donderdag 30 april 2020

A new ITMA Certified Tea Sommelier !

(For once this blog is in English)

Today was a happy day. I am from now on a ITMA Certified Tea Sommelier.

When I started dabbling in tea, about 3 years ago, I was quickly bitten by the tea bug. I started voraciously tasting everything I could lay my hands on, buying books and surfing the internet in an unquenchable thirst for information. But after a while I started to experience the disadvantages of self-learning, and started thinking about training as a tea sommelier. It would give me the advantage of having a teacher to learn from and a program that would force me also to learn about teas that interested me less (because I did not really know them). Self-study also has the disadvantage that you can stay for a long time on a wrong track or get too involved in only one dimension of tea.

When I started to look around for a training, my first dilemma was language. The language of tea is English, so would it not be a bit of a waste to study in Dutch ? I'm reading in English since my 20ies so this should not be a problem. The world of tea is also very international, and Belgium is not a real tea-country, so wouldn't I be better to study abroad ? I was after all looking for knowledge and information about tea itself, more as a journalist or a writer then as a merchant or as a sommelier. So I looked around and I found a training course in London, a city I love, and decided to follow the ITMA training there.

The International Tea Masters Association exists since 2007 and originated in the USA. It offers several training possibilities, all in an international environment, and by a group of trained and skilled Tea Masters. In the end you can make it to tea Master, but but you have to start from the basis, and so I went for the Tea Sommelier training. This consists of a two day submersion training with a tea Master in a London hotel, with 9 follow-up trainings on specific teas.

And so I went to London and ended up in a curious loop back to Belgium...because the trainer for Europe is a Belgian, Stijn Van Schoonlandt, a Certified Tea Master, and living in Veltem-Beisem, not far away from my place.

My two days in London were demanding but also magical. Doing two days nothing else than learning and talking about tea, in the company of people as fanatical about it as yourself, is a fantastic experience. I was also lucky of ending up in a very small group so our training could be very hands on and quite deep. We also found out that we all lived in the vicinity of Brussels, even the charming Laura, and so we were able to exchange the Skype lessons for real ones at Stijn's place, and being able to discuss tea samples in the company of Laura and Stijn was not only very informative but also fun.

Then came the tests and the exams. I managed to identify my blind tasting tea (and this is as difficult as it sounds) and wrote a dissertation about Wakoucha, Japanese black tea. I later dedicated a blog too it, and it was for me one of the great discoveries of this tea-voyage. So I went this way too when asked to created my own Chai-blend, my Wakouchai. The final examination surprised me a bit but I managed it, and this week my diploma dropped in my letterbox. Discovering teas was one of the nicest and most interesting learning curves of my life. I am fully aware of the fact that I am only starting now, but now with a solid base and the skills to walk the tea-path as a pro. It was the biggest gift I could give myself.

I need new namecards now...

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