Tea Sommeliers Learn Business Basics

Greg Boyer learns to mix matcha from instructor Shabnam Weber who chairs the Tea Association of Canada's Education Committee.

TORONTO, Ontario

Sloane Tea Company founder Hoda Paripoush discovered that loving and learning the language of tea does not insure business success.

A graduate of Canada’s first class of Accredited Tea Sommeliers, Paripoush, 30, credits the 147-hour program developed by the Tea Association of Canada with providing essential insights that enabled her to prosper in the foodservice industry. 

Paripous received her certificate after completing the one-year program at Toronto's George Brown Community College. Starting in February, individuals can also sign up for a fast-track course that offers flexible hours with the same level of training and certificate.

Sommeliers are taught to prepare and serve tea, but they also learn practical matters such as training staff, which equipment to use and managing an establishment, says Paripoush.

“The program taught us that it is not just what tastes good, but what sells. Foodservice professionals must understand the business element,” says Paripoush, whose specialty tea wholesale and online retail venture recently landed product placement in 88 Indigo/Chapters outlets.

Hoda Paripoush
Hoda Paripoush

“There is a language you need to learn to make deals in the market,” Paripoush explains. “Executives at firms like Indigo have their own language regarding food labeling, packaging and product placement, course instructors have the experience to provide those insights,” she said.

Enthusiastic response across Canada led to expansion of the program at various community colleges including Vancouver College, Bow Valley College and Algonquin College. This year the tea association began hosting industry courses led by tea retailer Shabnam Weber, a member of the Tea Association's board of directors who chairs the Education Committee. 

These intensive, three-day programs are conducted four times a year. "Tea industry personnel can now receive their certification at an advanced rate," says Tea Association spokesperson Riley Richman. "With one group graduated, TAC is now taking registration forms for its next batch to commence in February 2012, in Toronto," she says.

“The Tea Sommelier course is a program unlike any other that encompasses all facets of tea – but more than that, it is an enriching program that connects you with fellow tea lovers,” says Weber, co-founder of The Tea Emporium.

Sommeliers receive credit for completing advanced sections on tea garden management; develop preparation and consumption skills and learn food pairing, menu design and cooking with tea. Paripoush enrolled in the sommelier program to learn as much as she could about the business of tea.

Beginning in 2006 she sought the counsel of Louise Roberge of the Tea Association of Canada, who explained the regulatory system. In May of 2007, Paripoush traveled to China with Joe Simrany, president of the Tea Association of the USA, who explained the nuances of marketing tea’s health advantages. She was befriended by Southern Tea veteran Marty Kushner on that trip and revisited India on several occasions with an entrepreneur’s eye for developing relationships with suppliers.

Paripoush, who was born in India, learned the Persian tradition of drinking strong black tea blends with spices that differ from masala chai. Ultimately she discovered that her passion is making beautiful things coupled with a desire to create an experience out of everyday activities. This manifest itself in 2008 as the Sloane Tea Company which sells 16 unique blends in boxed tins to gourmet grocers and gift shops.

Anyone can call themselves a tea sommelier. It is a non-regulated term, she explains. The success of those certified by the Tea Association over the years mean that today’s graduates earn instant credibility, says Paripoush, who heartily endorses the program.

“We are a label society,” she observes, someone hiring a tea professional "wants to know that you have confidence and credibility.”

Dan Bolton

About Dan Bolton

Dan Bolton edits STiR Tea & Coffee Industry International. He was formerly editor and publisher of World Tea News and former editor and publisher of Tea Magazine and former editor-in-chief of Specialty Coffee Retailer. He is a beverage retail consultant and frequent speaker at industry seminars and conferences. His work has appeared in many beverage publications. He was a newspaper reporter and editor for 20 years prior to his career in magazines. Dan is the founding editor of Natural Food magazine and has led six publishing ventures since 1995. He lives in Winnipeg, Canada.