Linda Gaylard is the author of The Tea Book and a Certified Tea Sommelier located in Toronto, Canada. She graduated from a comprehensive program of study developed by George Brown College in conjunction with The Tea Association of Canada. During her training, Linda experienced more than 350 hours of focused tastings and workshops as well as training in tea and food pairing, social history of tea and tea garden management. Read on to find out a little more about what it means to be a tea sommelier!
Question: How did you become interested in being a tea sommelier?
Linda Gaylard: I had been interested in the refinements of the afternoon tea table for many years, but I didn’t actually know about tea. About 10 years ago I read about a tea sommelier course at a Toronto college. It sounded great! I enrolled and was amazed at how complex and involved the study of tea would be.
Q: What is the training process like to become a tea sommelier?
LG: Early in the course we studied regions of the world, their history, terroir, and the characteristics of their teas. We also studied sensory perception, tea and food pairing, botany and tea garden management. Throughout the course we tasted hundreds of teas and there were also many opportunities for focused tastings outside of the classroom. The learning continues as more information about tea producing and preparation surfaces from countries of origin.
Q: How big is the tea sommelier community? Is it something that’s growing alongside the artisanal coffee movement?
LG: The tea sommelier professional community is definitely growing, and there are quite a few schools worldwide that offer programs for would-be tea practitioners. There are also many people who have a deep interest in tea and study it on their own. Tea culture is a bit more complex than coffee culture in that the history of tea goes back 4,000 years. There are thousands of styles of tea and variations of tea ware used to prepare different teas. But as an artisanal experience, both beverages are developing a strong following of keen enthusiasts and connoisseurs.
Q: What is the most interesting place you’ve visited in your tea-related travels?
LG: I loved South Korean tea culture. It is not well known and Korean tea barely makes it out of the country, but in Korea it is highly regarded and celebrated through folk culture and festivals. There are many artisan tea growers who have a small tea business and just a few rows of plants, but they create exquisite, mostly green tea that they are pleased to share. I stayed in the studio of one of these artisans, sitting on cushions at his low pine tree table, visiting and tasting tea throughout the day, drinking from traditional hand-thrown ceramic cups and enjoying local food.
Q: What is your favorite tea in the book?
LG: Such a hard choice! There are so many lovely teas in the book. I’m partial to green tea. It is probably the trickiest tea to prepare and requires an understanding of the variety of leaf used and the way it was processed. The fresh, grassy, spring-like flavor of the liquid is worth it, though. Bi Luo Chun green tea, featured on page 42 in the book, is one of my absolute favorites!
Q: What makes The Tea Book unique and useful?
LG: I’m pleased that The Tea Book is so comprehensive and accessible. It is an in-depth look at the world of tea from just about every angle. The illustrations, maps, and infographics make it clear to understand. I approached it from the beginning, as the book that I wished had been available when I was first studying tea. I know that many people are keen to learn about tea, but they just don’t know where to begin. The Tea Book will give them a great start!
Visit Linda’s website at www.theteastylist.com.