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.