Part of a series on How To Expand Your Tea Education.
Often, the quickest and easiest way to learn about tea is to simply ask someone knowledgeable. There is no need to run a search, buy a book or take a class to piece together information when you can easily walk up and ask an expert. But when you do so, you want to be sure the person is actually an expert. Some tea shops can provide a wealth of information.
Many tea vendors or shops provide tea education or information in one form or another. If the shop isn’t busy, you may be able to get the owner to sit with you and tell you about his/her teas.
Other times a more structured session is appropriate. This may be a class, a workshop, or a tasting.
In any case, tea education can mean something different. There are a few things to consider when going to tea shops for education:
Who Is Instructing?
You will want to gauge the knowledge and experience level of the person(s) giving instruction. If, for example, your instructor’s knowledge is based on books, would you prefer the time-savings of him/her telling you what you could read for yourself? You’ll want to find out a few things about the instructor:
1. How long has the instructor been working in the tea industry?
2. Has he/she been to the place(s) of tea origin?
3. What resources (people and other) does the instructor have for his/her own continuing education? Where does the instructor go when he/she doesn’t know the answer to a question?
What Is The Approach?
There is no one approach to tea education. Most are made of a combination of tenets.
1. There is usually an underlying Philosophy of Tea. With some Oriental approaches, this could be Zen or Daoist. An Oriental approach could emphasize self-awareness, or a deepening of the relationship between yourself, your surroundings, and the tea. The Epicurean philosophy is another that may be assumed. This philosophy looks to develop the sensory awareness and sophistication of the tea student. The course may employ more than one philosophy, but it is important to get an idea of the philosophies. If you view “cha qi” as unscientific fluff, you’d be disappointed if a majority of the education were dedicated to the topic.
2. There may be a Set of Practices that must be applied. In other words, there is a certain Way that tea must be done; otherwise, it isn’t truly tea. A Japanese tea ceremony has a very precise set of practices and rituals compared to a Chinese or Western style of service. Conflict and disappointment can arise if you and the instructor disagree on the “right” way to do tea.
3. A certain ratio of information-to-experience must be held. Some education programs hold that exposing students to the taste experience of teas provides the majority of the education. These students can then begin to intuit necessary information. Others favor information, assuming that the learning will be effectively brought to mind when the tasting experiences arise. Not every student will respond the same to the mix being offered.
A Few Examples
Camellia Sinensis Tea House of Montreal offers (mostly in French) a wide range of workshops with various approaches. Some focus on specific places of origin, like Taiwan. Others explore the gustatory elements of appreciation, as with tea and scotch. Others combine tea and lifestyle, like Japanese teas and the impact of Zen on Japanese tea culture.
Fang Gourmet Tea of Flushing, New York is much more of a “harmonize yourself with tea” approach. You can expect more gaiwans, yixing pots, and a meditative aspect as students seek to find the optimal way to bring tea and drinker into balance.
Tillerman Tea offers talks or classes on Chinese gongfu tea, but most of the education described is based on a taste-and-talk approach where students combine experience with information.
There are many other tea shops that offer classes. It would be hard to omit Tea Trekker Master Classes from the group, but the list above at least shows the diversity of approaches to tea education.
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