Advisory Board

Heather Agosta

Heather Agosta is the President and co-owner of The Jasmine Pearl Tea Company, a Portland, Oregon based importer and wholesaler of specialty loose leaf tea. Heather spent time studying aromatic herbalism and learning the art of flavor and scent design under the tutelage of a renowned specialist. In 2016 Heather also co-founded Pearl Soda Company, a sparkling tea manufacturer. She has over twelve years of blend development experience and has created hundreds of specialty teas and herbal blends.  She has also been serving as a tea educator in public and professional venues for a decade.

 

Heather co-manages both wholesale and retail operations of her company.  Through the company's retail channels, she has witnessed the continuing evolution of both consumer awareness of, and demand for, specialty tea. As a wholesale manager, she has had an in-depth perspective of how specialty tea has expanded in the food service, grocery, wellness and hospitality channels.

Lou Berkley

Lou has worked with many specialty tea brands including International tea Importers, Waterfall Teas among others. Lou contributed his tea research, writing, and project management skills to the 2017 edition of The Romance of Tea by William H. Ukers (annotated by James Norwood Pratt). Currently he is collaborating on new tea projects with tea industry associates Babette Donaldson and Roy Fong, and has authored upcoming articles including one set for publication within Tea Journey Magazine.

Mim Enck

My interest in the world of food and beverage began at an early age because my family was in the hospitality business and encouraged me to experiment in all phases of food and beverage.

Feeling frustrated with corporate life, I decided to jump in the car and travel throughout the United States. After traveling for 5 months in all regions of the US and Canada, I was enthralled with the tastes, sights and sounds encountered on this wonderful journey. Realizing there was life beyond the US, I traveled to Europe visiting coffeehouse and tea salons to better understand the culture of tea. This trip then lead to spending time with Julia Child and Simone Beck in southern France. Their influence imbued the love of food and preparing food with fresh ingredients and integrity. This journey also sparked ideas of using tea as an ingredient in cooking. After experimenting, tasting and developing recipes it continues to be a delightful experience.

Today, I am president of East Indies Coffee and Tea Company, specializing in the tea division of our company. Thanks to my husband's belief that evolved women have a naturally developed palate, he has become the "wind beneath my wings". Tea is a great connector to many peoples throughout the world. In today's world, tea calm's and lifts the spirit as well.

Christopher Glenn

Christopher Glenn is co-owner of Modern Steep Tea Company, based in Seattle, WA. His decision to enter tea as a profession was driven by his interests in travel, organic gardening, healthy living and, of course, his love of tea. With a keen interest in Japanese teas, Christopher enjoys educating tea enthusiasts based on his travel experiences and the relationships he's built with several tea makers. In addition to his work as a tea e-tailer and wholesaler, Christopher maintains an active career in music, performing regularly on pipe organs around the country with a strong educational background in music. Christopher believes that life is better with tea and music!

Kris Houser

Kris Houser is the Director of Marketing Communications for BUNN and has been with the company since 2010. She has 20 years of experience in corporate communications and leading in-house creative groups. Most recently, Kris has expanded her love of tea and is now certified in Levels I and II by the Specialty Tea Institute. Memberships include the PR Committee of the National Coffee Association, the Association for Women in Communication, and serving as an ambassador for Women's Foodservice Forum. She was determined to become an English teacher while studying at Illinois College but then decided to pursue a master's degree in Public Relations and Journalism at the University of Iowa, which opened doors for a career in corporate work. Favorite app: Flipboard. Magazine addictions: Fast Company, Wired, House Beautiful, Saveur, Imbibe. Favorite mantra: "Think twice, act once."

Brian Keating

Brian is the founder of the Sage Group®,a business publisher, think-tank and consultancy focused upon the specialty tea and natural products industries. Brian was the first tea blend master and tea buyer for Whole Foods Market, the world's largest natural foods retailer and he has been a top-rated speaker at the annual World Tea Expo. He is widely quoted; his insights have been showcased in articles in both consumer and business publications, including Newsweek, The Economist, and Nutrition Business Journal. He also has unique hands-on experience at the retail level, having owned one of North America's premier tea shops/caf├ęs for many years, and has pioneered numerous retail and foodservice merchandising, marketing, and training methodologies. In addition to producing many specialty tea beverages, Brian was a recognized leader as the energy-tea category emerged during the 1980- 90's, from the development of new flavor/active ingredient combinations to unique extensions of traditional marketing concepts.

Holger Lohs

Holger Lohs has a profound background in the international food industry, with the special expertise in tea products of all kinds. He joined Haelssen and Lyon GmbH in Germany in 1996 as a regional Sales Director for North America and the UK. In 2005, he founded the New York City-based subsidiary for one of the industry's leading tea companies, Haelssen and Lyon NA Corp., which he is managing as CEO and President. He has more than 20 years of extensive experience in the food industry and a strong managing ability to improve sales profitability and operational efficiencies. His profound knowledge about specialty tea and the tea industry is highly appreciated amongst the leading tea authorities in this country. He currently serves on the advisory board for the US Specialty Tea Institute (STI), as well as for the World Tea Expo.

Ravi Pillai

Head of Tea Quality Control at DAVIDS

  • A Tea taster with over 32 years of experience in the Tea industry, being associated in the management of tea estates/gardens, and Tea processing, on plantations in Sri Lanka for almost 20 years, encompassing Nursery management and tea planting field works, pre and post harvesting practices and tea production.
  • From Planting to Marketing & Business Development, buying teas from origin/source, and from tea auction, and developing blends and standards to satisfy client requirements
  • Has travelled to many countries across the Middle East and Asia to market and sell teas and offer advice in development of client specifics and needs.
  • Was Consultant in a leading conglomerate in Turkey for few years before coming over to Canada, and his role was developing tea standards for their Brand, and also being an adviser to tea producers in the Black Sea region on leaf styles and quality of tea produced.
  • Has been actively involved in the Spice trade and also served on the Management Committee of the Sri Lanka Spice Association for over eight years until proceeding to Turkey and then moving to DAVIDs in Canada.
  • Holds an Advanced Diploma in Plantation Management awarded by the National Institute of Plantation Management in Sri Lanka.
  • A certified "Tea Specialist" and certified "Tea Professional" bestowed upon by the World Tea Academy (USA).

Silvia Rettore

Born in an Italian family in the idyllic countryside close to Venice, Silvia Rettore started very soon in her life to evolve a very fine palate and sensory ability. Her international experience in London, Montpellier, Hamburg and one decade enjoying a glamorous career in the world of the high fashion industry helped her to develop a critical eye in design and a profound knowledge in business. Inspired by her background, she decided to follow her instincts and passions and be part of the big D&B family. After 10 successful years as an Export Sales Manager at the German headquarters, established back in 1836, and numerous trips to fascinating tea plantations around the world, encountering the most amazing personalities, such as her own clients, she took the wonderful opportunity to touch base in the US and has started to lead a team of other tea aficionados at D&B Inc., Aurora, IL.

Bhavin Shah

Bhavin Shah is Chief Sommelier at the Waterfall Tea Company. He is a well-rounded senior professional with proven leadership capability to run organizations and teams both large and small, including during times of significant industry change. Bhavin’s background includes a unique blend of finance, communications, sales and strategy expertise with a proven track record of executing strategic initiatives across a multitude of industries including Technology and Telecom, Banking as well as the Tea Trade.

Bhavin has had three separate stints working in the tea industry across his 25-year professional career. He started in the tea industry in 1991 when he was a teenager working as an intern for his late Uncle Devan Shah, considered one of the pioneers of the US Tea Trade. During these formidable years he learned firsthand from his uncle the hard work and effort required to starting a tea business in the US. Years later after completing his undergraduate studies, Bhavin rejoined the tea industry working for the established India Tea Importers (ITI). During his time at India Tea Importers, he ran a successful sales and re-branding campaign renaming ITI to International Tea Importers and helping to establish the company as one of the preeminent importers of specialty tea in the United States. During this time he also worked at the award winning Chado Tea Room, learning the ins and outs of managing a successful retail tea shop and also led the development of chadotea.com, one of the first direct to consumer on-line retail tea websites in the US.

Most recently Bhavin, along with his cousin Bianca Shah, has led the restructuring of International Tea Importers following the untimely passing of company founder Devan Shah. After spending 15 months leading the successful restructuring of ITI, Bhavin was named head of Waterfall Tea Company where he will lead the company in all areas from sales to finance and operations.

Bhavin graduated with honors from The College of New Jersey with a dual degree in Business Management and Industrial and Organizational Psychology and earned his MBA from Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. He is also a graduate of AT&T’s Financial Leadership Program, one of the premier finance and accounting rotational training programs in the country. Bhavin has successfully completed the Tea Sommelier class as well as STI’s Level I and II courses. Bhavin resides in Jacksonville Florida with his wife and three kids. 

Rona Tison

A tea industry connoisseur with a refined approach to the U.S. Japanese culture and innovative marketing, Rona Tison currently serves as the Senior Vice President of Corporate Relations at ITO EN(North America) INC., Japan's #1 green tea brand and the world's leading purveyor of award-winning, premium and sustainably-grown green tea. Tison is responsible for maintaining and developing the company's corporate image through branding, public relations and promotional events.

In addition to her role at ITO EN, Tison serves on the Tea & Health Committee of the U.S. Tea Council, and is a member of the U.S. Tea Association, the Specialty Tea Institute, the US-Japan Council and Japan Society. Her tea industry prowess has led her to speak at the World Tea Expo, San Francisco, Los Angeles & Northwest Tea Festivals, Shizuoka World Tea Festival, James Beard House and Smithsonian Lecture Series.