Do an online search for “tea expert” (or even “tea master”) and you pull up sites that are little more than “certificate mills,” cranking out certificates the way the Federal Reserve Bank cranks out dollar bills – that is, by the thousands and with declining value. However, the holders of such certificates are a far cry from the real tea experts. So we thought we’d highlight a few. But first, a definition, just to be sure we’re all comparing apples to apples.
What is a Tea Expert?
Let’s start with what it is not:
- Someone who blogs about tea, no matter how well. Hundreds of such people are out there, including yours truly.
- Someone who sells tea in a shop or online, no matter how good their teas. In fact, this is even less likely than a writer being a tea expert. Again, I include myself here. I am too admiring of those real tea experts to ever dare apply that honor to myself.
- Someone who is a Certified Tea Specialist or Certified Tea Master through various organizations now functioning in the U.S. and elsewhere (including India).
- Someone who brands him or herself as such on their website or whom others so brand. (Even Jane Pettigrew, who could well qualify as a tea expert, modestly refers to herself as a tea specialist.)
So, now it’s time to set some criteria for what it is (an online search came up blank, which is pretty amazing, so this is my own list gained from dealing with such people):
- First hand experience with tea plants – either growing, tending, harvesting, processing. And I do not include tea tourists here who get their photo op standing out in a tea field posing with their hand ready to pluck.
- Keen sense of smell and taste that can pick up the nuances in the leaves during processing (knowing how hot the fire should be, how long to roll and pan-fire the leaves, etc.) and during preparation.
- A high level of knowledge in some aspect of tea such as blending processed leaves from different growing areas for the right mix of flavor and aroma characteristics.
There might be other criteria, but these seem to be the main ones.
A Few Tea Experts (for Real!)
The list is long, I’m sure, of people in each of the major tea growing countries, but some really seem to stand out. This list is certainly not meant to be all of them, and I encourage you to seek out others on your own.
- Zou Bing Liang, co-founder of Haiwan Tea Factory, China. Spent 40 years at the Menghai Tea Factory, working with processing black teas and then helping develop a speeded up fermentation process for pu-erh tea.
- Rajiv Lochan of Lochan Tea Ltd., India – 33+ years in the tea business, dealing with the mass producers and now running his own garden and online tea store (with his son and one of his daughters).
- B. Gurung, Castleton Tea Estate, West Bengal, India. Responsible for the top quality teas this garden has become known for in recent years.
- Stephen Twining of Twinings Tea – from tasting to be sure the blend is just right to dealing with all the issues of presenting tea in an ever-complicated market, a direct descendant of the founder of this 300+ year old company.
Don’t be fooled by all the people out there calling themselves or being called tea “experts.” Seek out the real thing. And there you will find truly great teas. That’s been our policy for several years now. Enjoy!
Please visit our store to see these teas by some of the above experts: