What do you do? Visitors often ask me.
My official title is Tea Sommelier, I try to explain, do you know what that is? I am usually met with a blank stare.
I wish I could say this response is uncommon, but even some members of my family couldn’t tell you exactly what a sommelier is (or how to pronounce it), and therefore can’t really tell you what I do. Well, during this blog, I endeavor to give you a taste of what a Tea Sommelier is and does, if, for no other reason, to let my family out of the hot seat.
Most folks who’ve heard of the title sommelier (pronounced suh-mal-yAy) picture a guy sniffing a bottle of wine. While that is one sort of sommelier (a wine sommelier), that is not, but any means, the only type. Boiled down to the basics, the title sommelier simply means a professional. In fact, in my pursuits to discover great tastes, I’ve met whiskey sommeliers, cigar sommeliers, and even water sommeliers (not to mention several amazing wine sommeliers).
My principal work as a Tea Sommelier is in the area of tea procurement, as tea is a seasonal crop (and, much like wine, has good years and bad, so a degree of vigilance is necessary), as well as in creating blends and recipes that will maximize the many delicious flavors of tea.
I am also responsible for the development and integration of tea lists and specialized blends for our clients, as well as the training of their respective staff. Working along with the culinary team, I try to pair teas that will best complement each particular food menu item.
I could argue that the role of today’s tea sommelier is on par with that of the executive chef or chef de cuisine at any fine dining establishment. A true tea sommelier should be in direct contact with patrons, educating them on tea’s properties and working within their taste preferences and budget parameters.
It may sound a LOT of work, and it is (considering most Americans currently don’t know the first thing about tea), but I wouldn’t consider doing anything else. We Tea Sommeliers are on the front lines, fighting to bring tea back into the American forefront (where it belongs).
How do YOU become a Tea Sommelier? While the U.S. does not currently have a recognized certification program to train and certify Tea Sommeliers, stay tuned! Tavalon is working on such a program to help spread the good word about great tea!