Tetley’s Sebastian Michaelis will be the Keynote Speaker at the World Tea Conference + Expo in Denver, Colorado in June 2020. As Tetley’s new head of the International Division he will oversee the buying and blending for all of Tetley’s brands worldwide.
Michaelis grew up in the United Kingdom drinking a “builder’s brew” or English Breakfast style tea, much like a typical English consumer. Since then, his palate has become more sophisticated and discerning—so much so that Tetley has insured his taste buds for 1 million pounds.
Michaelis began his career at Tetley 15 years ago, after graduating from the University of Sussex with a degree in philosophy. He was trained as a tea taster in Tetley’s intense five-year program during which he tasted hundreds of thousands of teas, building up his palate and his understanding of tea. He also traveled to Kenya, Malawi, India, Indonesia, China to learn about its provenance and what influences tea quality and taste “from bush to cup” in each region.
“It was a wonderful introduction, and spending time at origin was key to doing my job, but it was also lovely to visit tea estates in different remote locations and get to know the people who are involved in the supply chain throughout.” said Michaelis. “That was really what hooked me.” He continues to travel to tea producing countries several times each year. “It’s very much a people business. You can’t just be behind a computer, you have to build relationships and know the people who are growing it for you.”
Michaelis’s role evolved into buying and blending teas, ranging from single origin to multiple origin blends. He looks after the quality and works with teams in different countries to understand what consumers want before introducing new products to the market. “Ultimately, the market is becoming a lot more personalized,” said Michaelis, who has observed a steady drop in black tea consumption in the U.K. and a move towards botanical infusions. There are a lot more choices for consumers. He added that in the United States, where iced tea has traditionally dominated the market, there are now premium teas that offer alternatives to coffee.
He also works with Tetley’s sustainable sourcing programs, including its Rainforest Alliance Certification practices and its Ethical Tea Partnership membership. “Every country has its own challenges,” said Michaelis, who works with farmers to improve their livelihoods and to ensure tea will be a sustainable crop in the decades to come.
Michaelis is excited about experiencing the World Tea Conference + Expo for the first time. “The best part of my job is traveling to tea estates, and I do love being able to taste very unique teas from estates, gardens and farms around the world so going to something like this where I can see what is on offer from around the world would be amazing,” he said. “I’m looking forward to meeting people.”
He hinted at the topic of his keynote speech, titled “In Good Taste,” which is still in progress, “I want to talk about what we call within Tetley ‘the magic tea.’ We’ve got an amazing industry and an incredible story to tell about this natural product, which is fitting in so well with the consumers who are looking for a healthy product, for something which is artisanal, which has a provenance story behind it,” said Michaelis. “But at the same time we need to be conscious of what is it that other industries have done to plug the gap between those specialty products and consumers’ relative lack of knowledge.”
He sees the World Tea Conference + Expo as a way for tea lovers to understand trends and consumers’ needs while helping each other move the whole industry forward.
“Ultimately I think we’re all in it together and I think any of these events are always great fun because you get to meet people who have a similar love of tea as you. I’ve been to many tea events and that always comes through.”
Michaelis’s favorite tea is a strong black tea from Rwanda and he enjoys specialty loose leaf green tea or oolong in the afternoon.