Credential takes brewing to new depths as professionals learn all about leaves

Sarah-ProudlockAlberta may forever be known as Canada's cowboy province, but at least we have tea sommeliers.

Sarah Proudlock, 29, is Alberta's first certified tea sommelier. The Tea Association of Canada refers to a tea sommelier as any "trained and knowledgeable tea professional who has successfully completed the Tea Association of Canada certification examination." The association launched the certification program in 2006 and has worked with colleges to offer the courses to tea enthusiasts across Canada.

Red Bush TeaAccording to the Tea Association of Canada, Canadians drink almost 9 million cups of brew in one year.
Photo by: Roxy Secara
Former general manager for both Steeps and Oolong Tea House, Proudlock now spends most of her time at Steeps in Old Glenora, Edmonton, as the owner. It's no surprise that Proudlock, who calls herself "a registered tea nerd," loves tea.

Proudlock has been in the tea industry for 10 years and says she enjoys everything from mixing,

What is a tea sommelier?

You're likely no stranger to the term wine sommelier... but what about tea sommelier?

Tea sommeliers are more than avid tea-drinkers. Sommeliers must be certified by the Tea Association of Canada after 150 hours of courses and a final examination.

Courses span all aspects of tea, from its historical origins to the thriving tea industry of today. A tea sommelier trains their palate to detect the nuances in the flavour of teas. Much like a wine sommelier, they use these skills to create blends of brew to match a customer's preference or to pair with a harvest spread. A well-versed tea sommelier can also fill you in on the cultivation of your favourite tea leaf and the health effects of your daily cup of chai.

Want to be a certified Tea Sommelier?

You can steep, brew and taste your way to the tea sommelier certificate from the comfort of your own kitchen. The Tea Association of Canada offers many of the required courses online. Tea 101 registration includes teas, cupping sets and a scale to get you started on your journey to becoming a bona fide tea aficionado. Each subsequent course will provide you with teas and the course materials needed. But these courses don't come cheap. With an average price-tag of $275 or more per course — there are 8 — you may want to keep your tea drinking at a hobby-level.

steeping, and drinking tea to traveling to tea places and learning about the regions they come from. Proudlock also worked as a part-time tea sommelier instructor at Bow Valley College, which offers the tea sommelier certificate examination with 150 hours of instruction in eight classes.

"I like tea because you can connect with people over tea. This is a healthy way to live your life and it's nice that I can go to work and sell a product I actually believe in. A product that helps people and relaxes them," she says.

Proudlock is passion-driven, yet patient in sharing her tea knowledge with those around her.

"It's a never-ending learning curve. Yeah, I have the certificate, but it's about continuing the journey, sharing that knowledge and getting others passionate about it," she says.

Proudlock says the tea culture is becoming trendy and younger demographics are embracing it simply because they are "rebelling against their parents."

"Your grandparents drank tea, so your parents drink coffee, and now you're drinking tea," she says.

For Proudlock, it's something that touches every aspect of her life. When asked about other hobbies or interests, Proudlock says, "There's a world outside of tea?"

"Tea is my business, my passion, and there's nothing in my life that doesn't relate back to it."

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