2019 Speakers & Instructors


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! 

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Dan Bolton is the founder of Tea Journey, a consumer magazine for tea enthusiasts, and the managing editor of STiR coffee and tea, a trade publication distributed globally to tea and coffee professionals. He contributes weekly to World Tea News and is a former editor and publisher of Tea Magazine, former publisher of Animation Magazine and editor-in-chief of Specialty Coffee Retailer. His work has appeared in many beverage publications. Dan travels the tea lands frequently, speaks at several tea conferences annually and regularly consults with tea industry executives, market analysts, and tea retailers. He is based in Winnipeg, Canada. His personal blog is Tea-Biz.com. In India he is affectionately known as saphed bhaaloo (sada bhalu) and in China 白大熊 Bái dàxióng (Great White Bear)


Social entrepreneur Kevin Christiansen challenges tea professionals to dream big! His dream, Café Barnabas was voted Best of Topeka for it's innovative tea. His vision for youth development earned him recognition as one of Topeka’s Top 20 professionals under 40. Kevin's latest project, VERGE, is a 6,000 sq ft student center focused on academic achievement, tea education, and cultural enhancement.

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Jeni Dodd was born and raised in America’s heartland and has journeyed far from the plains of Kansas to remote tea-growing regions throughout the world in search of the perfect cup of tea.  The owner of Jeni Dodd Tea, a company dedicated to importing hand-crafted, unique specialty teas and offering tea education for groups and events, Jeni seeks to expand the public’s awareness of the specialty tea market and lead consumers to discover the exquisite joy of the leaf.

Over the last decade, Jeni Dodd has dedicated and committed herself to acquiring as much possible knowledge about the tea industry, tea culture and tea processing.  She is a Certified Tea Specialist through the Specialty Tea Institute and has completed all of STI’s Level IV courses offered to date. She earned a Certified Tea Masterä designation from the International Tea Master’s Association.

Ms. Dodd has taught future tea entrepreneurs and enthusiasts at the Specialty Tea Institute.  She has presented several times at World Tea Expo, as well as regional tea festivals throughout the United States.  Jeni was a keynote speaker at the Australian Tea Cultural Seminar and was a judge for the World Tea Brewing Championship if Melbourne.  She was a guest speaker at Nepal’s International Tea Day and Nepal’s 3rd International Tea Festival.  As a firm believer in trade – not aid as means to propel Nepal from poverty, Jeni currently trains Nepalese farmers and producers on the successful marketable quality and flavor profiles empowering competition in the global market.

In her pursuit of a comprehensive understanding of tea, Jeni Dodd has traveled to several countries of origin, including Taiwan, Japan, Korea, China, India, Sri Lanka, Argentina and Nepal, visiting hundreds of tea estates and tea gardens, observing and participating in the various growing and processing methods unique to each country and region.

While finishing law school in London, Jeni Dodd first developed a passion for tea.  Earl Grey was her ‘gateway’ tea and that eventually led to her appreciation of specialty tea.  While practicing as a corporate litigation attorney in New York City, she found that her desire to know more about tea outweighed her desire for the law and she formed Jeni Dodd Tea.  While she still does some legal work and never forgets her Kansas roots with enthusiastic support of her Kansas Jayhawk basketball team, her primary focus is growing her tea business and continuing to learn about and facilitate discovery of the endlessly fascinating world of tea.  

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Sheila Duda opened TeaLula, a tea oasis located just minutes from O’Hare, over a decade ago. A certified tea specialist by the Specialty Tea Institute, Sheila offers over 150 varieties of the finest loose leaf teas. She can be found most days sharing her knowledge and passion of tea at her tasting bar, welcoming novices and connoisseurs with equal measure. When not at the tea shop, Sheila shares her knowledge of tea with the community by hosting focused tastings, etiquette classes, and a variety of tea classes. Sheila has traveled to the countries of origin, including India and Sri Lanka, sourcing tea from renowned estates.

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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.

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Donna Fellman has been the Online Education Director and lead instructor of World Tea Academy since its inception in 2013. Donna’s experience managing tea houses, training staff, and talking to customers convinced her that the future of the specialty tea industry needed a strong foundation in tea education. Since then, she has focused her work on serving the tea industry’s needs by creating educational programs and classes, especially for the tea professional through several organizations and company training programs.


British taster Kevin Gascoyne was weaned on tea and has been buying it in Asia since 1989.  Since 1993 every Spring has found him up in the Himalayas, obsessively sourcing the finest seasonal leaves of the region.  Over the years his passion for the black teas of India has spread to the plantations of many other countries. 

In Canada he co-owns, runs and shop-keeps the award winning Camellia Sinensis teahouses and Tea Schools of Montréal and Québec City. He and his fellow tasters travel to the tea gardens of Asia every year to source their internationally renowned catalogue of rare and collectibles . He is also a founding partner of the Tea Studio project in Nilgiri, India.

Kevin, having written for publications all over the World, still pops up in various publications and has co-authored a couple of prize-winning tea books including ‘Tea, History, Terroirs, Varieties’ voted World’s Best Tea Book 2014 by the industry at the World Tea Awards and published in 5 languages. He is also a founding partner of Tea Journey magazine.

Kept busy with a wide range of blogs, workshops, conferences, seminars, research, field consulting and other tea shenanigans in North America, Africa, Europe and Asia.  He is also a director of the Canadian Tea and Herbal Association and recently launched the Tea Masters Cup Canada competition  His colleagues claim that Kevin’s daily tea consumption compares to the flow of some small rivers.


Cynthia Gold, Tea Sommelier at L'Espalier, discovered her true passion for tea after taking enlightening excursions into the tea fields of China and Sri Lanka, where she uncovered the pure beauty of tea culture. Although many cultures in the East have seen examples of cooking with tea, Cynthia is one of only a handful to have brought, what she calls, "a culinary approach to tea," to the United States. 

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Suzette Hammond is the founder of Being Tea, an education-focused private practice offering skills training, custom tea workshops and project development for tea programs. A professional trainer and taster, as well as tea spiritual practitioner, Suzette has been deeply involved in the US tea industry for more than 15 years.


She is a co-founder of the non-profit American Specialty Tea Alliance (ASTA), and also works with the non-profit International Specialty Tea Association (ISTA).


Suzette teaches regularly at conferences and festivals across the country and internationally. Her background is a colorful blend of disciplines and study: She is a trained broadcast journalist, a tea ceremony student, a teacher of tea meditation and mindfulness, an advocate of tea practice for mental health and emotional wellbeing, and a student of movement therapies such as Alexander Technique. She is also a certified psych-sensitive and trauma informed yoga teacher. In 2018,


Suzette was the peer-nominated recipient for Best Tea Educator at the World Tea Awards.

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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.   


Sharyn Johnston  founded Australian Tea Masters in 2011, the Singapore office in 2016 and the Indonesian office in 2018. Australian Tea Masters is now recognised as the leading organisation for tea training, tea blending and tea education in Australasia. She has worked with some of the world’s leading tea experts to develop the training material used in the Australian Tea Masters “Certified Tea Master” and “Certified Tea Blending” courses and has developed the only government accredited Tea Sommelier Course which is the first set of tea standards for Australia.


She is regularly asked to be a guest judge at tea competitions around the world and is a member of the advisory board of Tea Masters Cup, as well as Chief Judge.

Ms. Johnston specialises in tea and herbal blending training and blend development and regularly teaches in Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, and has over 150 major private label clients whose products are sold throughout Australasia.

She is a member of the Chinese Tea experts committee and was given a special award from the Cultural Foundation in Korea for her contribution to the development and promotion of Korean tea culture.


Ms. Johnston's expertise is highly respected and regarded around the world.

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Steve Lorch, founder and CEO of Table Rock Tea Company, is considered one of the leading modern pioneers of U.S. Grown Tea.  He is the author of several books, including “How to Grow and Make Tea in the United States.”  Steve and his wife, Jennifer, have been growing and producing “Uniquely American Tea" since 2008 on their mountain farm in upstate South Carolina.  A frequent speaker and educator, Mr. Lorch has helped many new tea entrepreneurs get started in the domestic tea industry.  Table Rock Tea Company co-processes for several other well-known tea and herb companies across the country where Steve serves as an expert consultant and product developer.  Whether you are a seasoned professional or a curious novice, Steve’s down-to-earth presentation style will give you the tools you need to take another solid step forward in your tea journey.

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Rachel Maley is an artist and tea practitioner based outside of Chicago. She has studied tea with Omar Francis Sensei (Chado Urasenke Tankokai Association Chicago) and various figures in the Japanese and Chinese schools of tea. Rachel hosts tea ceremonies informed by the Tea Sage Hut lineage in Taiwan, and she is the founder of Cha Dao Chicago, which offers ceremonies and educational events to make the practice of tea accessible in Chicago and its suburbs

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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.

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Elyse Petersen is an advocate for transparency in the global food system and currently works with tea farmers to improve the quality of their products and access market opportunities. As the Founder of Tealet, she has made direct trade available to small-scale farmers, businesses, and consumers around the world. She is a food scientist and returned Peace Corps volunteer that is committed to building a sustainable future for agriculture and communities. She has a B.S. in Food Science and Technology from Cal Poly Pomona and a Japanese-MBA from the Shidler College of Business, University of Hawaii


James Norwood Pratt's first book was The Wine Bibber’s Bible followed by The Tea Lover’s Treasury and the Tea Lover’s Companion. His New Tea Lover’s Treasury is often used as a training manual in the US tea industry. In 1993, Mr. Pratt was named Honorary Director of the Imperial Tea Court in San Francisco. He has been instrumental in disseminating information about Chinese teas and tradition in the West and it was he who first anglicized the name for the Chinese covered cup as “gaiwan.” As a speaker and teacher, Mr. Pratt has addressed audiences around the world and assisted numerous tea companies. He also served as an International Juror at India’s first ever tea competition in 2005, the Golden Leaf India Awards. He has been named Tea Educator of the Year at the World Tea Expo for three      consecutive years.

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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.  

Ms. Rapacz is also a Founding Member of the Chicago International Tea Festival.


Bruce Richardson  has been a leading voice in America’s tea renaissance for nearly thirty years. He and his wife Shelley are the owners of Kentucky’s Elmwood Inn Fine Teas. As a tea blender, he receives numerous commissions to design signature blends – often based on artistic themes - for museums such as The Georgia O’Keeffe Museum, The Boston Museum of Fine Arts, The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, and Yale’s Museum of British Art.  In 2017, he was commissioned to design a full line of signature tea for the Chinese fashion house HPLY Fashions. He helped launch those colorful teas at the brand's 2018 runway show in Shanghai.


Bruce serves as Contributing Editor for TeaTime Magazine and is the author of a dozen books, including The New Tea Companion, The Social History of Tea, The Great Tea Rooms of Britain, Tea & Etiquette, and The Book of Tea. He appears regularly on television and is a frequent guest lecturer at universities and tea, art, and literary events across the globe. In January 2019, he taught a college course on Japanese tea’s influence on American art and architecture before traveling to Japan in March for his second lecture tour in that country. In 2011, he was named Tea Master for the new Boston Tea Party Ships Museum where he continues to define the significance of tea in that city's iconic historical event of 1773.

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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 People's Choice Tea Competition. 

Mr. Robertson is also a Founding Member of and Director of International Outreach for the Chicago International Tea Festival.


Stacie Robertson is a certified tea specialist, certified holistic health coach, tea blender and teacher. She is a Natural Living Wellness Consultant with an emphasis in essential oil usage and protocol. She is the founder and owner of Tea Market, a Kansas City retail tea shop with over 100 whole leaf premium teas, curated from estates and farms in premier organic, fair trade, sustainable tea growing regions around the world. She has created a proprietary line of Functional Wellness Teas and custom blends for many health clubs and fine dining restaurants.  Ms. Robertson is also a professional speaker with appearances at World Tea Expo, the Hong Kong International Tea Festival and the Midwest Tea Festival as well as speaking for groups, organizations and corporate wellness programs.

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Phillipe Sobon has been a finalist on Masterchef Season 5, a contestant on Food Network's Cooks vs. Cons Season 2, appeared on LIVE with Kelly & Ryan, ABC's Windy City Live, USA Today, WGN, LiveWell, a finalist for World Food Championships 2017, HMS Host 2017 finalist and has worked with Fabio Viviani and Graham Elliot. Has also cooked for Scott Conant, Geoffrey Zakarian and Lorena Garcia. Voted top 100 health and wellness influencers in the country. He is a social media influencer, with a loyal following, that focuses on a healthier lifestyle. ​


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.

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Gabriela Sorgenfrey initiated her studies in Asian Culture abroad which led her to continue her studies in Chanoyu (Urasenke school) at the Japan House in Illinois. 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 workshops. Gabriela, will be offering two unique workshops about “Single Origin Japanese Teas”, for this special occasion she will introduce a very special collection of teas provided by renowned “Thés Du Japón” and also with the collaboration of great ceramist Mr. Taisuke Shiraiwa, who will provide his unique works. #gabrielasorgenfrey


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.


Virginia Utermohlen-Lovelace MD of Pair Teas is a Tea Flavor Enthusiast and author of the acclaimed book "Three Basic Teas & How to Enjoy Them," available on Amazon. The second revised and expanded edition will be published this September, in time for the Chicago International 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 Chicago International Tea Festival!"

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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.


Mercedes Wadkins is the owner and founder of Bellasia Tea. The origin of the company was inspired by her daughter Isabella who wondered why there were no adopted princesses in fairytales. Because of a deep desire and motivation to please her daughter she co-authored a children's book with her mother, Sara Coats, that, along with her daughter’s love of tea parties, resulted into what is known today as "Bellasia Tea".


Mercedes is a motivated entrepreneur, speaker and passionate innovator who wants to introduce teas and tisanes to the next generation of tea drinkers. She strongly believes that original and unique ideas can have an attraction for new audiences which will bring teas into a new light and allow them to be looked at from a new perspective. 


Mercedes believes that there is an untapped market in our youth. She has a heartfelt desire to introduce teas to them and she is confident that with storybook concepts she can help young people discover the beauty of teas.

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Dr. Sally Wei was trained in Taiwan and England and she embraces these two tea cultures through the philosophy of “Jing Si” (Still Thoughts) in the understanding, preparation and enjoyment of the blessings of Tea. 

Dr. Wei is a certified Tea Sommelier by UK Tea Academy, under the direction of Ms. Jane Pettigrew. Currently, she is pursuing her Tea Master's license. She has presented at the Northwest Tea Festival in Seattle, and is currently the Tea Educator for the City of Santa Rosa, CA. She holds tea education sessions at her shop, Sally's Parlor. Dr. Wei was also the Featured Speaker for the 2019 Midwest Tea Festival


Nicole Wilson is the resident tea nerd at Tea for Me Please, a blog where she has been writing about her love of the leaf since 2008. Her writing has also been featured on World Tea News, The Daily Tea, Tea Journey, and other publications. Nicole has worked in tea retail for several years and provides freelance social media and marketing services for the tea industry. She is the winner of the 2018 World Tea Award for Best Tea Blog, as well as the 2015 World Tea Award for Best Social Media Reach. 

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Joanna Wu: As an immigrant of New Zealand, I always use my double vision on how to utilize the globalization to enhance the tea industry sustainability. I firmly believe culture communication is a crucial move toward the success of global tea trade. In recent year, my team is focusing on helping the international tea businesses entering China and the Chinese brands launching in the international market; providing the service to help them sourcing the tea and coffee plantations, building the pipe-lines; set-up the marketing strategy and increasing the brand awareness in the target market region ; In the past two years, we have helped hundreds of international tea enterprises established the business in China, access to the origin tea plantations by less amount of time and most cost effective.

Joanna works with the Global Tea Fair which will be held in Shenzhen, China in December.