Meet the Only U.S.-Based Tea Biz to Get a ‘Highly Commended’ Honor at the 2023 Leafies

The White Heron Tea & Gifts and Driftwood Tea Company in New Port Richey, Fla., received a significant international commendation as the only U.S.-based tea company to be recognized at the 2023 International Tea Academy Awards, The Leafies, in partnership with Fortnum & Mason.

Each year, the International Tea Academy recognizes and celebrates the world’s finest loose-leaf teas and brings primary tea producers exposure to a global tea focused market.

While the competition primarily focuses on tea growers and tea producers, this year’s contest also allowed for submissions of blended teas, where tea retailers could showcase their blends for judging.

“We are very excited to announce that we submitted two of our house-made tea blends, and that one of them received a ‘Highly Commended’ recognition from the judges,” said Kelly Hackman, owner and tea sommelier of The White Heron Tea & Gifts and Driftwood Tea Company. “We are very excited to have our tea be recognized with such a prestigious designation, and even more excited that it came from great leaders in the tea industry.”

The tea that Hackman blended – and that received the “Highly Commended” designation – was her company’s Lavender Vanilla White Tea.

Kelly Hackman - The White Heron Tea & Gifts and Driftwood Tea Co.
Kelly Hackman (Photo: Courtesy of The White Heron Tea & Gifts and Driftwood Tea Co.)

Hackman said the tea’s profile is a delicate and slightly floral white tea that combines creamy vanilla with hints of lavender, providing a relaxing and light beverage. She also noted that the tea is perfect for warm afternoons in the garden, though Hackman said the tea is perfect for any time of the day or occasion because of its delicate nature.

White tea is a lesser-known type, according to Hackman, but it still comes from the same Camellia sinensis plant that more traditional black and green teas come from. White tea also requires very little processing, which might make some believe that it’s easier for growers to make. Hackman pointed out that’s not really the case.

“Because you aren’t processing the leaf, there leaves more room for error in the grower’s and producer’s ability to create consistency among the different batches,” explained Hackman. “I also think that is one of the reasons I enjoy white tea so much, because of its delicate nature, but the ability to blend and flavor well.”

Driftwood Tea Co. - The Leafies 2023
(Image: Courtesy of The Leafies)

Just as exciting as receiving the “Highly Commended” designation for her tea blend, Hackman is honored that her tea was the only one from a U.S.-based company that received the designation.

“While we are excited that our tea blend was so well received by the judges, we are equally excited to be the only company to be recognized by this designation in the entire United States,” exclaimed Hackman. “We take great pride in representing our local U.S. tea market on the international stage, and showing the rest of the world that we work with great tea.”

According to the International Tea Academy, “A Highly Commended award at the International Tea Academy Awards, The Leafies, in partnership with Fortnum & Mason, is given to some of the highest-scoring, best tasting teas within each category. Just 36 Highly Commended awards were presented across the 320 teas entered into this year's competition.”

This is not the first time The White Heron Tea & Gifts has received international recognition for one of its tea blends. In 2019, their Luscious Loquat Green Tea received a silver medal in the Global Tea Championship.

“I really love working with teas, blending and creating beautiful flavors for our guests to enjoy,” shared Hackman. “As a self-proclaimed ‘foodie’, I have always loved putting together flavors. Some of my tea blends take months, and occasionally a year or more, to find the perfect blend and balance. For me, it’s all about taking unique teas, such as white teas, and building on their natural beauty, to introduce flavors that evoke a beautiful experience while drinking it.

”The full list of winners for the 2023 International Tea Academy Awards, The Leafies, is available on the UK Tea Academy website:

To learn more about The White Heron Tea & Gifts and Driftwood Tea Company, visit or

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