Back To School: Tea Education

Hit the books with a cup of tea
Hit the books with a cup of tea
Read about tea on your own
Read about tea on your own

'Tis the season for back-to-school! While many people have been waiting for this all summer so they can get a break from their kids, others are eager to get back to learning themselves. But you don't have to wait until September or be enrolled in a traditional school to achieve such self-improvement, especially when it comes to tea.

The popularity of tea has been increasing rapidly in the United States, and an increased taste for, well, anything, is commonly coupled by a desire to learn more about it. Thanks to the Internet, it has never been easier to expand your knowledge about your favorite beverage. Of course, as the saying goes, just because you read it online doesn't make it true, and while there is a wealth of legit tea-related information out there, there is also plenty of bunk. As with any learning, it's important to garner information from credible sources before you start spouting off any new-found knowledge.

While pretty much any tea company will have an About Tea page of some kind on their Web site, the information offered is generally pretty top-line. It's great stuff for the true tea rookies, but once you've read it all and decided you want to know more, what do you do? One of the best sources for more detailed information about tea is Adagio's own TeaClass. Meticulously organized by a reader's level of tea expertise, TeaClass is self-paced education that offers lessons ranging from basics like what tea is to more advanced topics like how to intelligently talk about it. It also includes overviews of many types of teas, and the characteristics of teas sourced from specific tea-producing countries (eg, China and Japan). At the end of each lesson, TeaClass tests the student's knowledge with a quiz to review and reinforce what was learned. It's an easy, accessible, and free way to "enhance your knowledge of gourmet tea."

For those who prefer a more hands-on or social experience, many tea shops and tea houses offer workshops and seminars. With tools such as TeaMap (also an iPhone app) or Tea Guide, which are directories of tea houses and merchants, one can easily find local places to congregate, learn, and of course, drink tea. Not only do such places offer opportunities for education, tea tastings, and expanded horizons, they offer community and the chance for an open exchange of experiences, preferences, and information with other novice or experienced tea lovers.

For an education that is a little more official, there are certifications to pursue. The American Tea Masters Association (ATMA) can turn a casual drinker into a bona fide Tea MasterTM. The 13-week Tea Mastery Certification CourseTM trains, educates, and certifies people who would like to be tea masters and sommeliers. With two options for study (3-day on-site tea course and a 12-week telecourse via Skype, or entirely by Skype over 13 weeks), a potential Tea Master learns everything they could ever want to know about tea: proper preparation and taste-testing, various tea ceremonies and serving styles, tea evaluations, tea pairings with food, the health benefits of tea, etc. The intense and rigorous training is not for the faint of heart, or the light in wallet. Becoming a Tea Master is not cheap, but for some, it is fun and well worth it.

The Specialty Tea Institute (STI) also offers tea certification training. A division of the Tea Association of the USA, the STI is "dedicated to serving the needs of purveyors in the specialty tea industry." They developed their Foundations of Tea series and their Professional series in response to the increasing demand for a standardized educational program that "offers industry-wide, recognizable accreditation." Geared towards sommeliers, specialists, and buyers, the 3-level training is offered in multiple and varying cities over the course of the year. They provide students with thorough training on subjects such as the understanding of the various types of teas and their production methods, cupping and sensory evaluation, processing and manufacture of different types of tea, blending, flavoring/scenting, tasting...the list goes on and on.

An exclusively online e-learning resource for industry professionals is Tea Course. Sponsored by The Tea House Times, a bimonthly publication, with additional support from industry professionals/experts, the Tea Bureau, and Tea Speakers Bureau members, Tea Course is a members-only Web site dedicated to education and networking. Boasting a comprehensive library of "tea lore, tea info, education and resources at your fingertips," as well as "opportunities for networking, promotions and continuing tea education from your own computer," Tea Course is a one-stop shop for everything a professional and their business might need to expand knowledge and reach, all accessible whenever needed. They even offer additional helpful materials such as handouts for tea shop customers and educational materials for staff.

Of course, in addition to countless online resources for tea education, one could always learn the old-fashioned way by picking up a book. A wonderful book to begin with is James Norwood Pratt's New Tea Lover's Treasury. Pratt's book not only provides an extremely in-depth history of tea and its significant influence on developing worlds and empires, but also information about specific types of tea and their preparation and enjoyment. This book is more comprehensive a resource than anything that can be found online, which probably has a lot to do with why it is the most notable and respected work about tea in recent times.

So after packing up your kids and sending them to school this month, consider your own interests and education. If tea is something that speaks to your mind as well as your taste buds, the time has never been better to seek that knowledge and become better acquainted with tea.