The importance of tea training

malcomRenowned tea consultant Malcolm Ferris-Lay talks to the Tetley Tea Academy about the importance of staff training in infusing passion and knowledge into tea service and afternoon tea. With more than 40 years experience in the industry, and having worked with the likes of The Savoy, Buckingham Palace and Windsor Castle, Malcolm is perfectly placed to understand the lucrative tea category and how operators can get the most from their offer – whether they are a five star hotel or traditional tea room. 

“Having worked in the tea trade for over 40 years, you might be forgiven for thinking I am tired of tea. But the truth is I love nothing more than a spot of Afternoon Tea at a fancy hotel or a good quality tearoom. It may appear rather extravagant to some but I can assure you that the pleasure far outweighs the cost.

“I do, however, question why on so many occasions I am asked if I would like the house tea. Do the staff know what type of tea I enjoy or have they been given classes in sensory perception? Surely it is customary to ask the guest what variety of tea they normally enjoy before offering a recommendation?

“Looking around these major hotels, the vast majority of people taking Afternoon Tea are often celebrating a special occasion and will not be familiar with the teas on offer. Afternoon Tea menus can often be rather intimidating save the short description under the name. How many know if they prefer the Lunyun White Downy over the Gyokuro Organic Asahi, for example? This is perhaps why staff are so keen to offer the house blend.

“Whilst I understand the house blend is an easy option, do diners really want to order something they are so unfamiliar with when it can cost up to £40 or more? Afternoon Tea should be a special event with staff that make diners feel comfortable and at ease but all too often than not they remind me of the famous scene in Pretty Woman when Julia Robert’s character is shunned in the exclusive designer shop because of her demeanour.

“I offer training in hotels and I always look at the tea menu and you can be sure there is always a huge array of fine teas. I can almost tell you to the percentage what the most popular choice is and why. Afternoon Tea is about tradition and whilst it is good to have fancy teas - and they should be included – tearooms and hotels should not forget the good old classics such as Assam, Ceylon, Darjeeling and of course Earl Grey. They should also carry a good selection of black, green and white teas as well as herbal infusions, fruit and caffeine-free tisanes. Most importantly they should not overwhelm the menu with tea that is unpronounceable.

“If I were a Food & Beverage Director I would have my staff trained in tasting the teas every six months. Nothing beats knowledge and there is a sad lack of that in a number of fine London hotels up and down the country. Finally they should stock good-quality tea and always offer to replace the tea rather than refresh. As tea is reasonable in price you can well afford to replenish and make the experience even better than just topping up the pot and drinking “stewed” tea.”

Malcolm Ferris-Lay

Tea Consultant

Read more about staff training as well as tips from the Tetley Tea Academy, including how to hold tasting sessions and practicing serving techniques, ensuring that every customer’s cup of tea is served just the way they like it. 

About Malcolm Ferris-Lay

Tea consultant Malcolm Ferris-Lay comes from a family 'steeped' in tea and has himself over four decades of experience in the tea industry.

Malcolm provides a range of specialist tea services and advice for manufacturers, hotels and retailers across the world including tea tastings and training.

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