I’ve been fortunate enough to contact Linda Gaylard, tea sommelier and author of the Tea Book, with a few questions which she has very kindly answered and I have shared this Q&A below!
I hope that you will find it as interesting as I have and I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.
What is a tea sommelier?
A tea sommelier has knowledge of Camellia sinensis tea types, growing and processing methods, countries of origin and best ways to prepare loose leaf tea. We work within the industry, consulting with vendors and tearooms as well as educating the consumer. I teach and give talks on tea and its character and history. Some sommeliers are skilled at tea blending.
Describe your ‘typical’ day as a sommelier
I begin my workday by sampling and tasting teas that have been sent to me for feedback, I check into social media sites and engage with followers on various tea-related news and topics. I research for upcoming talks. Some days I consult with clients who have tea businesses. Lately my day includes interviews re: The Tea Book
and planning book signings. I try to keep up with posting on my site, The Tea Stylist
with seasonal topics and focus on details about tea that interest me. Throughout the day I pause to enjoy some tea from my overflowing tea stocks. I make a point to learn 5 – 10 new things about tea everyday.
How does a passing interest in tea become a career in the industry?
My interest in tea was always more than passing, as it was really the only hot beverage I fancied. I never enjoyed coffee the way I adored tea. The big shift came when I enrolled in the Tea Sommelier program at George Brown College here in Toronto. I was amazed at the vast universe of tea and that this could be a life-long study, which really appealed to me. I now aspire to become a tea scholar, continuing to acquire knowledge and understanding.
Where did your fascination with tea begin ?
It’s hard to pinpoint an exact time when I became fascinated with tea, but I can remember trying a loose-leaf Lapsang Souchong (a smoke-infused tea from China) for the first time when I lived in Canada’s Rocky Mountains. It felt as though I had discovered a tea with character and personality more exotic than the generic teabag tea I had been drinking. I still enjoy the occasional cup of this tea and it reminds me of mountains, campfires and good friends from that time in my life. Over the decades I’ve also learned that the ritual of preparing tea brings a pause to my day whether I’m alone or with friends.
What’s your favourite and least favourite blends and why?
When I drink blends, I enjoy the traditionals such as Masala Chai with its mixture of black tea and Indian spices. I used to love Earl Grey and occasionally still enjoy it, but it’s no longer a favourite. I blend my own Afternoon Blend from a mix of Assam, Ceylon and Chinese black teas. I really don’t care for fruit and fragrance blends that are named after desserts – no judgement, it’s just that I love to taste the actual tea and not have it hide amidst the more dominating additional flavours.
Most unusual tea you’ve drunk?
I remember the first time I tried Pu’er in the 1980’s. It was a ripe Pu’er that my husband bought in Chinatown. It was an affront to my taste buds, with its earthy stable smell, but I grew to like it. Now this type of tea, either ripe or raw with aging potential, is becoming a collectable product commanding high prices and sometimes questionable marketing.
Number 1 brewing tip?
Pay attention to the type of water you use. Tea is 99% water so it will influence the taste of the infusion. The best water to use has a low mineral content without chlorine or naturally occurring gases like sulphurous acid gas. If in doubt, use spring water with 50 – 100ppm dissolved mineral salts.
Did you have to insure your taste buds?
I hadn’t thought of that! I’m really careful to let tea infusions cool to a temperature that won’t burn my tongue. I still like to drink tea hot, just not so hot that it will scald me.
Tea trends like green tea and matcha-based drinks and meals are popular at the moment. Any tea trend predictions for 2016?
I suspect and hope that we are going to see a more knowledge-based interest in tea. People will be seeking ways to learn and practice their own personal style of tea appreciation. I have also noticed a trend to higher end ready-to-drink teas with more authentic tea infusions.
If you weren’t a tea sommelier you would be…
I worked in the fashion world for 20 years before changing careers. It was creative and at times glamorous, but I can’t imagine anywhere else I’d rather be at this point. Tea provides me with the intellectual challenges that I enjoy. I get to work with respected industry colleagues, shape my own career path and drink the finest teas on the planet!
BIG THANK YOU to Linda for responding to my questions and giving us all an insight into the wonderful world of Tea Sommeliers!
You can find out more about Linda at the links below: