Looking at the young, eager faces of new and learning tasters the other week I was struck by just how lucky the trade is to have young people who in spite of the allure of other fancier or more lucrative trades like banking, the arts and Tech still think it’s cool to become teamen/women, slurping and spitting for a living. You will find graduates from law, finance and other disciplines choosing to fall in love with tea and become a taster and therefore a trader, broker or buyer. They want to discover the “mysteries” of the world of tea; they want to learn to taste and to talk tea with confidence. They want (and need) to learn about teas beyond those in their immediate geographies; all different types of teas from all over the world.
Knowing just your origin teas is no longer sufficient. To know the true value of a tea you must also know the other teas it competes with in blends and in markets around the world.
Investing in Training
When I learned tea many moons ago, I was trained by senior tasters – passionate, knowledgeable tea-people who took it as their responsibility to pass on what they know to me and to walk with me on my tea journey. They invested their time and effort selflessly. When I did not get “stewy” or “high-fired” they explained it again and tasted more teas with me until I got it. They taught me about a good wither and the impact of a bad one; they explained why over-oxidising was bad for taste and showed me what a properly dried tea should look and smell like. That was not all, they also schooled me and other trainees in the expectations of the trade – a gentleman/woman’s trade, civil and based on honour.
It is now our turn to pass on the knowledge to the young tasters as it was to us. To teach and train them so that they know tea even better than us. It is upto to us to devote time and effort in keeping the river of tea knowledge flowing. Let us be generous with what we have learned over time – tea knowledge takes years and years to gather, and above all it takes a committed trainer to pass it on and thereby equip those who will taste and represent tea in future, taking it to the next level. They will be innovative and bring in new ways of doing tea – but that can only be built upon a foundation of sound tea knowledge. It is also based on all round understanding of all types of tea, herbal teas and flavours.
As a taster of international teas having a “global palate” is key. One must be equipped to taste teas from all origins as well as decaf and instant teas, iced teas, tisane and anything else that is drunk as “tea” whether it derives from camellia sinensis is or not.