World Tea Advisory Board & Education Committee

Shalini Agarwal

Born to the ‘Chaiwala’ family of Dehra Dun - which literally means ‘people of tea’ - Shalini grew up on tea farms in Assam and Darjeeling. Her family has been in tea since the 1930s, and the fourth generation is managing farms that her grandfather acquired from the British.

Shalini graduated with a B.A. in Economics from Delhi University, India, and has lived in Southern California since she immigrated to the USA in 1975. She 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 actively promoting teas from her family gardens - Khongea in Assam and Glenburn in Darjeeling - in North America for the past 8 years, under the brand name ‘Glenburn Tea Direct’.

More recently, Shalini has given talks at the World Tea Expo and various tea festivals on topics ranging from the tea regions of India, differences in terroir and manufacturing techniques, to the evolving Indian tea industry. She also organizes tours for tea enthusiasts, bringing them to stay in her family farms in North East India. These are mainly educational in nature, covering all aspects of tea growing and manufacture, but also offering her guests a wonderful insight into the culture, food and history of each region.

When not tasting teas, Shalini can be found pottering around her garden, or chasing more adventurous pursuits like skiing or hiking in her local mountains.

Chris Chantler

Chris Chantler is the Co-Founder of Vail Mountain Coffee & Tea Co, a specialty wholesaler and retailer with over 30 years in the coffee and tea trade. His primary role in the company is marketing, sales, and sourcing. Chris has traveled extensively to the coffee and tea producing regions of the world enjoying several tea trips with his friend and tea mentor the late Devan Shah.

Kevin Christiansen

Tea and Teens sums up social entrepreneur Kevin Christiansen’s passions. His tea shop, Café Barnabas, was launched as a dynamic workshop, empowering students with employability skills and a sense of belonging. Amazingly, approx. 80% of his team are volunteers between the age of 13-16. This high energy group drives tea innovation as they hand crafting the best local tea while providing customers and staff with outstanding experiences. As a not-for-profit organization, both financial sustainability and community impact direct the café which has resulted in recognitions such as “Topeka’s Top 20 Professionals Under 40”, “Best of Topeka” tea shop, and World Tea Award’s “Best Tea Campaign.” As an animated speaker, Kevin looks forward to meeting you at his next tea event. 

Jeni Dodd

Born and raised in America’s heartland, Jeni Dodd has journeyed far afield from the plains of Kansas to remote tea-growing regions throughout the world in search of the perfect cup of tea.  She has visited all of the major, as well as many of the up and coming, tea producing countries witnessing, first-hand, the dedication, labor and passion required from growers and producers to create your cup of tea.  As the owner and founder 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.

Jeni, a Certified Tea Specialist through, now teaches future tea entrepreneurs and enthusiasts at the Specialty Tea Institute.  She has presented several times at World Tea Expo, TEXSOM, as well as regional tea festivals in the United States.  She was the keynote speaker at the Australian Tea Cultural Seminar and spoke at the International Tea Festival in Nepal.  During COVID she created Grape Grain & Leaf™, a virtual tea cocktail experience featuring a collaboration with a Certified Sommelier from a NYC 3-Star Michelin restaurant. True to her roots, Jeni remains an avid Kansas Jayhawk basketball fan.
 

Lisa Richardson

Lisa Richardson is the Online Assistant Education Manager for World Tea Academy. She has studied and traveled the globe researching and learning from masters about tea. Since forming Lisa Knows Tea in 2000, she has consulted with companies in product line development, worked with several Fortune 500s to help launch new tea lines, and trained employees in tea knowledge and service.

Lisa is a sought-out speaker, teaching to the industry and to the public. She has authored three tea books with her latest being Modern TeaA Fresh Look at an Ancient Beverage (Chronicle Books, 2014). 

Tim Smith

Tim was first introduced to tea during a visit to Japan many years ago.  From there he discovered that tea is so much more than just a beverage, and was drawn into the legends, history, flavors and people that make tea so special and such an important part of people’s lives all across the globe. 

Tim holds an MBA from Creighton University. He has been an active proponent of small business and entrepreneurs, having served as a Delegate to the White House Conference on Small Business and on numerous boards for industry and not for profit organizations.  Tim has presented at numerous venues including the Midwest Tea Fest and World Tea Expo. In 2012 he was named the “Top Tea Infusionist.” 
Tim Smith is the Chief Leaf at The Tea Smith in Omaha, NE. 
The Tea Smith operates retail shops in Omaha, NE and is a wholesaler and importer of teas and herbal infusions to fine restaurants, coffee shops, tea rooms, spas and health stores.

Rona Tison

Executive Vice President, Corporate Relations & PR,  ITO EN, North America, Inc., New York

A tea industry connoisseur with a refined approach to the U.S. Japanese culture and innovative marketing, Rona Tison is the Executive Vice President of Corporate Relations at ITO EN (North America) INC., Japan’s #1 green tea brand and the world’s leading purveyor of premium and sustainably grown green tea and healthy beverages. Tison is responsible for maintaining and developing the company’s corporate image through branding, public relations and promotional events. The company has received numerous awards to include recognition as one of “50 Companies Changing the World” by FORTUNE for its commitment to sustainability and the revitalization of tea farms through its Tea Region Development Project, and its proprietary tea leaf recycling program.

In addition to her role at ITO EN, Tison serves on the Board of the Tea Association of the USA and the Tea & Health Committee, the U.S.-Japan Council and Advisory Board of the Global Tea Initiative at University of California, Davis, and member of the Tea & Herbal Association of Canada.  She has been a speaker at the World Tea Expo, San Francisco, Los Angeles & Northwest Tea Festivals, the United Nations, Shizuoka World Tea Festival, James Beard House and Smithsonian Lecture Series. She received the “2017 John Harney Lifetime Achievement Award” for her educational contributions to the tea industry, the first woman to ever receive this prestigious award.

Maria Uspenski

Maria Uspenski is the founder of The Tea Spot, where her mission is to advance healthier living through the everyday enjoyment of whole leaf tea. The Boulder, Colorado based company donates ten percent of all profits in-kind to cancer survivors and community wellness. Recent developments at the company include blends with adaptogens and CBD. 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 featured at conferences nationwide, in the print media, on television, radio and podcast interviews for her success as a social entrepreneur and certified tea and fitness nutrition expert. 

Shabnam Weber

Shabnam Weber has spent the last eighteen years in the tea business as an entrepreneur.  As owner of a specialty tea company, a tea school and a Director on the Board of the Tea and Herbal Association of Canada, she has a unique perspective on multiple angles of the tea business.  She is the author of THAC’s well known and recognized Tea Sommelier program and a big driver in both consumer and industry education.  Shabnam values the diversity offered by all parts of the tea industry, both  in Canada and beyond and focuses always on the bigger picture.  Shabnam is a graduate of the University of Toronto with an Honours degree in Political Science and she also holds a post-graduate diploma in Psychology. She is currently the President of the Tea and Herbal Association of Canada.