Recent discussions in the tea industry have evolved around the establishment of industry-wide standards . . . Quality, classification, processing, and definition of teas as well as the accreditation of industry professionals. Although I am a proponent of establishing standards for tea as a whole, my initial wish would be to have standards of accreditation given study. This would eliminate discussions on whether a person is an industry recognized tea sommelier/master/expert or an enthusiast. The education/experience standards need to be established, recognized, and respected for any said tea professional title.
- Let's begin our discussion by first defining Accreditation -- to certify (a school, college, or the like) as meeting all formal official requirements of academic excellence, curriculum, facilities, etc.
Okay, so what is the better method to gain accreditation . . . Hands-on experience or book learning. Granted the ideal method would be a perfect combination of both. Unfortunately, this option is not always possible for everyone. My initial reaction was that attending traditional classroom/book learning could be easily available to the masses. Of course, on-line classes are easily available and convenient for many but, how traditional are on-line classes, granted the basic method is traditional . . . Or is it? How possible is it to learn palate development on-line? I, for one, have learned how to differentiate teas, quality of teas, and characteristics of known tea processes through group cuppings and discussions--reinforcing the theory that the ideal could be a combination of book learning and hands-on experience.
Since there are currently no industry-wide regulations/standards that must be met to earn titles, a wide-open title granting policy exists. I, personally, have spent thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours reading tea related books, articles, and blogs to reinforce my traditional classroom tea knowledge. When talking tea with others, I consistently refer to myself as an STI Certified Tea Specialist -- the professional classification I earned by successfully completing classes, tastings, and events sponsored by the Speciality Tea Institute -- the educational branch of the USA Tea Association. (It should also be noted here that after each class, students are required to pass a qualification examination.)
I have had the opportunity to study under several Tea Masters and Sommeliers, and would in no way consider myself to be either, if for no other reason than the respect I have for these professionals that have so willingly shared their tea knowledge with me and others. My experience has been that Tea Masters and Sommeliers have spent decades studying all aspects of tea, traveled to countries of origin and participated in the actual processing of tea from the leaf to the cup -- just not once or twice but many, many times throughout their tea life.
Many tea professionals I have the honor of knowing and calling friends consider themselves to be students of the leaf and will always be a student . . . As there is so very much to learn about tea -- the growing of tea in different parts of the world, the processing and steeping of tea, recognizing quality tea, developing and appreciating tea essences, as well as many, many ways to study any and all of the above. Until an industry standard is established I suggest you select the method of learning best for you and enjoy tea but remember to be respectful of those willing to share their tea knowledge and experiences.
(It should be noted that the above is my opinion and does not reflect or endorse any of the many programs, courses or travel opportunities available to study tea.)
Always and forever I remain an eager student of the leaf,
The Tea and Hat Lady
Getting ready for Tea Time, books, and knowledge.