A week or so back, two relatives passed on a pair of Craigslist ads. They were “casting calls” of sorts – a survey company looking for tea gurus and tea fans for paid interviews. As in, they would reimburse the interviewee for his/her time for pontificating about tea on camera. It took me a day or two to sleep on it, but I eventually bit. The problem I had was that there were two ads to possibly answer. One was looking for “tea fans” with a loyalty to a particular brand or type. The other ad was asking for gurus - tea vendors, teashop owners, and major enthusiasts.
I had absolutely no clue which category I fit in.
First there was the loyalty issue. While there were some vendors I favored above all others, there wasn’t a particular one that stood out in my mind. Part of that was the way my mind worked. (Or didn’t work.) I can’t even do Top Ten lists for fear of leaving something out. Second was the implication of the word “fan”. Some small part of me felt like I’d graduated from fanning…and by extension, leaf fannings.
That left the “guru” ad. I knew it was a long shot because of their emphasis on tea industry professionals, but I felt I could play up the “enthusiast” angle. After all, I had four blogs and four hundred teas tried to my dossier. Granted, I still considered myself an amateur appreciator of the leaf, but I was an experienced amateur, damn it. I answered the tea guru ad.
The ensuing period of time was akin to waiting for a phone call back from a potential job or date. On some days, I would literally wait by the phone. At work, I would often sneak a peek at my “other business” e-mail to see if there were any new chimes. It was sheer agony.
The time of the deadline came and went, and I received no call or e-mail. I wasn’t too surprised. The guru bit was a stretch, and I knew it. That wasn’t what bothered me. What had me riled was: Where the heck was I on the tea community totem?
My tea appreciation began in 2005; I became a tea reviewer in 2008, and I started my own website devoted solely to writing around the same time. In 2009, I jumped on the Twitter bandwagon and cavorted with other likeminded tea souls – vendors and sippers alike. In mid-2011, I joined Teatra.de to mirror the “Steep Stories” category of my website to broaden its audience and see where it took me.
That’s six years of palate appreciation. In that time, I’ve also guest-blogged for a major vendor and was even recognized by the only plantation in Great Britain. Some circles valued my opinion, some didn’t. Of course, there were far more experienced people out there. I’m no Norwood Pratt, Pettigrew, Harney, Coffey or Goodwyn, but I liked to think I’d carved out a bit of a niche. Not enough for “guru” niche, though.
It begs the question: What qualifies someone to be a guru? Are there set standards in place that determine this? Do you have to be a certified “tea sommelier” first before you can join those ranks, or do you need some practical experience in the tea vendor trenches?
By extension, how does one become a tea sommelier? That moniker is a wine term reserved for people that can identify brand, type, year and grape varietal on a blind taste-test. Is the same thing even possible with tea? I don’t know about you, fair reader, but I certainly can’t. (I mistook a Wuyi oolong for a Rose Congou once.) And what forms of certification are considered the Gold Standard for the industry? I can name at least five tea sommelier certification classes off the top of my head.
I suppose the biggest (and possibly only) conclusion I came away with was that I’ve got a long way to go still. I’ll enjoy my cup of whatever as I see fit in the meantime, sipping away noisily. Content in my amateur appreciation – label or no.