The word “sommelier” though old, is modern, too.
Since I started designing the Tea Sommelier Certification Course that I teach with my friend Jane Pettigrew at El Club del Té, some people have inquired about the use of the word “sommelier”. Some thought it was only used to refer to wine specialists, that is why I started doing research on the word; to find out its origin. Surprisingly, I discovered that the word has a wider history, meaning, and use than what has previously been believed.
The observation of everyday speech and the reflection on the constitution of languages transmits the strong feeling or vision that it is alive, changeable, and rich. The varied diversity of languages works in a similar way: it is born, it lives, grows, spreads, fraternizes, one is imposed on the other while others disappear. In this linguistic bustle we should distinguish two types of language evolution.
On one hand, for various reasons, lexicons will change. Time above every other cause, is the great transformer of languages. Politics, geography, races, religions and even the modus operandi of schools and families, in short, everything helps languages to continually change, always renewing and serving their users.
On the other hand is the proper feedback that languages continuously make, by which, when stirred about themselves, they revive old terms once used in the beginning. This especially provides more wealth and precision to vocabulary. That is the path taken by cultivated speech.
But there is another way to enrich a language: one that is done with the input from other languages as what occurs when talking about a tea sommelier.
The word “sommelier” was originated during the Middle Ages. It is a French word that comes from “somme” that means “charge”, associated with the transportation, supply, storage, and care of valuable goods.
As I said before, languages are alive. They are constantly evolving. It is said that language is seen as a social tool created by communities, continuously improved to meet communicative purposes.
This is how the word “sommelier”, initially, was used to describe different occupations. There were many types of “sommeliers”:
– Wine Sommelier, which was responsible for holding the key to the cellar and the wines.
– Bread Sommelier, which dealt with the distribution of bread, tableware, tablecloths, cutlery, and carving knives.
– Curtain Sommelier, which was stationed in the ecclesiastical palace to accompany the king and queen when they went to the chapel or said grace.
– Arms Sommelier, responsible for an array of weapons.
In the last few years, a new sommelier has gained popularity all around the world: the Tea Sommelier. The Tea Sommelier is an expert in tea, highly trained in its culture, service, cupping, and pairing. The Tea Sommelier is the person in charge of selecting the tea service for a teahouse, tearoom, restaurant, hotel, or special event, etc. He or she is responsible for the selection of the tea, the distribution, the service, and any relevant advice required by the client or institution. He or she also has the necessary training to work as a free agent, offering his or her services as a maître or expert of the gastronomic tea world, through cuppings, private tastings, and presentations.
This is the moment when tea gains a professional status and generates new business opportunities. This is good news for tea lovers: the possibility of making a living out of their passion: tea.