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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

In their own words…Desiree Prins

April 12th, 2017 Posted by Uncategorized 0 comments on “In their own words…Desiree Prins”

Desiree Prins, Palo Alto, California

Tea is a common thread that has played a role in education, culture and an international move for TAC Tea Sommelier, Desiree Prins. As a teenager Desiree moved from Namibia (German coffee drinking culture) to a town in South Africa (tea drinking culture), not far from where Rooibos is cultivated, thereby piquing her interest in tea. A move to California further entrenched Desiree’s interest in tea when she discovered new types of teas in San Francisco from what she was accustom to drinking in Africa. “At my dentist office one day, I saw an ad for the TAC Tea Sommelier course in TeaTime Magazine. I inquired, signed up and my life literally changed” shares Prins. “The discovery that tea was all one plant, camelia sinensis, blew me away.”


Q+A with Desiree Prins

What is your earliest memory of tea? My earliest memory of tea is drinking Rooibos. I used to live in South Africa in small area where Rooibos was cultivated; near the Cedar Mountains in the Western Cape. South Africans love to visit with one another and tea is always offered in a teapot covered with a tea cozy and served in tea cups and saucers. We drank Rooibos tea as well as strong Ceylon teabag tea with lots of milk and sometimes sugar. Later on in life, when I moved to San Francisco, I discovered Chinese and Japanese green teas and I was hooked.

Favourite TAC Tea Sommelier module? Tea 105 From Bush to Cup. I enjoyed learning about tea and its cultivation and manufacturing processes as well as Tea 104 Tea Types where we learned about the cultural differences that shape tea drinking habits.

If you could drink two teas what would you drink? High Grown Ceylon Tea and Oolong tea. I also discovered purple tea from Kenya in Africa. I find it to be a little ‘gruff’, but it may have potential for blending and scented tea.

Where in the world has tea played a role in your travels? My dream is to go to Rue Cler in Paris to visit the Mariage Freres Tea Boutique. My daughter brought me a few of their teas from Paris and I have never tasted such exquisite blends with such high quality tea.

What is next for you? I will continue my tea education and daily tea tastings to further my understanding of the nuances of tea. However, a tea business is in my future.


Have you always worked in the tea industry?  I have never worked in the tea industry. Tea is a love and a hobby, but I would love to transition to the tea industry.

What role did the TAC certification play in your career?   I learned a tremendous amount about the tea world in all its facets. The certification course opened the world of tea for me and cultivated in me a desire to develop my skills in tea tasting. I love educating my friends and students about tea, and even ordered a few tea plants for my demonstrations, i.e. from the bush to the cup.


What are some of the highlights and challenges presented with working in the tea industry today?  Expanding the experience of and love for tea to young people is such an exciting trend and challenge for the tea industry. Appealing to the palate of the young person as well as creating exciting venues for them to experience tea. The millennial market is a very rich market with a receptive generation – so if done smartly, the tea industry can establish a strong foothold.


What current trends in the tea industry excite you the most?ccTea blending and scenting. The science of tea and food pairing. Both these trends bring tea to the everyday person, especially the young person. These trends present tea in an exciting and appealing light.

Truth be told, I took on a 2nd job, a contract position as an educational/school psychologist which requires 10 more hours on the road per week over and above the extra hours. Right now I am drowning in work and have had to scale down on my Tea Activities.

So here I’ll just give you my story as it flows from my pen in a rather unstructured way.

My passion for tea knows no bounds. Everything that has to do with tea. As a teenager I moved from Namibia to South Africa to the   quaint university town in South Africa, not far from the Cedar Mountains where Rooibos was cultivated. This move also meant that my environment changed from a largely coffee drinking German culture to a tea drinking South African culture. I was simply drawn to the ritual of setting the tea tray, sitting down and sharing a cup of tea over conversation with family/friends. I was/am a master sconce baker, and can whip these up in no time. We made strong black tea (teabags from Ceylon) and served it with milk (and sugar for some), just like the British. I loved the sound of porcelain/bone china cups clinking onto the saucer; the sound of the tea poured into the tea cups. I love to set a quaint table. I love my teatime. I am THE tea hostess in my circle of girlfriends (the guys in my world are not there yet).

At the time, living in South Africa I did not know there was anything beyond Rooibos and Ceylon Tea. Incidentally, it was common practice to make a pot of vert strong Rooibos in the morning, and have it sit on a hot plate/simmer on the stove all day long, simply adding hot water as needed. Both Ceylon and Rooibos were served when guests arrived.

As I noted in my previous responses, the world of tea really only opened up for me when I moved to the US, and I learned to drink it without milk. It was a natural and exciting journey to go into the various Japanese and Chinese shops and experiment with the greens. Then I discovered an Iranian store – The Rose Garden – with lots and lots of black teas and Earl Grey. It was like an explosion hit me. And I discovered the most interesting black teas.

At this time on my tea journey I was simply exploring and enjoying this wide variety of tea options that were unfolding for me.

Then at my dentist office I saw an ad for the TAC Tea Sommelier course in a TeaTime Magazine, inquired, and signed up. My life literally changed. The discovery that it was all one plant, the camelia sinensis, blew me away. After each lesson with Shabnam, I would hit Google and read and read and read. But to my dismay, when the tea samples arrived, I had a difficult time discerning the different teas, and describe them. But over time, as Shabnam reviewed these with us during almost every lesson, describing the taste experiences became easier.

I attended the World Tea Expo twice, and felt drawn in into a world of passionate experts. But also felt overwhelmed by the fine art of tea tasting and the vast amount of teas. So I would pick a few vendors, and revisit their booths frequently.

My dream was born. I would love a TeaHouse, but I am reluctant to put out the money – too risky at my age. I am still full time in a very lucrative career, and am nervous to give it up for a business that I know very little about. And I have serious doubts about my ability to transform myself into a business woman.

BUT….. I do want to sell tea in the small shops in South Lake Tahoe, a quaint holiday/ski resort on the border of California and Nevada. I am working on a website. I am working on my tea logo and tea label. I thought I could do this slowly when I can find the time from my day job, but I have discovered that this is not practical.

So the plan is to take the summer off June/July/August 2017, pay professionals to help me set up a small tea-selling business and have it launched by August. During this time I want to connect with the small shopowners and try to persuade them to have me do some tea tastings/education in their shops.

But as you can see, my goal for now is to keep it small and practice becoming a business woman. This is a very far cry from the real world of serious tea business, but for now it is all I can manage. I guess it could probably best be described as an extended hobby.

However, I plan to retire early in a few years, and then revisit the tea business options more seriously.

In the meantime, I am enjoying my tea journey, and I share it with friends and colleagues whenever I have a chance.


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.

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.