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What Does a Tea Specialist Do?

By Britt Archer
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Tea has been enjoyed by men and women for centuries, and it has been touted as a miracle cure and the most potent health drink ever. For all the praise, a cup of tea for many is also simply a calming way to start or end the day, or a comforting family ritual. Today there is a class of experts who are known as tea specialists, or certified tea specialists, and they take their enjoyment of tea a step further. A tea specialist is someone who has been educated in tea’s history and making tea, categories or types of tea and the methods of tea production and processing. Tea specialists seeking certification also must learn the characteristics of the various tea types as well as how the tea plants are grown and the geographic locations where tea plantations harvest the leaves.

All the information mentioned above is taught in just the first level of a three-level certification process taught by the Tea Association of the USA’s Specialty Tea Institute. The second level imparts knowledge about the blending of types of teas, tea’s flavors and scents and the method by which tea leaves are graded. The third level consists of instruction in five categories: black tea, white and pu’erh tea, oolong tea, green tea and sensory evaluation.

Tea specialists are relatively new and elite in the tea world. There were only about two dozen certified tea specialists in the world in 2009. Their numbers keep growing with tea’s popularity around the world.

A tea specialist is also well versed in the art of cupping tea, which compares a variety of teas at one sitting. The tea specialist has learned to observe tea's flavor, quality and color. The taster employs a scale to ensure the same quantity of tea is used to make each type of tea. Some experts prefer to perform the tasting with spoons, rather than sipping directly from a cup. Steeping the various tea types for a set period of time is required.

A tea specialist can authoritatively teach others about tea. Lessons can include preferred combinations of food and tea, etiquette, how to serve the beverage, how to prepare it and how to properly store it to keep it fresh and preserve its flavor. Some tea specialists advise hotels on their tea selection, or prospective tea shop owners in how to choose teas for their menus.

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Discussion Comments
By serenesurface — On Jun 22, 2014

There are many tea specialists in Japan and they give courses on how to perform the traditional Japanese tea ceremony. This ceremony is a very important part of Japanese culture and many Japanese want to host the event perfectly. So people sign up for courses and learn the rules and steps. It's not the same thing as a tea specialist in the Western sense of the word. Because it doesn't involve tasting and judging tea. But it does require knowledge of teas and how they should be steeped and served.

I participated in a tea ceremony when I was in Japan. It was a different and interesting, but very enjoyable event. And I must say that the tea was very good.

By SarahGen — On Jun 22, 2014

@bear78-- Tea is certainly not the most popular area to become specialized in. But those who are tea specialists are usually also researchers and teachers.

I know of only two tea specialists and they both have authored books on tea and do research on it. One also teaches classes. Some tea specialists also work as consultants for tea companies who benefit from their knowledge. For example, a tea consultant may inform a tea company about how a specific type of tea should be steeped and served for the best results. The company may then use this information on the tea label or on their website.

So there are certainly different types of work for tea specialists, but it is true that it is not a common career and it can be difficult to succeed as one.

By bear78 — On Jun 21, 2014

Being a tea specialist sounds cool. But where exactly does a tea specialist work? I don't think that there are many opportunities for a tea specialist. It seems more like something that people would want to do as a hobby, in addition to their regular job or career.

If I find the means and opportunity one day, I would like to be certified as a tea specialist. I've always loved tea and I enjoy trying many different types.

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