You may have heard recently that tea is rapidly increasing in popularity in America. In order to keep up with the trends, you might have considered adding tea to your cafe or store offerings, doing some research on tea to learn more about it or even taking classes to become a tea master or tea sommelier. However, since getting a tea certification is still a fairly new concept for most people, the phrases ‘tea master’ or ‘tea sommelier’ may leave you scratching your head, wondering what the programs entail or whether they are really worth the cost. To figure out what getting a tea certification is all about, we did our due diligence and took a class ourselves.
Who Should Get Certified as a Tea Master, Sommelier or Specialist?
Some of the folks that would benefit from this certification include:
- Retailers or business owners that desire industry recognition or want themselves and/or their staff to have a deep knowledge of tea so they can increase their sales.
- Owners of tea rooms or cafes who want advanced knowledge on how to serve tea and what to pair it with.
- Wholesalers who are directly involved in buying or selling tea.
- People in the food service or culinary industry, as well as those in the coffee and wine business (while they are very different beverages, there are similarities in how tea, coffee and wine are evaluated).
- Tea growers or researchers.
- Nutritionists, dieticians or other health care professionals who are interested in using tea to lead a healthy lifestyle.
However, getting a tea certification can also be helpful for people who are simply interested in tea or have a passion for it and would like to learn more about tea.
What is the Tea Certification Process?
Generally, the tea certification process begins by building a strong understanding of the Camellia sinensis plant and the six basic types of tea. Students learn how each type of tea is processed and produced, what differentiates each classification of tea and where and how the teas are grown. Tisanes and popular herbals like Rooibos, Yerba Mate and Honeybush are often also taught about during the class. The next step of a tea specialist’s education is usually learning about post-production processes such as naming and grading, decaffeination, blending, scenting and flavoring. The final part of becoming a tea master is discovering how to brew, taste and evaluate teas, as well as being able to create and host their own tea cuppings. Some programs also include lessons on pairing food with tea, the health benefits of tea, how to educate guests about tea or hosting specific types of tea ceremonies, while other organizations have these classes separated into additional, more advanced programs.
If you are interested in enrolling in a tea certification program, you are in luck, as there are several available in America (there are plenty of courses outside the United States as well). Depending on what program you enroll in, classes are offered either in-person, online or some combination thereof. Here are a few popular programs, and the certifications they offer:
- Certified Tea Master, American Tea Masters Association
- Certified Tea Specialist, World Tea Academy
- Certified Tea Specialist, The Tea Association of the USA Specialty Tea Institute
- James Norwood Pratt offers Apprentice, Journeyman and Master Tea Sommelier classes at the Specialty Coffee Association of America Coffee Fests through out the year and around the country.
Is Tea Certification Worth the Cost?
While there is no absolute guarantee that becoming a certified tea master or sommelier will secure you a job or increase your business, becoming more knowledgeable about the products you are selling or serving certainly can’t hurt. The more you know, the better you will be able to stock your store, pair tea with food in your cafe, educate your customers about tea and explain why it is a good option for them. If nothing else, by attending a class you will have gotten to see, learn about, taste and experiment with some new teas, and perhaps even connect with other people in the industry.
I recently attended James Nordwood Pratt’s Apprentice Tea Sommelier class at Coffee Fest, and while I thought I was decently educated about tea before, I found out there was a lot I didn’t know. I came out of the class with a greater appreciation for tea, and a head full of new fun facts, stories and information to share with my coworkers.
If you aren’t ready to shell out your hard earned cash for a tea class, you can also find a lot of written information about tea either online or in books. There are a number of tea professionals (such as James Norword Pratt, Robert J. Heiss, etc.) who have written informative books that can be found most libraries. In addition, there is a large and active online tea community with folks who are part of organizations like the Association of Tea Bloggers, who review and write about tea regularly. There are also several forums such as Steepster and Tea Trade where people can ask questions and share information with fellow tea lovers. Finally, some tea retailers like Adagio Teas have extensive information on tea that is helpful for beginners and advanced learners alike.