What is a Tea Sommelier?
I am a certified Tea Sommelier with the Tea and Herbal Association of Canada. A Tea Sommelier is an expert on tea, someone who has trained their palette to pick up on the subtle aromas and flavours between many different types of tea. A Tea Sommelier knows the process of tea from bush to cup, and can expertly complement or contrast tea with food. Every Tea Sommelier has years of practice behind them and often works directly within the tea industry. For a long time, the term sommelier had been reserved for experts within the realm of wine. However, the origin of the word sommelier points to the latin word sumere, which means to drink or absorb liquid.
I began my journey to become a certified Tea Sommelier in September 2017, taking my final certification exam in January 2019. Classes can take place in person at various colleges or online with the Tea and Herbal Association of Canada itself. Students can take the courses for their own educational advancement or for the purpose of becoming a certified Tea Sommelier. There are 8 courses in total that the student must pass in order to qualify to sit the final certification exam. Personally I took both classes in person and online, as during the latter part of my studies the online option worked better with my schedule. I attended both Mohawk College in Hamilton, Ontario, and Algonquin College in Ottawa, Ontario in person to complete a course. At both colleges, the Tea Sommelier classes were part of the Continuing Education Program.
In person classes met once a week for 3 hours at a time. Classes were held on the weekends or during weeknights. I took the introduction course (Tea 101) at Mohawk, which is the only course that is 4 weeks long. The remainder of the courses are 6 weeks in duration. Often in course instruction connects you in real time to other potential Tea Sommeliers and individuals with a strong passion for tea.
Online courses run for 6 weeks, with two tutorials that allow you to connect and ask questions directly to the instructor. You could choose from two different time slots for the tutorial, allowing for the more convenient option for your schedule. I found that both in person and online courses were flexible and appropriate for those who worked full time or had other commitments.
- Tea 101 – Introduction to Tea
- Tea 102 – Regions of the World
- Tea 103 – Sensory Development
- Tea 104 – Tea Types
- Tea 105 – From Bush to Cup
- Tea 106 – Preparation, Consumption, and Health
- Tea 107 – Menu Design, Food Pairing and Cooking
- Tea 108 – The Business of Tea
- Class participation – 5% (for both in person and online through the tutorials)
- Assignment – 20% (presentation, either alone or in a group for some in person courses)
- Blind Tasting* – 60%
- Final Examination – 50%
*Students must pass the Blind Tasting with a minimum of 51% / Students must achieve at least 60% to pass each course
Each week you complete a lesson, taste teas and complete a full sensory evaluation of each tea. All teas are provided for you when you enrol in the course. For in course instruction, the tasting takes place as a class with the opportunity to make notes on your own. For online instruction, the teas are mailed to you and marked accordingly to taste teas on your own.
The final assignment was often a presentation, or a discussion around your menu or creation. The assignment required you to complete additional research and use the course material to complete.
Undoubtedly the blind tasting portion of each course is the most challenging yet interesting section. As a student you were required to complete a blind taste test of either 6 or 8 teas and identify the category (white, green, oolong, black or pu’erh) and another identifier such as country of origin, specific region within a tea producing country or manufacturing method. You are only presented with the tea liquor, and do not see the package or dry/wet leaf.
The blind taste test is a true reflection of your efforts and practice. During the first course, you start with the basics and progress to tasting the subtle nuances within a single category. In the beginning of my journey, I had to practice over and over to taste the differences between a green tea from China and a green tea from Japan. At the end of my studies, I could visually see the difference without even smelling or tasting the teas. The best way to approach a blind tasting is to compare and contrast the teas from your lesson, accessing what speaks to you directly about each of the tea. I tasted each tea over and over again, and often got my tea buddy to quiz me frequently. Blind tasting teas allows you to slow down and rely on your senses to determine the different aromas and flavours of a specific tea. Tea Sommeliers and students always hear that ‘all tea tastes the same’ when really, this statement couldn’t be further from the truth.
Final Certification Exam
In order to become a certified Tea Sommelier, you must pass the final exam. Students must score a minimum of 75% in both the blind tasting and course in order to pass.
- Tea Preparation – 30%
- Oral Presentation – 10%
- Final Examination – 30%
- Blind Tasting – 30%
The final exam is timed and moderated, so preparation is essential to your success. The blind tasting component comprises of 10 teas that you have studied from any of the previous 8 courses. The Tea and Herbal Association has an exam preparation session available to students who are enrolled in the final certification exam.
Certified Tea Sommelier Designation
As a certified Tea Sommelier, you become a member of the Tea and Herbal Association of Canada. Yearly membership fees grants you access to current tea research and data, and connects you with tea professionals across the industry.
Many certified Tea Sommeliers are entrepreneurs and work within the tea industry itself. As the second most popular beverage worldwide after water, continual research, studies, and international conferences help further our understanding about tea.
For more information about tea, the certified Tea Sommelier program and upcoming courses or the Tea and Herbal Association of Canada, please visit their website at tea.ca
Feel free to reach out to me directly with any questions about studying to become a Tea Sommelier or blind tasting tips at firstname.lastname@example.org