Special to The Nation
Savouring a cup of tea is a lot like savouring a glass of wine – you breathe it in, sip with as much air as you can, roll it around your mouth to let the flavours express themselves, swallow, and wait for the lingering notes left on your tongue.
Tea is said to be the world's most popular beverage after water and is consumed in different ways. The tea tree, Camellia Sinenses, is native to different regions of China, Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam and India due to their perfect climate and soil. But while many people, especially in Asia, enjoy a cuppa, how many of them actually know the right way to drink tea?
“It is the science and art of tea making,” says Wongduan "Nan" Wangviwat, the executive director of Cha Raming and the wife of Jakarin Wangviwat, the third generation of the Raming Tea family, the first black tea producer in Thailand, at their Ramino coffee shop in Chiang Mai. “We would like Thai people to know more about tea.”
“We would like Thais to know more about tea," says Wongduan Wangviwat, the executive director of Cha Raming.
Determined to do just that, Wongduan took to the internet to look for tea institutes and discovered the Asian School of Tea in Darjeeling, India.
“We wanted a place that specialised in black tea of the same type as our Raming tea, and that meant India and Sri Lanka which produce Assam tea. Darjeeling in India is the source of some of the best tea in the world and so I contacted Souvik Nandy, the founder of the Asian School of Tea, and signed up for a course,” says Wongduan.
“His idea in setting up his school was similar to what I had in mind – connecting with the culture and community. I didn’t want to know about the production but about how tea is used and how it relates to the way of life. We want to be a part of the community and also want people to know more about our tea, so we can improve cultural values and attract tourists. These days, people tend to travel not just for pleasure but also to gain knowledge and tea is a good example of their interest.”
The Asian School of Tea is one of the best tea schools in the world and known for successfully integrating cultural aspects of growing. Its founder says it takes pride in "reaching the learners" and does this through three programmes. The first is “Tea Sommelier”, a course on the fundamentals of tea. The second is “Tea Tourism” designed for tea lovers to appreciate the origins of their preferred cup that includes visits to the tea plantations, and the last is “Personalised Programme” designed to cater to the specific requirements of a group.
Wongduan Wangviwat, left, demonstrates the right way to make tea after attending the Tea Sommelier programme at the Asian School of Tea, founded by Souvik Nandy, right, in India.
“I find something very harmonising about tea. It is a good reason to communicate – during sessions we talk about tea all the time. We don’t have fixed classroom sessions as such but tea in all its dimensions is at the very centre of each of our programmes. We can only teach the technique and pass on the knowledge. After finishing in the course, participants havea responsibility to carry on the practice,” says Souvik Nandy, 28, who is also the lecturer at the Asian School of Tea.
“The Tea Sommelier runs for seven days. Here, participants learn about tea cultivation, tea processing and tea testing. They learn about organic cultivation, about badami cultivation, and then we go beyond conventional tea to herbal tea. We have now added tea and food pairing. We drink tea all day but different teas. The Chinese drink green tea or jasmine tea, but we have Masala chai (a flavoured tea beverage made by brewing black tea with a mixture of aromatic Indian spices and herbs). You find it in all the streets in India, everywhere,” he adds.
Early this year, Wongduan took part in the 10-day Tea Sommelier programme, visiting several tea sources, learning the way of collecting tea leaves from the community, and discovering the varieties of teas grown at different altitudes.
“Tea is a good reason to communicate," says Souvik Nandy, the founder of the Asian School of Tea in India.
“A tea sommelier is similar to a wine sommelier. He or she who must first know the basics of tea before going on to how and when tea is served and which type of tea is paired with what kind of food. Tea is interesting, and we will help consumers learn more about tea and the right way of brewing and drinking it. Tea is really good for the health, as it can control blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, diabetes and atherosclerosis. So, it is our responsibility as producers to communicate those benefits to consumers,” she adds.
Wongduan has now created three courses of her own, namely “Tea Sommelier”, “Art School of Tea” and “Personalise.” “Tea Sommelier” is a 5-day course for 5-10 entrepreneurs who run tea and coffee shops, bakeries and the food and beverage departments of hotels. It is priced at Bt25,000 with a certificate and will be taught by Souvik himself. “Art School of Tea” is a 3-day, 2-night course for the public and tourists and includes a visit to a tea plantation, learning how to pick the delicate leaves and the process of turning these into the tea we buy in stores as well as spending time with the Lahu hilltribe. It also features a painting working with Siam Celadon and mixing types of tea with other ingredients to make participants’ very own blends. It’s priced at Bt10,000 including food and accommodation. The “Personalise” course is designed for 5-10 persons.
“In the near future, we will introduce an intensive course for entrepreneurs thinking about opening their own cafes which will cover pairing bakery items with tea and blending a signature tea,” she says. “Our aim is to spread the word about tea far and wide.”
Tea testing is a sensory experience
Staff pack tea in a box