What is a tea sommelier – and how can you become one?

I reviewed a number of Roqberry teas in 2018 so am very familiar with the brand and there is always a packet of their Turmeric Chai on my desk.

I was sent this article written by  Kim Havelaar who is a tea sommelier at Roqberry and I am really happy to share it with my readers.  Kim explains what a tea sommelier does, and how you can become one?

Kim Havelaar is an accredited tea sommelier and the founder of Roqberry – an artisan brand of tea, focused on bringing big flavour to tea.  www.roqberry.com

What is a tea sommelier – and how can you become one? By Kim Havelaar, tea sommelier at Roqberry

Tea is ever increasing in popularity and expanding well beyond your everyday brew. Demand for speciality black, green and herbal tea is rising year on year. An increased focus on health means restaurants and bars are also seeing a significant and increasing demand for alcohol-free drinks. Lunch time sittings, especially during business meetings, often desire alcohol-free beverages.

Tea has a fantastic ability to complement food dishes with a variety of flavour profiles. For this reason, more and more restaurants now offer a tea and food pairing menu alongside their wine pairing menu. It is not surprising then, that alongside the long-established profession of a wine sommelier, a newly emerging role is that of tea sommelier.

A wine sommelier looks after the wine offering of a restaurant, and in a similar way, a tea sommelier looks after the tea menu, ensures staff are properly trained on how to brew each tea and understand its 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.

To work as a tea sommelier the first step is a degree of self-study on the subject through books and research and ideally some experience working with tea in a hospitality setting. Personally, I 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.

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. Each tea has an ideal brewing temperature and time.

Tea, much like wine, is grown in several countries around the world, each with their own unique processing methods and flavour profiles. As a sommelier, you 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, but 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.

While 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 its ‘terroir’, or the environment in which it’s grown, 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.

A big part of being a tea sommelier has to do with being able to suggest a tea to compliment particular dishes. The variety and versatility 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.

Next time I go to a restaurant and order tea, I will be taking the time to relax and enjoy the experience. Pairing the right blend of tea with food  sounds like a great idea.  I wonder if that’s why a good masala tea goes well with onion bhajis?

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