Did you know it takes at least five years to become a tea taster and, because no one tea crop is ever the same, it’s a continuous learning process?
Year one: as much slurping and spitting as possible! Recruits are trained to truly listen to their senses: taste, smell, sight and touch. They have weekly blind tastings (yes, literally blindfolded!), to start to identify the characteristics associated with the different tea origins.
Year two: shadowing a senior buyer on one of the two major tea origins: India or Africa. This year, it’s all about enhancing the ability to independently identify tea traits, follow global tea trends and be well versed in the 1,500 tea garden names! Year three: our recruits go global and spend 12 months at Tetley Towers, India or Africa. Meeting farmers, networking in the trade, bidding at auction and really getting to grips with the journey from crop to cup is the name of the game.
Year four: our trainee tasters return to a new job role, assistant buyer, with responsibility for a smaller tea origin or region, such as Indonesia or Sri Lanka. They continue their learning, assisting senior buyers and building on the knowledge gained overseas. Year five: the master blender educates our assistants on our exclusive blend recipes and how to select teas to consistently create the best quality blends. Only when ready do our assistants graduate from the best training academy in the industry.
So as you can see, blending tea, like blending whisky or champagne, is a fine art. The most important things to look for are quality, colour and mouth feel, and each Tetley blend is made to taste exactly the same, cup after cup. Upon receiving a sample, the taster slurps the tea, much as a wine taster does, then rolls the liquid around their mouth to assess the flavour before spitting it out into a spittoon. The taster also takes into account the appearance of the dry leaf, the infused leaf and the colour and quality of the liquor. The tea is measured and graded using our own unique Tetley tasting language called Uhuru (meaning ‘freedom’ in Swahili).