Warsaw 8th Oct 08 - judging Poland Tea Sommelier 2008 (ed)

Putting on the kettle and brewing up a cuppa sounds simple doesn’t it. It’s not – not because it is complicated – but because most people just don’t take the simple precautions to get it right. Like selecting garden fresh, origin packed tea and brewing black tea for at least 3 minutes to get the full benefit of natural goodness in tea and its flavour.

‘Tea Sommelier by Dilmah’ is a programme that was launched in 2007 with the Asia Pacific Tea Sommelier Championship, held in Colombo by Dilmah and the World Association of Chefs’ Societies. The objectives are simple – to share the experience of real tea, and knowledge of how to select, brew and appreciate real tea – with hospitality professionals as a means to offering tea drinkers a better cuppa.

Last month Tea Sommelier 2008 was held in Warsaw as part of the Dilmah ‘Days of Tea’, celebration of tea. The judges – experts in the fields of tea, food and wine – considered the quality of hot and iced tea brewed fresh by contestants, drawn from Poland’s finest culinary establishments. They also considered their suggestions on the most harmonious pairing of sweet and savoury food with those teas, tea cocktails and mocktails made with them, and their understanding of tea.

The lack of knowledge amongst food and beverage professionals about tea is a by product of the commoditisation that tea has suffered in the profit driven, highly commercialised 21st century tea category. Surprising for a beverage that has long been the second most popular beverage in the world after water. But nevertheless damaging too, both for its own future as a beverage and for consumers.

Lack of knowledge about tea has made tea at best a mediocre experience. Unlike in the case of coffee, a tea aficionado would generally not go out – even to a fine dining restaurant – expecting a really great cup of tea.  Even the ‘mecca’ of High Tea in London, England serves a very average cuppa albeit at a very steep price.  That is an injustice to real tea and it will only turn consumers away from tea.

There is no better beverage for this 21st Century and the lifestyle most societies pursue today. The natural goodness in tea offers potent protective and therapeutic benefits for human health. Tea is said to offer protection against all major lifestyle diseases including obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease etc. Knowledge of real tea, appreciation of real tea and an understanding of how to make good tea, its benefits, the perfect way in which tea complements our lifestyles, is what will bring about a sustainable renaissance in tea.

Hence Tea Sommelier, a fresh perspective on an ancient herb – offered passionately and dedicatedly in a manner that only a producer can. It means going beyond the purely commercial and possibly sacrificing quantity for quality. For a sustainable future for tea and tea drinkers, quality is the only way. Combining quality with education in tea will not only assure the health of a needlessly ailing industry, but also of its customers.

Contestants at the Dilmah Tea Sommelier Poland finals, warsaw October, 2008