: "I love tea, love teaching, love answering your questions, and love to join you at the International Virtual Tea Festival!"
She can be found online at Pair Teas.
Agnieszka Rapacz was introduced to tea while she was still a baby. Growing up in Poland where the tea is a social beverage she started exploring the world of tea. But not until she graduated from DePaul and was hired as a Director of Finance at TeaGschwendner she became a tea snob. This placed introduced her to high quality premium loose leaf teas and prepared her to become a Tea Sommelier in 2017.
In 2012 Agnieszka acquired TeaGschwendner US and opened a second store in Lincoln Park. She traveled to Japan, Austria, China and South Africa to visit and meet the tea producers in person. Now they offer over 250 premium loose leaf teas in their stores, in restaurants and wholesale to other tea shops nationwide. And she is so proud that Chicago Magazine voted her tea shop as The Best in Chicago.
Noli Ergas never really "got into" tea; it just sort of grew on him. While living in Japan, he became accustomed to the standard daily teas (sencha, mugicha, etc.) and the tea of Japanese tea ceremony, matcha. Now, he is one of the few outside of Japan certified as a Japanese Tea Advisor.
With an education in the sciences (geology and biology) and a teaching certification, Noli has both a solid scientific background to help in understanding the biological mechanisms by which tea is grown and how it benefits our health, and a passion for spreading knowledge and the love of tea.
Nishchal Banskota is founder of Nepal Tea which directly brings certified organic teas from Nepal to the American market. After graduating from Colby-Sawyer in 2015, he moved to his homeland, Nepal for almost a year to venture into opening the very first Tea Bar in Nepal with a vision to educate people more on tea and his unique business model. He believes the tea industry to be a social enterprise focusing on people and planet before profit and his mission is to change lives, one cup at a time!
Bill Waddington founded TeaSource 22 years ago. Bill is dedicated to finding the best teas in the world and making them available in the U.S. then helping folks learn to enjoy them. Whenever possible Bill sources the tea directly from the men and women who made that tea.
Bill is also a tireless advocate and educator for specialty teas (not surprising since he used to be high school teacher on the north side of Chicago) and has conducted hundreds of specialty tea classes and tastings from Hamburg to Las Vegas to Beijing. TeaSource has had the honor of being selected as The Best Tea Company: 2015, by the World Tea Expo.
Stacie Robertson, CTS; certified tea specialist, CHHC; certified holistic health coach, Tea Market founder (2002), blender, teacher. Natural Living Wellness Consultant with an emphasis in natural plant based solutions, their benefits, usage and protocol.
Stacie is the owner of Tea Market ~ A retail tea shop with over 100 whole leaf premium teas, curated from estates and farms from premier organic, fair trade, sustainable tea growing regions around the world. In-house crafted custom blends and a proprietary line of Functional Wellness Teas and custom blends for many of Kansas City’s finest health clubs and fine dining restaurants. Tea Market offers a comprehensive selection of first quality teas from fun and whimsical, therapeutic, to rare artisanal, tea brewing accessories that really work, and educational classes, consultations, corporate training and private classes and educational videos to enrich your “tea life”.
Professional Speaker/Presenter: World Tea Expo, Midwest Tea Fest, Hong Kong International Tea Festival, and Chicago International Tea Festival. Presenter for groups, organizations and corporate wellness programs. As well as programs on aging strong and all forms plant-based health and wellness.
James Orrock is a citrus grower and pioneer tea grower in Florida. He worked an internship at Amba Tea Estate in Sri Lanka in 2012, owns an online tea business of Single Origin Teas Inc., and has been an invited presenter at numerous US tea grower meetings. He is currently pursuing a PhD degree in Plant Pathology at the University of Florida.
Asama Iba is a cultural exchange facilitator working for GEN-J (Grassroots Exchange Network - Japan) program by Japan Foundation in Chicago. The purpose of GEN-J program is to deepen understanding about Japan on the grassroots level in Midwestern states.
She does presentations at schools, companies, and local communities about origami, paper flower craft, Japanese Calligraphy, Japanese Tea Ceremony, how different Japanese school is from US school, how to wear Kimono and Yukata, how to use chopsticks, the other Asian countries, and so on.
Judi Slack is a certified tea specialist, certified tea professional, certified tea sommelier and certified tea health expert by the World Tea Academy. She teaches various tea related courses at Cuyahoga Community College in Cleveland, a provider of education to individuals 55 and older within an academic environment that recognizes their intellectual interests. She additionally teaches at the Institute for Learning in Retirement at Baldwin Wallace University which also offers senior adults the opportunity to continue learning in a non- competitive academic setting. She also provides informative tea education programs for local libraries. Ms. Slack organizes the “No Hats Required“Meetup group, with a current membership of 103. The group has been in existence since 2010 and she has organized more than 360 tea related events for it. Her passionate goal is to educate others on the diverse wonders of tea in general, especially some of the little known but extremely interesting connections to tea.
Maria Uspenski is the founder of The Tea Spot, whose mission is to empower healthier living through the everyday enjoyment of whole leaf tea. The Colorado-based company donates ten percent of all sales in-kind to cancer and community wellness. Their message is simple and powerful - tea in its freshest form is sustainable, and renders exceptional flavor and unmatched health benefits. Uspenski is the author of “Cancer Hates Tea”, published by Page Street Books in 2016, and was recognized as the “Top Tea Health Advocate” at the 2017 World Tea Expo. She is often featured in the media for her success as a social entrepreneur and certified tea and fitness nutrition expert.
Gabriela Sorgenfrey initiated her studies in Asian Culture abroad, being Japanese teas already part of the everyday life in her home since she was very young. She went to university at the Pontifical Catholic University of Lima-Perú and obtained her bachelor degree as a Pre-School Teacher,in which she worked for many years, she also graduated successfully from Hotel Management, which also gave her a more deep knowledge of different areas including high cuisine and patisserie.
Her life was always related to art, since a very young age she took classical dance classes not only Ballet but dances from Spain, she is descendant from immigrants ,she succeeded in her solo career and graduated from the Museum of Arts and then continued her art career in Chicago for a short time.
Her passion for tea never stopped so she decided to travel to attend on-site classes with Tea Expert Roy Fong, obtaining her certifications as Tea Sommelier and Tea Instructor; she does private tea consulting and also classes.
Her impetus, perseverance and love for Japanese teas and ceramics have always pushed her to learn more by researching or learning from kind and very knowledgeable persons in Japan. Life goes on between Japanese teas and learning a little more everyday.
Given the hard situation that the pandemic brought to our lives, she still continues studying and just obtained her certification as “Fromagère” (expert in cheese) still long road to go.
She was one of the speakers at the Chicago International Tea Festival 2019 and also Co-organizer of the 2020 International Virtual Tea Festival, Japan branch.
David Campbell is a Canadian currently residing in the San Francisco area of California. A lifelong tea drinker, David thought often of running a tea business and when the Cat Stevens’ 1970 album “Tea for the Tillerman” came out he knew that if he ever owned a tea company it would be called Tillerman Tea. He does and he did.
David’s passion for tea fully ignited while he was in graduate school and stopped drinking coffee (he hasn’t had coffee in over 40 years – ok, once.) Tea became an “all consuming” hobby that subsequently developed into a business – but David regards it still as a passion where he learns new aspects about tea practically every day. An academic by training David spent 30 years in the wine industry, culminating as CEO of Clos Du Val winery. He entered the tea business in 2007, when he founded The Tillerman Tea Company. Tillerman Tea specializes in the tea of Taiwan, specifically, authentic, single-source oolong from growers and producers committed to sustainability. David has been traveling regularly to Taiwan since 2001.
David has delivered presentations at the University of California at Davis, the Tea Guild of Canada, the Toronto Tea Festival, the Northwest Tea Festival (Seattle) and the PDX Teafest (Portland). He has published several articles on tea in “The Art of Eating” and is a contributor to the recent book, “The Soul and Spirit of Tea” He currently is at work on book about the teas of Taiwan.
Tillerman Tea now ships authentic Taiwan oolong tea to customers throughout the United States and Canada. You can learn more at www.tillermantea.net.
Project Meister by day, tea blender by night, Leo Nima of Ruby Lion Tea works tirelessly towards a future where all people will be fueled by leaves from across the world, pairing them with aromatics and eclectic ingredients to create imaginative experiences through the medium of tea. A future where brewing and drinking tea will be accepted by everyone to be liberating to mind, body, and soul.
His MO is to blend with purpose and passion, with each creation aspiring to achieve the ultimate version of itself. It all begins with a legend or feeling, and from there, sleepless nights of experimentation and whimsical tastings until his hair stands on end.
He started Ruby Lion to take his love for the intricate taste of tea and use it as a canvas to add a splash of color and personality to the daily ritual. By doing that, he wanted to help people learn about a new side of themselves by drinking tea with an intention or aspiration, invigorating them to challenge norms and realize their latent talents and potential.
After years of working at global tech/retail companies, Akiko started her own business of empapilio, Inc in 2015 in Tokyo, Japan. empapilio has been dedicated to providing hands-on support to help mid-small sized Japanese companies exporting their products/services overseas. During that time, we have learned that there are many producers in Japan that make good quality products in an environmentally friendly way, although it is difficult for them to enter the global market because of their limited resources. In October 2019, we launched our own tea brand LILIKU TEA. Through the close relationship with tea farms across Japan, we are working together to realize the idea of delivering delicious tea to tea lovers around the world.
As a Robotics Engineer and former Chemistry teacher, Molly brings a unique perspective to the world of Tea. Tea blending and sharing her creations (when they turn out) has been her favorite thing to do for more than 10 years.
When she was a girl, her dad gave her a sip of his coffee after church one day; She burned her tongue and decided to never be a coffee-drinker. So, it was Coca-Cola and tea that got her through college.
When her mom, a NASA physicist for 48 years, came home from her fourth gallbladder surgery, she went on a quest to find a non-surgical remedy. Molly was very interested in the research she found, since this problem is hereditary. While an acupuncture doctor treated Molly to avoid surgery, his wife mixed her some “tea” for between visits. It helped quite a bit, but it looked and tasted like mouthwash mixed with boiled mud. Plus, it had to steep about an hour, making the whole house smell BAD. To stay married and not go broke, she worked with her mom to blend a tea with the right properties that tasted good. She shared her tea with her friends, and they convinced her to sell it. And when she found out she was allergic to the licorice root in it, she made two more blends: Energize Me for the morning and Blueberry Basil for the evening. You can find them on PersnickeTea.
She always loved playing with her food and creating new taste adventures. From gummi unicorns and matcha tarts to Earl Grey and chai lattes, tea provides a giant palette to explore.
Emilie is originally from France. She speaks English, Spanish and French fluently and has lived in five different countries including Portugal, England and Mexico where ancient healing traditions are still alive. After working in International Business and Marketing for over 15 years, Emilie decides to pursue her dream in the entrepreneurship world. With her husband Alex they opened the Centered Spirit Cultural and Holistic Center in January 2017 where they now can share their passion for health and wellness with the local community.
Emilie has a passion about cultures, traditions and rituals from around the world. She likes to share her enthusiasm for tea introducing people to the different tea rituals that exist around the World. She describes tea as being “as fascinating and complex as wine”; that is why she enjoys so much learning and studying the Art of Tea. She writes articles about tea for local publications and shares her teas at Emilie's French Teas, the tea room that is part of Centered Spirit.
Emilie has always been interested in natural healing and herbalism. She really started to learn and experience it when she moved to Mexico City in 2005. In 2010 she met her husband in Guatemala and shortly after moved to United States. They both shared a dream about someday creating a center where both could share their love for the Mesoamerican culture and communicate the rich sense of community in health and healing.
Marco is a Chicago native and creator of the tea blog, STEAP’D. His 6+ years within the industry saw him leading the training/development department and managing cafe operations for an independent tea cafe. Marco is a member of the American Specialty Tea Alliance and Tea Blogger’s Roundtable, in addition to Co-founder of the Activist Teahouse and VP of the Chinese Tea Culture Association. He has appeared as a guest on the content creation podcast Victory Or Death! and can be found with the online tea community through frequent live sessions. He can be found on Facebook and Instagram, @steapd_tea as well as his blog.
Jin works as an instructor to high school students with an interest in media. Jin is involved with developing & executing curriculum centered around topics focused on social justice. In her nearly 20 years as a community organizer and activist, Jin has tackled various issues ranging from women’s sexual & reproductive rights, domestic violence, food justice and housing rights. Today, Jin is a co-founder of Activist Teahouse and currently organizing a Homeschool Cooperative for BIPOC.
Rie is the founder of Tea Curious, a friendly online resource, and community for serious tea drinkers. She considers herself a forever student of tea, with an admitted bias for oolongs and the odd wild tea experiment. These days Rie works together with her tea-mate Steven to help others create a confident and abundant tea practice, sharing 12+ years of tea study through in-depth online workshops and courses, tea tours, and live events.
Rie’s favorite current projects include Activist Teahouse, where she gets to also become a forever student of activism, the lively and collaborative Tea Curious community on Discord, and the Tea Curious water formula, an open-source DIY water recipe designed to maximize tea performance and reduce plastic bottle waste.
Jessica is a visual storyteller who uses the realm of gastronomy to interrogate the intersections of identity, history, politics and culture with a focus on expanding narratives in Filipino food conversation.
In 2020, she self-published her first film photography zine, Sidewalk Rhythms, donating funds to provide relief to those affected by the Mt. Taal eruption. Her writing and photography have been featured in BIPOC-centered food print media such as Peddler Journal, Whetstone Magazine, and Compound Butter as well as beverage-focused publications 25 by the Specialty Coffee Association and Sprudge.
Jess is a co-founder of Activist Teahouse, one of her most fulfilling and favorite projects to date. While currently based in Long Beach, CA, she is always dreaming of fresh buko pie and convenience store snacks in Southeast Asia. She moonlights as a neuroscience registered nurse.
Tim Smith is the Chief Leaf at The Tea Smith in Omaha, Nebraska. The Tea Smith brings the world of fine teas to those wishing to enjoy and expand their appreciation of tea and integrate tea into their daily routine as part of a flavorful and healthful lifestyle.
Over the last 15 years, Tim has enjoyed wonderful partnerships and travels with tea growers, producers and experts in this great industry so we can bring the freshest and finest teas and herbal blends to our supporters.
Tim has has been invited to present collaborate and judge at numerous venues including World Tea Expo, the Midwest Tea Fest as well as the Virtual International Teafest. In addition he was recognized as Top Tea Infusionist at the World Tea Expo
Hi, my name is Jeffrey McIntosh, I am pu-erh tea specialist, cultural liaison and a passionate tea drinker. I have been studying and building tea companies for more than a decade.
I have had the honor to train under a renowned Chinese tea master, lived in Yunnan while becoming proficient in mandarin Chinese, and gained a thorough understanding of the international tea market. Since then, I have started multiple US-based tea companies that worked directly with Chinese farms and suppliers. You may have heard of some of the companies and projects I worked on like; McIntosh Tea, Smacha, Xian Chan Tea, inc., Teabook and Denong.
If you like my content and would like to see more, please become a supporter on Patreon.
Lydia’s first contact with tea came while doing dissertation fieldwork in Taiwan. During a year’s stay in the village of Sanhsia, she learned about wage-earning opportunities for women, which for a time, meant only tea picking. More focused research into teas did not come until later, after a few years of teaching anthropology. As a direct importer of specialty teas from tea producing countries, Lydia has the opportunity to evaluate many samples on a daily basis. Having served as a judge in tea competitions, she has learned from evaluating a broad range of teas. A strong believer in promoting tea education, her company Verileaf prepares tasting and product notes for its customers, touching upon critical issues such as how to assess quality through an appreciation of processing, how to establish benchmark and good value teas, elevating our lexicon as we convey aromas and flavors, and understanding traceability.
Viewed through an anthropologist’s lens, tea has opened up more than just the beverage, and Lydia is grateful to have a vocation that is a lifetime avocation as well.
Suzette Hammond is an award-winning teacher, professional skills trainer, and tea contemplative practitioner. Since 2003, she has been working with leading tea companies, trade organizations and non-profits across the US. She is the founder of Being Tea - an education-focused business offering customized workshops and interactive online learning, as well as a teacher training program. Her teaching style centers on fundamentals of sensory-supportive adult learning, addressing accessibility issues, and promoting psychologically sensitive teaching methods. Suzette is also a certified trauma informed yoga and meditation teacher, and has been teaching tea meditation since 2010, bringing together two deeply therapeutic physical studies and philosophical traditions. Suzette was honored for her dedication to tea education through Being Tea with a World Tea Award for Best Educator. You can follow her on BeingTea.com.
Rachel Rachana Carter is life long lover of tea. She is a writer, speaker, and social media influencer as well as a microblogger for iHeartTeas. As a Certified Tea Specialist, Integrative Nutrition Health Coach specializing in Gut Health. She spends her time focusing on holistic health and wellness after losing over 100 lbs herself. She has a passion for helping others achieve their health goals using her knowledge and passion for tea. Rachel has a talent for using food and tea to create new and exciting tea fusions inspiring good health. Rachel’s focus is health trends and integrating tea and wellness.
Erika Shanoff is the Vice President and the Tea Room Sommelier for Erika’s Tea Room in Clermont, Florida. From a young age, she and her family traveled across the USA and the world to visit tea rooms on vacations. They researched the best tea rooms in the world from their subscription to Tea Time Magazine. Together they traveled to Canada, England, Ireland, Spain and all across America while sharing important memorable experiences at famous tea rooms.
After receiving two high school degrees, she went on to get her B.A. with a major in English and Secondary Education. She then went on to achieve her Master’s in Education and then earned her diploma as a Certified Tea Master, while studying under one of the world’s leading tea masters and tea blenders.
Together with her mother, they opened Erika’s Tea Room & Gift Shop. Most importantly, they wanted to creatively share a ‘tea room experience’, rather than to own a restaurant. They quickly developed a loyal base of followers who regularly come in for daily treats, to celebrate special occasions and to shop for tea-type gifts. From day one, people loved the homemade foods, scones, soups, quiche and personalized services.
Shalini Prakash Agarwal
Born to the ‘Chaiwala’ family of Dehra Dun, Shalini grew up in tea farms of Assam and Darjeeling. The family has been in tea since the 1930s and the fourth generation is now managing the farms that her grandfather acquired from the British.
She completed high school at Woodstock School, a boarding school for American missionary children, located in the Himalayan Mountains, and then joined Delhi University and graduated with a B.A. in Economics. After getting married, she moved to Los Angeles and got a degree in Interior Design and is state certified in Workers’ Compensation and worked in this field for many years.
Shalini could not escape the ‘tea running in her veins’ and has been promoting teas from the family gardens, Khongea in Assam and Glenburn in Darjeeling, in North America for the last eight years under the brand name ‘Glenburn Tea Direct’.
She has lived in Southern California since immigrating to the US in 1975. When not tasting teas, Shalini can be found pottering in her garden or hiking/skiing in the local mountains.
Husna-Tara grew up with the best of both worlds: born and brought up in England, she spent eight years of her childhood at a boarding school in India. She returned to England at 16 to complete the International Baccaleaureate Diploma in Oxford. During a gap-year backpacking expedition around the world, she met Anshuman Prakash, a fourth generation tea planter and six years later after a Natural Science and Post Graduate Certificate of Education degree at the University of Cambridge, she returned to India to marry him.
After two years on a tea plantation in Kerala where tourism was growing, Anshuman and Husna-Tara conceived the idea of opening up tea estates to visitors, a bit like vineyards do in other parts of the world. In the summer of 2002, Husna-Tara and Bronwyn Latif, a talented designer from Delhi, lovingly restored The Burra Bungalow at Glenburn.
Five years later The Tatler Travel Guide included Glenburn in its list of The Best 101 Hotels of the World. A decade ago she was able to extend The Glenburn Experience to Calcutta, unravelling the rich colonial history of the city to visitors through cultural and historical walks and tours.
The Prakash family's latest venture is a new boutique hotel in the heart of the city called The Glenburn Penthouse, an elegant boutique hotel in the heart of historic Calcutta. Brand Glenburn is now recognised globally for its fine guest experience and attention to detail.
Tomoe grew up on an orange farm in Ehime, western Japan. After her study and work in Tokyo and US, she returned back to her hometown and started her business to promote organic farming, support local farmers' conversion to organic and assist their businesses via SONO ORGANIC site. She is certified Nihoncha (Japanese tea) Instructor and passionate about introducing Japanese teas including some local unique tea products the world has not known.
Daniela is a certified Tea Sommelier by the Tea & Herbal Association of Canada. She was born in Chile and has lived in Brazil, UK, Canada and she currently lives in the US. She has a Business and Fashion background but has always been passionate about tea, that’s why she pursued her Tea Sommelier certification. Her desire to bring more people closer to tea was her biggest motivation to start her blog, Tea Cachai.
Though an educator by profession, Rachael Gilchrist has been hosting and putting on teas for several decades. Over the years, she has adapted her teas to be more inclusive for people with special diets by adapting tea recipes and the way she presents the food. She is passionate about food and nutrition, earning her certification as a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner in 2012, Rachael believes that everybody should be able to enjoy food and tea in community no matter what their dietary needs are. When Rachael is not planning teas or experimenting with recipes, she is spending time with her husband, Dan, traveling the world through online experiences, reading and doing art.