World Tea Academy’s original director, Donna Fellman, plans to retire in December. Fellman leaves a legacy of top-notch online tea education that continues to grow in content and attendance. Lisa Boalt Richardson, who was brought on as the Online Assistant Manager in 2018, became the Director in July and is proud to continue to carry out the academy’s mission.
History of the World Tea Academy
In the early 1990s, Fellman saw a need for comprehensive tea education, “Learning about tea was very challenging,” said Fellman. At that time, there were two books that tea professionals and enthusiasts could reference for information about tea: All About Tea by William Ukers (originally published in 1935) and James Norwood Pratt’s book, The Tea Lover’s Treasury, (originally published in 1982). However, there were a lot of people interested in learning about tea who turned to others in the industry for guidance.
In light of the lack of formal tea education, a lot of tea professionals had a vision for tea education—both for people who wanted to work in the industry and for the public at large. Such education would further develop the specialty tea industry as a whole, said Fellman. “World Tea Academy grew out of and was supported by so many people in the industry who saw the need for tea education, and that coincided with the information age revolution of online education,” said Fellman. Additionally, attendance in classroom-based tea education courses, which once drew large numbers, was dropping.
In 2012, George Jage, the former president and owner of World Tea Media, approached Fellman to create the curriculum for an online tea academy for educating tea professionals. In 2013, Fellman assembled an advisory board of tea industry leaders and with their input created the curriculum for World Tea Academy’s core classes, which are: Essentials of Camellia Sinensis, Tea Enhancements and Grading Systems, Tea Terroir Part 1 – China, Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Tea Terroir Part 2 – India, Sri Lanka, Kenya, The Infusion, and Beyond Camellia Sinensis. “I wanted to offer all of the classes that I wish I could have taken when I was learning about tea,” Fellman said. She could see the potential of what tea education could be and what could be offered given the resources in the industry and based on her previous experiences as a tea house manager.
Advanced classes have since been written by highly regarded tea industry professionals who shared their experiences. The most recent course additions have been added in response to public demand, such as the Art of Flavoring, Blending, Scenting Tea.
“A lot of the information that we have in the advanced classes is not available in other places,” said Fellman. “The breadth and depth of information is not easily available through online sources.” No other institution offers the variety of tea industry-informed courses in the convenience of an online platform.
World Tea Academy’s courses can be accessed from anywhere in the world. To date, students from more than 50 countries have taken World Tea Academy courses. “The international response has been tremendous,” Fellman said. She and Boalt Richardson look forward to continued international growth.
The World Tea Academy supports the tea industry and encourages its growth by educating tea industry professionals and consumers. Boalt Richardson said, “If people have no background in tea, then tea courses are essential,” and added in some cases consumers could know more than proprietors, which is not a good position for a proprietor. Furthermore, consumers have access to information that is not necessarily factual, so it is important for tea professionals to know how to discern fact from fiction and pass on correct information to customers.
Passing the Torch to the New Director
Fellman was happy to appoint Boalt Richardson as the new World Tea Academy Director. Fellman chose Boalt Richardson because of her knowledge, her background as an author and consultant to fortune 500 companies in product development, and her experience as a World Tea Academy substitute teacher. “I knew she was a good instructor, I had taught classes with her before,” said Fellman, adding that Boalt Richardson is the perfect person to grow the academy.
“I’m honored to be the Director and I hope that my leadership will carry forward the legacy that visionaries created,” said Boalt Richardson.