Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Tea Certification-Let the Learning Continue

Tea for me will be a lifelong study!  Although I always do self study, cuppings, gather information, and write about tea, it has been 2 years since I had done formal training.  I was part of the first graduating class from the Specialty Tea Institute Professional Level 3 in the summer of 2008.  The STI has just rolled out Level 4 this year which is why I went to Charleston. 

I have to say that Level 4 is not for tea wimps!  A lot of work has gone into putting this level together from professionals all over the world.  The first class I took was Advanced Cupping and Sensory Evaluation-Cupping for Defective Teas.  It was a day full of cupping really bad teas and I was actually excited about it! After reading through the manual prior to the class, I was hoping that we were going to be able to taste "what went wrong" and we did!  What amazed me during this class is how many things can go wrong in making tea.  It really takes skill to take leaves and turn them into such a great tasting beverage.  

Each step in the process of making tea is so important.  The skill of the tea workers, estate manager, and tea master is incredible.  From the time the leaf is plucked, the skill of the worker must be engaged to make tea.  From withering, to oxidation, to firing, and all the way to packing the teas, special attention must be taken to ensure the tea is properly taken care of.  I guess I am really a "tea geek" to be excited to taste defective teas but it is important to know what has gone wrong and to detect that with your palate.


The next Level 4 class I took in Charleston was The Technology of Tea.  It was time to get down and dirty in tea study with this class.  Basically it is the science of the tea leaf and what happens to it biologically and chemically while it is going through the process of becoming tea.  For me, this class put together all that I have learned about tea.  Although I found the class challenging to say the least, it was great to understand the process from that level.  I started studying the manual in early July and kept studying a little at a time all summer long. 

The class was jam-packed full of information.  I was a Business Administration/Marketing major in college, so all of this science was a big stretch for me.  I hadn't had a science class for over 25 years-yikes!  However because I LOVE tea, it made the information very fascinating. 

We learned the science of the stages of Processing:
  • Withering-the chemical and physical process
  • Cell disruption during leaf maceration
  • All about Polyphenols
  • Understanding different types of Browning
  • Science of the Oxidation Process
  • Applying Heat-Firing and Baking
  • Sorting and Grading the Finished Leaf
The last part of the class was understanding the dynamic of Infusion and the Principals of Solution.  We finished up the class with understanding chemically the taste, feel, color, and aroma of what is in the cup!  We did cuppings. (a professional way of consistently tasting tea by same weight, same water temperature, and same steeping time, all in professional cupping sets-see picture above)

Then it was exam time, we all had to pass the test with an 80% or greater in order to get credit for the class.  I am very happy to report that I got a 100%!!!!  Passing the class was very exciting to me, but the most exciting part truly was learning the material.  This night ended with dinner out in Charleston with many of my tea friends.  I am honored to be a part of such a wonderful group of tea professionals and to serve on the Education Committee. 

What do you appreciate about tea?  After taking these classes, my respect for tea workers all over the world has increased tremendously.  I now have a new appreciation and love of the tea that I so enjoy everyday.

Happy Sipping and Learning, Lisa 


  1. Who knew that there is so much involved in producing good tea? I've always taken in for granted. Yes, I have had some bad tea before but never thought about why it was bad. Thanks for sharing and of course, congratulations!

  2. Wow this is amazing. I am painfully more in love with tea party and the scientific part so will count on people like you to educate the rest of us! I sell your books!

  3. Should have said THAN the scientific part!

  4. Thank you, so glad I found your site.I love learning about things I love.It was fun. Denise From: Denise's Delights

  5. Dearest Lisa,

    Indeed, so much goes into tea...
    We have both been fortunate for having worked many years in the mountains of India where they grew tea and also in Indonesia. Very interesting to see and come harvest time it is quite an art too.
    What you write about learning all about polyphenols applies to a range of produce. Also the fresh mushrooms have different levels of polyphenol oxidase in their different breaks. One has to know about all this in order to preserve the quality.
    But it is exciting as it will yield a higher quality tea (or other product) at the end and for making the workers understand the HOW and WHY is a challenge. Once mastered, it becomes very rewarding however and we look forever at the end-result with different eyes, with eyes that not only see but understand why it came to be that way.
    I've always jokingly told my students the following: 'Do you REALLY think that your are selling your product to mainly blind customers?' That made them laugh but also they came to see what it was about. People buy with their eyes, and tea is tasted with our tastebuds and it has to be pleasing. If not, one will not buy a certain brand again.
    Also we must acquire a certain taste for a variety of teas, that too needs to be learned!
    Okay, you know far better than I do about all these aspects as I just happen to live and work in the tea growing region...
    Sunny greetings from the heart of Georgia,


  6. Congratulations on getting 100%. I don't think I could do that.

  7. Wow, this sounds incredible! I would love to do something like this...someday.

    I do agree with Bernideen; I love the tea party side of it. But I bet the science side adds a rich facet to appreciating it!

  8. This is a great picture of you Lisa!

    Dawnya Sasse