Four Things You Need to Know if You Want to be a Tea Sommelier

Do you love tea so much you want take up drinking it professionally? Obviously, that’s just silly… Or is it?

In fact, the rise in health awareness means that restaurants and bars also seeing a significant and increasing demand for alcohol-free drinks. At the same time, tea is becoming more popular and expanding well beyond your everyday brew. The demand for speciality black, green and herbal teas is rising year-on-year.

So, becoming a tea sommelier is now a valid career option. Here’s what you need to know if you want to drink tea for a living.

What is a tea sommelier?

Surprisingly, much like wine, that tea has a fantastic ability to complement food dishes with a variety of flavour profiles. That is why more and more restaurants now offer a tea and food pairing menu alongside their wine pairing menu. It’s therefore unsurprising that alongside the long-established profession of a wine sommelier, a newly emerging role is that of tea sommelier.

In a similar way that a wine sommelier looks after the wine offering of a restaurant, a tea sommelier looks after the tea menu, ensures members of staff are properly trained on how to brew each tea and that they understand each ones unique characteristics. A tea sommelier also works with the chef to pair tea to the food menu and can suggest teas that best complement a particular dish.

How do you qualify?

Certifications can be obtained through the UK Tea Academy. To achieve this, you will follow an intense course followed by both a written and verbal exam, as well as a practical test on identifying tea and achieving the optimal brew for that particular variety.

But, before that, the first step is a degree of self-study on the subject through books and research and ideally some experience of tea within in a hospitality setting. I personally have also visited tea plantations and manufacturers in India and throughout Japan to understand the process from leaf to cup. To stay up-to-date on the latest innovations, I think it is important to visit tea plantations all over the world on a regular basis.

Know your tea

All tea comes from a plant called Camelia Sinensis – subdivided into Camelia Sinensis Sinensis and Camelia Sinensis Assamica – there are thousands of varietals (naturally occurring variations of the plant) and cultivars (variations of the plant created by man).

Tea is heavily influenced by the environment in which it’s grown, or ‘terroir’, including everything from temperature, humidity levels, elevation, the quality of the soil and the ground water. The season in which it is harvested, and the way in which the tea is plucked also have an impact, and of course, the post-harvest processing method.

Tea is grown in several countries around the world, each with their own unique processing methods and flavour profiles. As a sommelier, you need to have a broad knowledge about the main categories of tea and the most renowned varieties within them. With time and experience you deepen your knowledge. As the topic is so expansive there will always be more to learn. Even tea masters tend to specialise in a particular tea origin as it is impossible to know all there is to know about every tea.

Tea and food pairings

The ability to suggest a tea to compliment particular dishes is a significant part of being a tea sommelier. The versatility and variety of tea lends itself perfectly to pair with meals and almost all teas, including flavoured blends, will have a food pairing that works well. I find that although certain basic rules can be learned from theory, a better ability to suggest tea and food pairings comes from experience, palette, and a degree of trial and error.

Some of my favourite pairings to date include:

  • Raspberry Fondant – a Sri Lankan black tea with Cacao and freeze-dried raspberry – with confit duck and blackberry puree
  • Turmeric Chai, a herbal infusion, with Caribbean goat curry.  
  • Peppermint Cream – a Milk Oolong with peppermint and cacao – with caramelised pan-friend Dover sole and a dab of pea tartare;

I decided to certify as a tea sommelier because I love tea and Roqberry is a foodie-inspired. For me, pairing tea with the right food is so important. I worked with restaurants on finding the best blends to complement their dishes and we include tasting tips on all of our packs.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Kim Havelaar is an accredited tea sommelier and the founder of Roqberry. Roqberry is a new brand of tea, focused on bringing big flavour to tea. With high quality ingredients, hand blended in the UK, Roqberry offers both unique flavoured blends as well as top quality artisan varieties. Flavours include fresh expressions of classic blends, such as smooth and sunny Citrus Grey, as well as extraordinary new fusions like savoury Sushi & Spice. The naturally caffeine free infusions range from spiced Turmeric Chai to floral Bloom Box. And the speciality Tea Legends include artisan varieties like Jasmine DragonPearls that remain true to tradition. www.roqberry.com

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