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Becoming a Certified Tea Sommelier

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. 

Course Instruction

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.

Course Breakdown

  • 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. 

Blind Tasting

I recommend using a Gaiwan (pictured here) when cupping teas

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

Feel free to reach out to me directly with any questions about studying to become a Tea Sommelier or blind tasting tips at

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DIY Rose Dusted Tea Latte

Sometimes a good tea latte is all we need to relax or power through our afternoon work session. When the weather outside is frightful, the last thing we want to do is to trudge outdoors to get our tea fix. Tea lattes are so easy to make in your own kitchen and are so versatile. Whether you make yours vegan or with dairy, all it takes is a few minutes to whip up. 

I’ll be sharing how to create a rose dusted earl grey tea latte made with coconut milk at home. The calming aroma of rose fills your kitchen as you sip away on this creamy earl grey tea latte. You can follow these same instructions to create a tea latte with another tea (I recommend using a black tea, like Morning Routine) with the milk and sweetener of your choice. I used our cream earl grey loose leaf tea with our rose buds and petals

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steps 1-4

Step 1: Grab your favourite mug and boil your kettle. Steep your tea however you’d like (tea press or in a compostable tea filter) at the optimal length and water temperature. Unsure of how long or how hot your water should be? Refer to our chart here.

Step 2: While your tea is steeping, begin to warm your milk on your stove or in the microwave (watch to ensure it doesn’t boil over!). Your milk is ready to be frothed once it reaches around 145-155 degrees Fahrenheit. Begin frothing your milk with your frother or tea press. You can texturize your milk in a tea press by aerating the milk through the repeated motion of lifting the tea press up and down.

No tea press or milk frother? Use a whisk or a fork to froth your warmed milk. 

Note that different milk types will froth differently! 

Step 3: Sweeten your brew with honey, maple syrup, sugar, simple syrup or a flavoured syrup. I used a teaspoon of vanilla syrup to compliment the creamy notes of my earl grey. Not a fan of adding sugar? Skip this step!

Step 4: Pour the milk into your cup. For more foam, froth milk close to the surface and use a spoon to scoop the milk foam for your tea latte.


Step 5: Garnish with rose petals or the floral of your choice, and enjoy!

You can make an indulgent tea latte at home in just a few minutes! We hope you have fun creating your tea latte and that this inspires you to take a tea break whenever you need it throughout your day!

Show us your DIY tea latte with the hashtag #teabyplandevida 

Hope you enjoyed this Sip Tip,


DIY Tea Latte

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All Tea Comes from the Same Source

All tea (white, yellow, green, oolong, black & pu’erh) comes from the same plant: the leaves of the Camellia Sinensis bush. While there are 3 main varieties of Camellia Sinensis and a multitude of cultivars, the origin of every tea begins with this plant. The categories of tea are different from each other because of their manufacturing and production methods only. It is how they are manufactured that results in what type of tea it will become. Specific types of tea can be manufactured exclusively within a region of a tea growing country, and many countries around the world have their own style when it comes to growing, manufacturing and perfecting their tea. For example, you’ll only find Silver Needle (a premium white tea) coming from the Fujian province of China or Darjeeling tea grown exclusively in Darjeeling, India. Terroir (combination of geography, weather, season and manufacturing methods) explains why a green tea from China, tastes vastly different from a green tea from Japan. Please note that Yellow tea is sometimes not considered its own category of tea, and is exclusive to China. We’ve included our chart below that outlines the different steps each category of tea undergoes.

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L-R: White tea, Green tea, Oolong tea, Black tea, Pu’erh Tea

tea processing

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Tea Tuesdays: Pu’erh

We’re focusing on Pu’erh Tea for this week’s Tea Tuesdays post. Pu’erh is a large leaf tea grown and produced only in the Yunnan province of China. Just like how Darjeeling tea from India has a Geographic Indication, Pu’erh tea from Yunnan is trademarked in order to protect its unique flavours exclusive to the terroir of this south-western province of China. What makes Pu’erh stand out is the fermentation process it undergoes.  The tea is picked, processed and partly fired in order to leave the tea leaves slightly damp.  At this stage, two different fermentation processes can be applied to the manufacture of Pu’erh tea. Sheng (raw) which is a natural fermentation process or Shu (cooked) an artificial fermentation process. Sheng is a natural aging process for Pu’erh tea. The tea leaves are compressed into flat disks and left for a longer period of time allowing for microbial (bacterium causing fermentation) activity. The presence of bacteria (the good for you kind!) along with humidity mellows Sheng Pu’erh over time, normally up to a decade. The result is a light grassy flavour reminiscent of broth, mushrooms and earthy tones.

With the popularity of Pu’erh tea, a quicker production style was created in order to keep up with the demand. Shu Pu’erh uses Wo Dui artificial fermentation in order to speed up the aging process. Wo Dui or wet-pile fermentation allows the natural bacteria on the leaves to create a reaction similar to a compost pile. The finishing step is to age the Pu’erh, often done in underground rooms or caves. Shu Pu’erh delivers a fuller bodied cup of Pu’erh with strong earthy notes. Similar to the aging process of wine, the longer Pu’erh is aged results in a better flavour. Vintages of Pu’erh can go as far back as several hundred years, and are highly prized.  See below for our tasting observations of a Shu Pu’erh.

Tea Tuesdays Shu Pu'erh July 10_Page_1



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Tea Tuesdays: Jasmine Tea

This Tea Tuesdays feature is about Jasmine tea. Jasmine tea is green tea that has been scented naturally with jasmine flowers. China is a tea producing country that also grows jasmine flowers, with the most famous and traditional jasmine tea coming from the Fujian province. Tea gardens producing jasmine tea aims to balance the flavours between the floral blossoms and the tea leaves. Scenting the green tea is a labourious process that can take several days and even weeks to complete. Jasmine flowers are picked during midday at the warmest peak of summer, as the blossoms are tightly closed to protect against the sun. When the jasmine flowers dry and cool off, the blossoms burst open and their aromas are at their prime for the scenting process. The freshly blossomed jasmine flowers are mixed with the tea leaves by hand or machines in a temperature and humidity controlled room.  The fresh floral aromas of the jasmine blossoms are absorbed into the tea leaves at this production step. Depending on the grade of tea, the process of scenting may occur multiple times and fresh jasmine blossoms may be used for each new layer.

Tea is able to absorb the aromas of the jasmine flowers easily because tea is hygroscopic. This means that tea is able to absorb moisture from its surrounding environment, changing its own composition. At the final stage of the scenting process, the tea leaves are fired to remove all moisture. It is at this stage that the jasmine flowers are removed, as the tea has entirely absorbed all of its aromas. However, some jasmine teas will be packaged along with the dried jasmine blossoms for appearance only. The dried jasmine flowers do not enhance the flavour or aroma of the tea, and are left for aesthetic purposes only. Due to the fact that tea is hygroscopic, you should always ensure your tea is stored in an air tight container. For example, keeping your tea open in your spice cabinet would alter the flavours of your tea! Continue reading below for our sensory breakdown of a Jasmine tea from China.

tea tuesdays jasmine tea july 3_Page_1


This jasmine tea blend included the dried jasmine flowers



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Health Benefits of Tea

One of the pitfalls of the tea bag industry is how it disconnects the tea drinker with the beverage itself. Open the packet, dunk in a tea bag, and go about your day. Just like our first article, it discredits tea as a healthy beverage. It takes away from the fact that tea (Camellia Sinensis) is a crop, a living organism that contains several health benefits for its drinker. Research on tea has revealed that green and black tea will become one of the most effective beverages to decrease the risk of various diseases (1). The tea plant contains high levels of flavonoids and antioxidants, but what exactly does tea contain? Below we highlight the main components that are found within your cup of tea.

  1. Alkaloids

Caffeine (exact amount of caffeine depends on the type of tea, steeping time, etc): Caffeine is an alkaloid that has a stimulatory effect. Drinking certain types of tea can help to alleviate drowsiness. (2)

  1. Amino Acids

Theanine: Theanine is an amino acid rarely found in the plant kingdom. Theanine helps to relieve stress and promotes relaxation. This amino acid is also responsible for delivering the umami (meaty) sensation when drinking tea. (2)

  1. Catechins (flavanols, a type of natural phenol and antioxidant)

Epigallocatechin Gallate (EPCG): EPCG is a powerful antioxidant & main catechin in green and black teas. It accounts for around 50% of the total amount of catechins and may reduce the risk of lifestyle related diseases. (2) The bitter flavour of gallated catechins adds briskness to the flavour of tea

How to Maximize the Health Benefits of Tea

  1. Refrain from adding sugar or milk to your tea. If you find yourself reaching for black tea bag blends that often are bitter and astringent, try to switch it up by choosing loose leaf. Loose leaf undergoes a longer manufacturing process allowing more refined aromas and flavours to develop. You may find you don’t need to add anything to enhance the flavour of your tea when you reach for multilayered and complex teas. Reach for a buttery Gyokuro (green tea), Jin Xuan Oolong or a loose leaf Earl Grey (black tea blend) if you enjoy the creaminess that dairy oftens add, without actually adding dairy!
  2. Reach for tea picked during the first flush or first harvest of the year (Gyokuro, Matcha, First Flush Darjeeling, etc) or tea that is shade grown (Gyokuro, Matcha). As tea plants store nutrients all winter and the cool weather prevents growth, the first flush will contain the highest amount of amino acids and polyphenols compared to later harvests. Conversion of theanine to various catechins is catalyzed by sunlight, therefore shade cultivation restricts this chemical reaction and results in leaves rich in theanine. (2)
  3. Consume several cups of tea a day – although tea contains caffeine, it averages around 66% less caffeine than coffee per cup. Tea is infused with water, so the more tea you drink, the more hydrated you will be.


Please note that due to the difference in production between each category of tea, the levels of caffeine, amino acids and antioxidants will vary. For example, green tea contains more catechins whereas the oxidation step in black tea production leaves black tea abundant in theaflavins (antioxidant polyphenols) and therarubigins (polymeric polyphenols)
  1. ‘Health Benefits of Green Tea – An Evidence Based Approach’ by Yukihiko Hara
  2. ‘Characteristics of Japanese Green Tea’ by Yoriyuki Nakamura


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Tea Tuesdays: Matcha

This week we’re all about Matcha. Matcha has been steadily gaining popularity in Canada, where it has been served both hot and cold, with or without milk. Even with all of the ways Matcha has been re-imagined, it is actually one of the healthiest ways to consume tea. Why? With Matcha you are consuming the entire leaf, rather than infusing and removing the tea leaves.  Matcha is a finely ground powder made from Tencha (tea leaves that are specifically manufactured for Matcha production) leaves. The method of grinding tea leaves into a fine powder was made popular throughout China until the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644). Buddhist Monks from Japan brought this production method back with them when they returned from China. The leaves are deveined and the stems removed in order to prepare them for being stone ground by hand. It takes approximately one hour to grind 30g of Matcha, one of the reasons why Matcha’s price point is a lot higher in comparison to other teas.  Tencha leaves are shade grown for 3 weeks before they are harvested, and never exposed to direct sunlight during their last period of growth. Shade growing the leaves increases their overall chlorophyll levels, and halts photosynthesis. Matcha is available in two different grades: Ceremonial and Culinary. Ceremonial quality is the premium grade, used in Japan’s tea ceremony. Culinary is used in baking, confections, and makes a less expensive cup for daily consumption. Matcha is best prepared in a wide bowl using a whisk until the tea has a frothy appearance. You’ll notice in our sensory evaluation of a ceremonial grade of Matcha that we use the term umami.  Umami is a Japanese word that means ‘pleasant savoury taste’ and one of our 5 senses. Umami delivers a meaty and long-lasing sensation on your tongue. Please see below for our sensory evaluation for a Ceremonial grade of Matcha.

Tea Tuesdays Matcha June 26_Page_1


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What’s the difference?

What's the difference?

Have you ever wondered why the price of your favourite tea bag is different than loose leaf tea? Or wondered why your tea bag brew just never tastes the same as that bag of loose leaf tea you picked up? The difference in price and quality comes down to the two different manufacturing methods. Crush Tear Curl (CTC) is used when manufacturing tea destined to be packed into tea bags. Orthodox manufacturing refers to the method used when preserving the whole leaf for steeping.

Crush Tear Curl
CTC manufacturing is a mechanical process that creates a granular leaf particle for use in blends and tea bags. Tea leaves, stems and buds are passed through rotating tooth cylinders that chop up the leaves into very small pieces. This step is referred to as maceration and the intent is to ensure a faster turnaround for the production of tea. Originally CTC was used to process damaged or low quality leaf that was deemed unusable, whereas today it is utilized for an efficient way to process tea for tea bag blends. Not only is this manufacturing method speeding up processing times, it impacts the flavour profile of your tea bag brew. The flavour profile of tea bag blends tend to be one-dimensional, powerful, and astringent.


Orthodox processing focuses on preserving the singular virtues of the leaf, resulting in higher levels of aroma compounds and a better flavour profile. The stronger concentrations of aromas are due to the larger surface area of the leaf. Generally, the larger the leaf size, the more aroma compounds are found in the tea. Orthodox teas are whole leaves that are gently processed and separated into differing grades with specific leaf size standards. The leaf is sorted for uniformity and any stems, twigs and broken leaves are removed. The standard flavour profile for orthodox teas are bright, brisk and multi-layered.

CTC vs Orthodox – Black Tea

Let’s use some samples of black tea to further highlight the difference in manufacturing style

Kenyan Tinderet, Black Tea, CTC


The smaller leaf particle creates a darker infused liquor colour. CTC grade black teas tend to be bitter and astringent – so they welcome the addition of condiments like milk & sugar to round out the edges.

Darjeeling 2nd Flush, Black Tea, Orthodox


Orthodox manufacturing of black tea spends more time on rolling and oxidizing the tea leaves. Rolling exposes enzymes and essential oils in the leaf oxygen in the air, making this tea more fragrant. Oxidation has the greatest impact in the creation of the tea’s flavour profile.

Do you reach for tea bags over loose leaf? Or do you prefer the longer steeping process of loose leaf tea? Let us know below!

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Tea Tuesdays: First Flush Darjeeling

For the first Tea Tuesdays post I am highlighting one of my current favourites, a First Flush Darjeeling. Teas from Darjeeling, India are often referred to as the champagne of teas. Just like the strict rules protecting Champagne produced exclusively in Champagne, France, Darjeeling tea also shares the same labelling requirements. Darjeeling tea is protected by its GI (Geographical Indication) status due to the regions unique argo-climatic conditions that has afforded Darjeeling tea its distinctive and naturally occurring qualities and flavours. Therefore the characteristics of tea from Darjeeling are attributable to its geographic origin and cannot be replicated elsewhere.

The tea leaves are picked during the first flush, between March and April. The first flush is highly prized, as the tea leaves are coming out of their winter dormancy, leaving them highest in antioxidants and amino acids out of all the harvests. The leaves are light and delicate, with mild muscatel notes and floral aromas. I enjoy the brisk stone fruit notes that come from these less-oxidized and greenish leaves. Please see below for my tasting notes. Let me know what teas you would like to be featured by commenting below or contacting me!
Tea Tuesdays First Flush Darjeeling_Page_1

Tea Tuesday First Flush Darjeeling 2

Tea Tuesday First Flush Darjeeling 1

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Pop Up Tea Station at Sudo Labs


Data Analytics for Everyone meets tea for everyone. This past weekend we had a pop up tea station serving tea to all attendees, volunteers, and staff at one of Sudo Labs monthly workshops. It was a full house on Saturday while we learned about data analytics, with hands on assistance from mentors circling the room at all times. A selection of three teas were served for the workshop: black (Assam, India), green (Sencha, Japan), and oolong (long oxidized, Taiwan, Province of China). Attendees had the opportunity to grab tea before the workshop and during the refreshment break. We offered up both dairy and dairy free milk to tailor to all attendee preferences.

Why reach for Tea?

Tea is an ideal beverage to serve at workshops and events for a variety of reasons. Tea is a zero calorie beverage that delivers an incredible amount of flavour and health benefits. With low to moderate amounts of caffeine (depending on what type of tea), tea keeps you refreshed and hydrated. As tea is made with water, the more cups you reach for, the more hydrated you will be. Hydration is important, especially during the hot summer months and will help keep everyone focused during a workshop/event. Another perk with drinking tea is its high levels of amino acids. The most important amino acid found almost exclusively in tea within the plant kingdom is L-Theanine. L-Theanine can help to relieve stress and promote relaxation. As tea leaves can be composted, the cups and filters recycled, this ensures your beverage is both health conscious and environmentally friendly.

About Sudo Labs

Sudo is a non-profit organization based in Kingston which has a brought together a community of women to learn how to code together. While the focus is on women empowerment and women in tech, everyone is welcome. Sudo’s mission and aim is to support women in creating new technical skills and updating their computer programming skills. Having attended one of Sudo’s earlier workshops on HTML and CSS, it taught me the necessary skills when it came to designing my own website. I received all the answers for my questions, and was shown how to use HTML and CSS when it came to customizing webpages. The best part? A downloadable cheat sheet was sent to all attendees for at-a-glance assistance when you need it most!

Check out Sudo Labs website and Facebook page for more information, upcoming workshops and events.

Sudo Labs x Plan de Vida

Sudo Labs x Plan de Vida 2