Famous high-end Michelin starred gastronomical restaurants like Eleven Park and Fera at Claridges now have not just wine pairings with their decadent, creative high end food but also tea pairings. That's right, tea is not just for when you're feeling under the weather, it's for your luxury meals out on the town. Tease Tea was founded by a certified Tea Sommelier, Sheena Brady, and the world of tea has become more and more modern as younger generations warm to the idea of tea in everyday life. Tea Sommelier's, just like their wine loving cousins, take note of flavor profiles. They have an extensive working knowledge regarding variety of tea, their country of origin, and the history that makes up an ancient and beautiful form of natural enjoyment.
I sat down with Sheena over a cup of tea and asked her about the job, the inspiration, and the education required to become a certified Tea Sommelier.
What inspired you to become a certified Tea Sommelier?
After spending a decade in hospitality as a Service Leader and professionally trained Wine Sommelier, I had been asked to help build a tea program for a luxury hotel in Toronto. At the time, I didn’t even know the difference between green tea and black - I hadn’t even really drank tea before either.
This program was unique as it wasn’t requested of me to simply select 4-6 teas and create a short list - I was asked to create the largest tea menu in Toronto, a menu that would boast 75 different blends from around the globe. I’d also have to learn various tea ceremonies related to their respective countries and train our team on how to perform them.
It was a challenge I took on because I wanted to prove myself, not because I was interested in tea. I knew if I needed to talk the talk, I would have to walk the walk to speak. With that, I discovered the Tea and Herbal Association of Canada, a not-for-profit association representing the entire tea industry in Canada from the bush to the cup.
From there, I embarked on 8 months of learning about everything and anything related to tea in effort to become a certified Tea Sommelier. What I enjoyed the most, however, was an unexpected passion that arose - what inspired me about the world of wine, completely translated to the world of tea. For example, both plants are grown in the ground and the final product is reflective of the way the plant is processed, harvested, climate, soil conditions etc. Tea can also be paired with food just like wine.
What is the education like for those interested in getting certified? Is it an international certification? What types of jobs can you get once graduated?
Although the courses are offered mainly by Canadian instructors, because they are offered in class and online, the courses can be taught around the world. You can choose to complete specific courses of personal interest, or the entire program to reach the Tea Sommelier Certification.
In terms of career, many take these courses out of personal interest, however there are Tea Sommeliers who curate programs/menus for hotels or restaurants, work directly in the tea import/export industry, or start their own tea related business.
Similar to a wine Sommelier, there may not necessarily be several jobs posted at any given time looking for Tea Sommeliers specifically, it’s more important to seek a career that will allow you to utilize your knowledge in an impactful way.
We are discovering that tea pairs with food to bring out flavors, do you have any favorite pairings or advice about the best way to pair tea with food in everyday life?
Personally, I love to pair tea with how I am feeling, or want to feel. I truly believe there is a tea for any desire or goal.
To speak about food specifically, the most important goal is to enhance the taste of both the dish and the tea. As a general rule, If you go for a strongly flavored recipe, consider opting for a more robust tea flavor, otherwise tea’s taste will be harder to distinguish. My favourite pairings include:
Sencha green tea & sushi: The grassy, light undertones really bring out the flavour of most sushi
Milk chocolate & oolong tea: The earthiness and full body complexity of oolong compliments well the creamy milk chocolate
White chocolate and matcha: The delicate and smooth undertones of white chocolate carry the flavour of matcha very well, enhancing the overall experience.
You also own Tease Tea, how do you decide which blends to feature, where does your inspiration come from?
My inspiration comes from the goals and desires of people. I’d like to think we create tea blends for whatever mood you’re in, or what ever goal you may have. You can see this reflected through the inspirations and descriptions of most of our tea blends.
We intentionally do not offer any straight blends as well. (Straight meaning containing one tea only) all of our teas are blended with various natural ingredients in effort to highlight their positive properties, combining the ingredients into a modern tea blend.
What is your favorite tea? Which country produces the highest quality teas?
I’m mad about matcha! I love everything from how good quality matcha is grown, to processed. Essentially the green tea leaves are shade grown, stems are removed, and leaves are stone ground into this beautiful, vibrant, powder. You disolve the powder in warm water so essentially consuming whole vs steeping. As result, you are consuming maximum benefits and flavour.
Some of the best quality matcha comes from Japan, as do a lot of high quality tea. The Japanese really put a lot of effort, care, and attention to detail producing high quality tea leaves. So much so, in fact, the export far less amount of tea than they actually keep for themselves. How could you blame them? :)
What is the difference between grocery store brand tea and loose leaf fancy teas we find at more specialty stores?
For me it’s simple: What you see is what you get. When you look at loose leaf tea, you can know and trust what you are about to consume. It’s right in front of you. Typically it’s high quality tea leaves and/or herbal ingredients. With tea bags, (though not all tea bags are created equal) you don’t always know. There can be remnants of soil particles, twigs, etc.
Tease Tea sources from the top 10% of teas around the world, and often has organic ingredients, and the tea comes from sustainable gardens. Why is this important? Why should we buy organic or sustainable over non certified companies that don’t offer that?
It’s important to respect the entire journey of our tea from bush to cup. From the farmers/workers to the exporters and importers and importers. Though we are a small business, we take this seriously and work with tea wholesalers who are big enough to work with these gardens directly and trust the processes that are put in place.