Posts in General

Happy 2019!

January 1st, 2019 Posted by General, Uncategorized 0 comments on “Happy 2019!”

Happy New Year Tea Lovers!

2018 brought tea to the forefront of my life in ways unimagined. While always being a source of calm, relaxation, and wellness for me, tea took on new meaning in my world this past year: in becoming the Program Director for the Academy of Tea.

And what an adventure that has been. If 2018 was my year to take on new explorations and steep (see what I did there?) myself in one of the most interesting learning curves of my life,  I believe 2019 will be the year in which I will be able to bring that education and passion to the world of tea, one student – one interested person – at a time.

This year, along with teaching the amazing courses being provided by the Academy of Tea, I plan to blog more, photograph more, ruminate on all things tea more, while enjoying my life more. For me, that little green tea leaf has always been a much larger part of my world. And I get the chance to share my enthusiasm for it on a global scale.

Some folks have their hobbies, and some have their careers, I am lucky to find my joy in both; the happy little tea leaf.

So on that note, off to brew a cup. To you and yours I wish a beautiful, safe, and healthy 2019.

~ Tina McDonald, Program Director

Where is my Darjeeling?

August 30th, 2017 Posted by General, Tea Industry 0 comments on “Where is my Darjeeling?”

Some of you may remember my travels through India and the deep love and respect I found for the land as well as the people.  So, like many of you, I have been looking for and waiting for my Darjeeling tea this year; to no avail.  So where is it?  What is happening in the land high above the clouds?  I’m afraid it’s politics.  I’ll try and give you a brief overview of what is happening.

The ‘hill people’ – Gorkha – of the Darjeeling area have been wanting independence for a long time. The Gorkha are Nepali migrants, tea workers, who have lived in the region. They want autonomy and not to be part of Bengal – a large Indian state.  The issues are language, land ownership as well as political autonomy.  Ultimately, the people there are demanding to be recognized as Gorkhas with their own land: ‘Gorkhaland’.

I have simplified the issue of course immensely and wouldn’t dream of explaining all of the sides and positions on this issue.  To be quite frank, I don’t think it’s for any of us outside of India, to place judgement on.  It would be yet again another arrogant attempt by the west to meddle in issues more complicated than most want to learn about.  For those of you that do want to read more, The Wire has a good summary of the issues.

What all of this amounts to for the tea world, is that there has been no tea production in Darjeeling for over 70 days at this point.  The conflict is continues.  People have been injured and died in the struggle.  Talks between both sides are ongoing, but no resolution has been found.

I find that these are the times we are all reminded that there are real people behind our cups of tea.  Real people in countries far away, with real struggles.  And although we may lament at not being able to enjoy a cup of First Flush Darjeeling this year, the effect on the tea plantations and the workers dependant on these plantations is far more outreaching. The weakest and poorest are the hardest hit – not those of us missing our cup of Darjeeling.

In their own words…Anne Ricard

August 30th, 2017 Posted by General, Interviews 0 comments on “In their own words…Anne Ricard”

Anne Ricard, Sherbrooke, Quebec {MysTea}

When the opportunity presented itself to buyout a fledgling tea business, Anne Ricard, a TAC Tea Sommelier, jumped at the chance.   “Tea is very ‘tendence’ (French for trendy)” says Ricard. “So the opportunities are endless.” Anne launched her physical tea shop and online store, MysTea in Sherbrooke, Quebec, while concurrently taking the Tea Sommelier program. According to Ricard, the designation has resulted in press and marketing opportunities for her business. “The sommelier certification garners respect from others in the industry” states Ricard.

Q+A with Anne Ricard

What is your earliest memory of tea? My dad drank Earl Grey tea daily and would give me a taste while my mother made me herbal tea to help me sleep.

Favourite TAC Tea Sommelier module? Tea 107, Menu Design, Food Pairing and Cooking with Tea. I ended up developing my own chocolate and tea pairing course for my customers. Watch here and here.

If you could drink two teas what would you drink? Sencha and Long Jing.

Where in the world has tea played a role in your travels? As a result of running my business full time, my opportunities to travel have been few. However, if I had time, I would travel to the Wuyi Rock tea region in China for a cup of oolong.

What is next for you? A collaboration to create a tea box set between us and someone famous. The box set will be distributed around Québec at a classy store *still a secret*.

In their own words…Gabriella Lombardi

May 16th, 2017 Posted by General, Interviews 0 comments on “In their own words…Gabriella Lombardi”

Gabriella Lombardi, Milan, Italy, Chà Tea Atelier

For marketing professional, Gabriella Lombardi, forging a path for tea in Italy was no small feat. “Spreading tea culture is a stimulating challenge in a country like Italy, where coffee is culturally the traditional drink” shares Lombardi. Armed with ideas and a TAC Tea Sommelier certification, Gabriella launched her tea shop, Chà Tea Atelier in 2010 in Milan. As she ran her business, her passion for educating people about tea grew. Lombardi involved herself in educating consumers and professionals about tea as well as consulting and developing pairing menus for the hospitality industry. Gabriella also parlayed her experience into a teaching gig for Protea’s Tea Academy (Italian Tea Association) as well as serving as the national coordinator for the Tea Masters Cup competition.

Q+A with Gabriella Lombardi


What is your earliest memory of tea? I fell in love with tea when I was studying at the University of Granada (Spain) and discovered tea leaves; something unusual in Italy.

Favourite TAC Tea Sommelier module? Tea 105 and Tea 107. Tea 105 was rich in technical details and a sound introduction to cultivation. Tea 107 deepened my knowledge about pairing and cooking with tea, one of my passions.

If you could drink two teas what would you drink? Chinese and Japanese green teas such as Long Jing, Sencha and Uji Matcha and oolong teas such as Chinese Da Hong Pao, or Taiwanese Alishan and Dong Ding are among my favourites.

Where in the world has tea played a role in your travels? I visited a beautiful tea garden in Boseong, South Korea. However, the best place to enjoy a good cup of tea is in my living room with family or with my best friends.

What is next for you? I’m a volcano of ideas, so I’m always up to something. I would like to travel more and maybe to find the time to write my second book on tea. My first book “Tea Sommelier” (published by White Star – DeAgostini in 2013), gave me great satisfaction.

Have you always worked in the tea industry?  Until 2009 I worked in marketing activities for different advertising agencies, leaders in the Italian scenario of communication. However, my real passion has always been tea and the cultural aspects and rituals related to the world of tea. In 2010 I changed my life and I founded Chà Tea Atelier, the first tea shop in Milan with a tea room, specialized in high quality loose leaf teas and flavoured & herbal teas.  In recent months I have also had the honor of being Tea Instructor of Protea’s Tea Academy for TAC TEA SOMMELIERTM/SM Certification Program in partnership with Tea Association of Canada.

For Protea (Italian Tea Association) I’m also the national coordinator for Tea Masters Cup competition.


In their own words…Jan Subchartanan

March 22nd, 2017 Posted by General, Interviews, Uncategorized 0 comments on “In their own words…Jan Subchartanan”

Jan Subchartanan, Bangkok, Thailand

Hotel management graduate, Jan Subchartanan, took a strong interest in tea while pursuing her degree. While tea was always part of the daily rituals of her family life, it took on another dimension after learning about afternoon tea at school. Subchartanan pursued the TAC Tea Sommelier certification to complement her studies and expand her personal knowledge on the subject. However, today she finds herself hunting for the right tea to import via a Thai import/export company she works for. “Even though I have not pursued a career in tea industry, I enjoy and appreciate every sip of tea I take and had fun learning about it” shares Jan.

Q+A with Jan Subchartanan

What is your earliest memory of tea?   Since I was young, tea was a part of my daily life. I watched my grandparents and relatives drink tea as well as serving tea to guests who visited.

Favourite TAC Tea Sommelier module? Tea 107: Menu Design, Food Pairing Cooking with Tea. I was amazed how one item can change the flavour of a food item and make both things taste even better.

If you could drink two teas what would you drink? Oolong and green tea

Where in the world has tea played a role in your travels? I do quite a bit of travelling and no matter where I go, I always make a point of visiting at least one cafe to try their tea. I really enjoyed afternoon tea at the Empress Hotel in Victoria (Canada) and at the Shangri-La Hotel in Toronto, Canada. The Peace Oriental Tea House and the Drawing Room at the St. Regis Hotel in Bangkok also have great teas.

What is next for you? I am looking for a tea brand to import into Thailand.

Have you always worked in the tea industry? No, I did not. I used to work in a hotel industry. Currently, I am working in an import-export industry as a member of a management team. Tea is always an item I would like to add to our product line.

In what capacity are you currently working in the tea industry? I am working to bridge the tea industry and my current work.

Altitude and Tea

March 20th, 2017 Posted by General 0 comments on “Altitude and Tea”

There are so many different elements that affect the flavours of tea – soil, sunlight, precipitation, temperature, altitude.  These elements are what we refer to as ‘terroir’ – borrowed from the world of wine: “the characteristic taste and flavour imparted to a wine by the environment in which it is produced”.

I can’t say that any one of these elements are more important than the others, but I thought I would take a moment to explain the affect of one of these elements – one that I think makes tea leaves a lot like people: altitude.

The higher the altitude the tea is grown at, the more complex the flavours become. When we are at high altitudes, as I discovered on my trip to Darjeeling, we struggle as well.  Our breathing is shallower and we tend to slow down. The tea leaf reacts in very much the same way – it’s growth slows down and it struggles. That struggle is what produces complexity and interest. Much like us. Each and every one of us has our own story. We struggle, we go on and we survive. And we all come out the other end more interesting than when we went in.

Remember that the next time you sit with a cup of tea. Think of the struggle that leaf went through to produce the delicious flavours in your cup. And when you do that, think of the person who has tested your patience, driven you mad, and provoked your anger today. And then remember that they have a story, a complex story with struggles…you just don’t know their story.

In their own words…Jennifer Commins, Tea Sommelier

March 7th, 2017 Posted by General, Interviews, Uncategorized 0 comments on “In their own words…Jennifer Commins, Tea Sommelier”

Jennifer Commins, Toronto, Canada {Pluck Tea}

TAC Tea Sommelier, Jennifer Commins, can’t remember a time in her life when she didn’t love tea. After a career selling furniture, Jennifer shifted gears into the tea industry and today is at the helm of a growing specialty tea company in Toronto. “This certification was critical to my success in the industry” states Commins.  “Learning to evaluate teas properly, and to understand the subtle nuances that can be coaxed from each terroir and processing style are skills I use daily in my interactions with suppliers and customers.”  With over 40 teas in her product line, Jennifer designs tea offerings to suit restaurant client menus and is committed to working with local, Canadian grown and sourced ingredients for her tea.

Q+A with Jennifer Commins

What is your earliest memory of tea? I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t love tea. My dad grew up in the UK, and tea was part of our house.  At age 9, he taught me how to make a ‘proper’ cup of tea: Preheating the cups and pot, using his favourite brand, waiting five minutes, then adding milk to adjust the colour of the tea to his perfect Pantone beige.  If anything ever happened in the family, the first thing to do was boil the kettle for tea.  I learned early that there was no situation in life that a cup of tea could not improve.  I grew up with the knowledge that there were some people in the family who ‘could not be trusted’ to make tea, such as an aunt who would save her soggy used teabags on the edge of the sink.

Favourite TAC Tea Sommelier module? I really enjoyed the sustainability aspect of the education in Tea 105 From Bush to Cup.  Debating the merits of the various tea certification bodies that are competing to be the ‘gold standard’ was fascinating, and sometimes quite troubling.  This module taught me to ask good questions to my suppliers, and to make informed decisions in terms of what I deem ’sustainable’.  The tastings were always a joy – and the day we created our own ‘English Breakfast’ blend was a highlight.

If you could drink two teas what would you drink? A fine lightly oxidized Taiwanese Oolong, and Pluck’s CTRL+ALT+DEL blend.  (Lemon and ginger notes, perfect pre-bedtime)

Where in the world has tea played a role in your travels? In 2012 I visited South Africa where the highlight was watching a herd of wild elephants while drinking a fresh mug of rooibos tea on safari. A close second would be waking up in a tent in Peru and being handed a hot cup of coca leaf tea on a frosty morning en route to Machu Picchu.

What is next for you? As Pluck Tea grows, so too will our commitment to sourcing Canadian ingredients. I am currently looking at planting several more acres of mint in Ontario this spring, procuring ingredients from new aboriginal partners, and creating innovative new blends.

Have you always worked in the tea industry? Before Pluck I sold office furniture.  Becoming a Tea Sommelier was the obvious next step.

In what capacity are you currently working in the tea industry? I am the CEO of an emerging specialty tea company called Pluck Tea in Toronto.  We hand blend over 40 varieties with locally grown and sourced ingredients, and serve restaurants primarily.

What role did the TAC certification play in your career?  This certification was critical to my success in the industry.  Learning to evaluate teas properly, and to understand the subtle nuances that can be coaxed from each terroir and processing style are skills I use daily in my interactions with suppliers and customers alike.  The industry was foreign to me when I started out, and the TAC certification helped me build a road map to success and quickly build rapport with my new colleagues.

What are some of the highlights and challenges presented with working in the tea industry today? Working with tea allows for endless creativity, and I love working alongside our restaurant clients to help them design their tea offering to suit their unique and varied menus.  However, tea remains an afterthought for the vast majority of potential foodservice customers out there.  This in my view is a missed opportunity for restaurants to delight their customers at the end of the meal – right before they decide whether they are coming back, how much to tip, and if they are going to have dessert.  Good tea is good business.

What current trends in the tea industry excite you the most? The opportunities that the specialty tea industry has opened up for the tea world as a whole are really thrilling.  People are excited about trying new teas all the time, and are willing to pay a fair price.  This means that companies such as mine are able to source ethical and sustainably produced teas and pay farmers a fair price for that tea.  Driving the cost per cup a few cents northward is the best thing that can be done for the quality of life of people working on the tea estates.  Also, the integration of tea and food, whether by pairing or by adding tea to foods or mixed drinks as an ingredient is really exciting.



In their own words…Tess Thormodsgaard, Tea Sommelier

February 6th, 2017 Posted by General, Interviews, Tea Industry 0 comments on “In their own words…Tess Thormodsgaard, Tea Sommelier”

Tess Thormodsgaard, Los Angeles, California

As the designated office iced-tea maker for a tech company in L.A., TAC Tea Sommelier, Tess Thormodsgaard, approached the tea program as a means to fuel her interest in food and drink culture. “I felt I was neither learning enough in my normal life nor was I learning enough at my day job” comments Thormodsgaard. For this multitasking Millennial, tea, a topic about which she is passionate, led her to pursue the sommelier certification. “The scope of the program meant I would be learning more than just about tea, but also its history, the production and business side as well as a cultural perspective.”

Q+A with Tess Thormodsgaard

What is your earliest memory of tea? When I was young, my father used to make me a warming, calming (and delicious) cup of Sleepy Time tea with milk and sugar. It was my gateway tea. I also remember having Afternoon Tea at the Ritz Carlton in Washington DC with my family when I was 13 years old. The environment was luxurious and relaxed with great food.

Favourite TAC Tea Sommelier module? Tea 107: Menu Design, Food Pairing, Cooking with Tea. I loved developing my own menu, as well as having to taste cheese and chocolate with tea. However, the most beneficial module was probably Tea 104 Tea Types because the course introduced me to the landscape of different kinds of teas from different regions, times of year, and blends and improved my tasting skills.

If you could drink two teas what would you drink? A lightly oxidized Taiwanese Oolong (iced or hot) and a Moroccan Mint (iced or hot).

Where in the world has tea played a role in your travels? Drinking green tea and eating petit fours at a Buddhist Temple in Koyasan with Buddhist monks after a 5am meditation, drinking Moroccan mint tea while negotiating a pair of slippers at a Souk in Marrakesh and indulging in tea and desserts on a Ladurée rooftop in London after day of flying.

What is next for you? Who knows! But isn’t that exciting.