Before I began to write about tea, I was a writer of, well, other stuff. There was a brief period when I wondered if I was better off with a skill that was more tangible and less common. Like tea tasting, I remember thinking. I looked for courses to take but before I could embark on that journey, the opportunity to work in tea, as a writer, came along.
There are more places and more ways these days to learn about tea, and to acquire skills to make a career in tea. Those with a hobbyist’s interest in tea can choose a basic tea appreciation session, which is not too unlike what we are attempting with the column—but in-person and over tea. However, there are also more intensive programmes leading to certifications. Here’s a guide I put together, should you be interested.
Tea appreciation workshops are a great way to get introduced to tea varieties and understand where they come from. You are not going to come away with certifiable skills but you can learn a lot more about tea and enjoy tasting new teas with an expert offering you context and guidance. There’s a small but growing band of tea sommeliers who have taken it on themselves to promote the diversity that tea brings. In Bengaluru, Gaurav Saria of Infinitea Tea Room & Tea Store hosts bespoke sessions for groups. Anamika Singh of Anandini Himalaya Tea announces her sessions on their Instagram page. She also offers them online, shipping the tea kits ahead of the sessions. The Asian School of Tea (Kolkata) offers an online Tea Aficionado Program.
Tea tasting is a more specific and specialised skill. It’s a way to learn to recognise how well a tea is made, the flavour profile, the quality, and to be able to evaluate and grade a tea. There is emphasis on honing palate memory and being able to go beyond the obvious taste. This also makes tea tasting a skill you need to work as a tea buyer or a tea seller. The Indian Institute of Plantation Management, Bengaluru, offers a 45-day certification programme in tea tasting and marketing.
Tea blending is a further speciality where one is taught the art of blending tea. This is best suited for someone already familiar with tea and its flavours since blending is an extension of this. Most tea-blending programmes call for some degree of familiarity or working knowledge of tea.
A tea sommelier is like a wine sommelier, and can find a career in hospitality. The certifications for a sommelier are comprehensive and intensive, covering the history and culture of tea but also tasting, pairing with different foods, and creating a tea menu. The International Tea Masters Association offers an eight-week programme in India with tea expert Parag Hatibarua. It covers tea blending too. If you are interested in starting a tea room, this is well worth your time. The Tea and Herbal Association of Canada offers an online, eight-module tea sommelier programme.
The tea master qualification, while available as a certification, is not one that is complete unless you spend years working in this field. True mastery of tea, as of much else, calls for a lifetime of deep engagement.
Tea Nanny is a weekly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry.