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The rise of the Coffee and Tea Sommeliers

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Some might think that just because they’ve tried every coffee or tea combination in their neighborhood café, they’re already the world expert on these drinks.

Just like wine Sommeliers, there are true connoisseurs—coffee and tea sommeliers—who go beyond the milk, syrup and cream and can tell just by tasting, observing the residue and smelling a coffee or tea where the bean or leaf that made it came from, what type it is and even recommend the best pairing to enjoy it with.

The average coffee drinking American drinks three cups of Joe per day, reports Statista. And according to the Tea Association of the United States, 159 million Americans consume tea every day. 1.4 billion cups of coffee a day worldwide in all their varieties and forms.

COFFEE SOMMELIER

Legend has it an Ethiopian goatherd named Kaldi discovered coffee in the 9th century when he noticed how energized his goats became after eating the beans from the coffee plants.

True or not, the drink from those beans is still being used as a “pick-me-up” today and coffee sommeliers can assess the bean origin, differentiate between mouthfeel and aftertaste and undergo rigorous training to learn the process from cultivation, to harvest, grind and the eventual drink.

Because while there are two main coffee species—Arabica, a lighter, higher quality type that accounts for about 60% of the coffee consumed around the world and Robusta, which is much stronger and bitter—there are also lesser Liberica and Excelsa. But the particular origin of those species, the elevation at which the bean were planted, varies widely, as do their roasting and brewing process, each resulting in a particular and distinguishable aroma and flavor.

To ascertain all of these facets, coffee sommeliers practice “cupping,” essentially tastings (sometimes hundreds a day)  where they evaluate if the beans were ground correctly, assess the gasses released by the brew, savor the taste by spoonfuls and also measure after taste, acidity, body, balance and general impression of the coffee.

True coffee sommeliers can describe coffee in much more detail than just sweet, bitter or acidic. Grassy, ashy, floral, earthy, woody and spicy are just some of the many adjectives their palates can discern from one cup to the next. The elite among them can even tell the moon phase on the day the coffee beans were harvested.

They can also tell the texture of the coffee from the brew clinging to the cup walls, telltale signs of the richness of the brew.

And even more importantly, coffee sommeliers can recommend the best pairing, whether cream, sugar or milk, to create the perfect combination of taste, texture and aftertaste.

An elite coffee sommelier may even carry thousands of these “coffee recipes” written down or in digital archives ready to offer their expertise on a moment’s notice to offer the average coffee drinker a mouthful experience he/she will not soon forget.


TEA SOMMELIERS

China is said to be the birthplace of tea, sometime in 2737 B.C. when a leaf from a wild tea tree fell in the boiling water being tended by Emperor Shen Nong, who was also a scientist. He enjoyed the taste of the infused water so much, he began researching its properties and making more tea.

Tea Consumption is second only to water, whether hot, chilled or in its many forms. But the U.S. is far behind in world tea consumption, which is led by Turkey.

A visit to any store would tell you there is a wide variety of tea (something around 1,500 to be exact!), although the most common are green, black, white and oolong.

And just like coffee, one can become a tea sommelier, a specialist who performs the task through a similar “cupping” method. Except that their tools are a decanter to infuse the tea before pouring it into a bowl. The decanter helps them inhale the aroma of the leaves once the liquid is poured. The bowl is usually a plain white to better assess the color of the drink. And finally they would have a simple wooden or porcelain teaspoon.

From a mere sip, by observing the color of the brewed tea and the appearance of the wet leaves, and the drink’s fragrance, they can tell the area where the tea was grown, whether it was grown under shade or sun, and recommend the best preparation, and pairings, whether that be lime, lemon, sugar.

A tea sommelier may describe teas depending on their herb, hay, floral and even vegetable scents and notes. They also know the right amount of tea for the quantity of water, infusion times for different teas, the correct water temperature to extract the best flavor from that tea and even the best presentation.

They can also recommend what tea is best to enjoy at a particular time of day, season or to compliment a particular dish to enhance the food’s flavor. For instance, black teas with robust flavors go better with meats, while green teas are best paired with vegetarian and light chicken dishes. Others may go well with fish, cheeses, desserts and pastries.

Some tea sommeliers may also become specialized in the medicinal properties of teas and recommend particular varieties for a certain ailment.

Coffee and tea sommelier classes and certification programs are now surging across the world and those who join the elite ranks can become celebrities in their fields, much sought after by high-end resorts, hotels and restaurants, offering advice, tea tastings, designing menus and lists, similar to a wine sommelier.

They also know the best atmosphere to store beans and teas before serving them, since heat, cold, dryness, or moisture can impact flavor and aroma.

Some may also run their own coffee and tea houses, sharing their knowledge with customers, or teach others this art form.

Because, as coffee and tea drinkers know, a perfect cup can be in itself, a true masterpiece in your mouth.

The rise of the Coffee and Tea Sommeliers story image

July 19 Coffee somm

The rise of the Coffee and Tea Sommeliers

Just like wine Sommeliers, there are true connoisseurs—coffee and tea sommeliers—who go beyond the milk, syrup and cream and can tell just by tasting, observing the residue and smelling a coffee or tea where the bean or leaf that made it came from, what type it is and even recommend the best pairing to enjoy it with.

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