Few days ago a friend of mine asked me where did my passion for tea come from and what was my inspiration to immerse myself into this world? She also asked me if we had a tradition of drinking tea in Venezuela and I said no we don’t as we drink coffee, but the question of where it all started for me kept me thinking…
I was born in England but grew up in Venezuela, a tropical Country with a strong coffee tradition where the “afternoon tea” does not exist as part of our culture. In Venezuela people start drinking coffee at early ages when a warm “café con leche” is served with breakfast to the children before heading to school. Coffee is drunk at any time of the day and, as with tea, every person has its own ways, times and procedures to make it. But, generally, people may have one early in the mornings with breakfast (sometimes even before breakfast), another one follows at mid-morning, then another one immediately after lunch, sometimes one in the afternoon and then, although less common, one before going to bed. So the smell of fresh coffee is always around. When you visit someone that person will typically offer you a cup of coffee as a gesture of courtesy and this also happens at hairdressings salons, work meetings and the least expected places. My home was a bit different in that sense. My Mum quit coffee and switched to tea when I was little so we would offer tea instead of coffee to our guests. Some of them would say in a very polite way: “tea would be great but if you had coffee that would be even better!”. So we would “un-dust” the small coffee maker and prepare some for them.
I remember quitting coffee was something hard for my Mum to do. So, in my imagination, I grew up with the idea that coffee was quite addictive and therefore something it was better to avoid. That idea got stuck in my head for many years and, for some reason, I never tried a cup or even a sip of coffee in my life. I have tasted coffee sweets and ice cream and I don’t personally like it although I do enjoy the smell of it when freshly made. But even though tea was always present at home, I formally started drinking tea at university. Before that, I only had infusions.
In Venezuela I remember drinking jasmine tea in the mornings and a Japanese green tea in the afternoon (probably a standard Sencha). At that time the variety of teas was limited and loose leaf tea was not easy to find. I managed to buy loose tea at the Chinese market to prepare at home and I would also drink a pot of Geinmaicha at my favorite Japanese restaurant in Caracas. I also tried matcha ice cream for the first time and had my first pot of white tea back when it was the latest trend. Then I moved to London. There, (now here again), I fell in love with a mug of Earl Grey with milk in the morning with a large slice of Irish soda bread with butter, strawberry preserve and mascarpone cheese. A “warm cup of tea” in London always tastes like heaven! Later on I moved to New York. I remember buying a large English breakfast tea to take away, adding a splash of milk and drinking it while holding a toasted bagel with my other hand, walking to my dance class during the winter. There I also discovered the sweet milky Thai iced tea and a wide variety of green teas, blends and infusions. In Buenos Aires, the land of mate, I stumbled upon a Tea Sommelier course and I thought this is something I would dream to do. The act of drinking tea is special for me. I love the simple pleasure it adds to my life, I love to prepare it and share it, I love to know what people think about it, I am curious about the different ways people enjoy it besides it gathers many things I am interested in such as nature, perfumes, travelling and having personal rituals. So I guess I don’t have just one answer. Tea found me or I found tea in many ways: trough experiences, through memories, through feelings and, ever since, we have been inseparable. I became a Tea Sommelier and a new world opened to me, not only because I gained specific knowledge about tea and found a new professional career but because it made me realise how much it inspires me. And, most importantly, it allowed me to transform that knowledge into a personal experience I can now share with others.