I always feel like I am an outsider, and just now am I beginning to realize that this means I am on the right track. Ever since I was a kid, somehow it never failed that I didn’t have my paperwork in order. But I recently saw a quote that said that something about the common characteristic of those that are the leaders of their field never felt like they fit in. And I was like, that is me! I have never fit in.
And I still don’t feel like I fit in. In the tea industry, I have always gone my own way. I had a teacher in Taiwan tell me, “Don’t sell the tea that your customers tell you to sell.” Tea is an agricultural product that has so much variation and complexity, as well as a commodity that I am constantly exposed to in terms of fresh harvests, changing quality levels, and distinct level of nuance.
For many years, I have been trying to figure out how to educate on the topic of quality evaluation. This is such a difficult thing to pin down. First, a common language has to be established. Then, so many teas have to be tasted side by side. Then, someone has to walk you through the differences, as well as walk you through what is considered ideal by tea connoisseurs. In fact it is pretty hard to talk about this stuff without sounding like a total snob.
It isn’t important to me that I am drinking the best tea in the world on a daily basis, but it is important to me that I can tell the difference. So much of the understanding of tea has to do with what we are exposed to. And the willingness to be exposed to more and more has to do with the level of interest. I once had a customer tell me that they wanted to become a tea master. They were sincere in asking me how to go about this. I wasn’t able to give him the answer he was looking for. There are no courses to sign up for that will bring you to tea master level, no matter what they are called or how they are marketed. There are no books that will make you a tea master. There is only time, training, and the level of interest you hold that will sustain you as you embark on your journey of tea. If you think you are a tea master, you just aren’t hanging around the right people. I am lucky. I do know the people that make me realize I know very little about tea. People think I know a lot about tea. I am sorry to let everyone down. After 14 years in the business, I am just a beginner.