Online Tea Class – UK Tea Academy

Wenzhuo Liu

Jane Pettigrew, who has 39 years of experience in tea industry, tea practitioners who are familiar with her and the British tea associations organizations, gradually realised the importance of professional tea training in the food and beverage (service) industry. In 2015, Jane launched her influence in the tea circle for many years to form a team, established the UK Tea Academy (UKTA) with investor funding, and successfully operated in the UK. Since 2017 UKTA has had licenced tutors teaching the UKTA courses in Italy, Spain, South Korea, France and Germany. Soon after the start of COVID-19 in 2020, UKTA adapted its work to online classes, and now teaches students from all over the world.

The teaching team has constantly adjusted and cooperated from the practice of online teaching, accumulated experience and established confidence. Now, Jane thinks their online class is very successful. In 2021, the academy has 110 primary tea training graduates (Tea Champion) and 60 tea sommeliers. Students generally welcome online learning, prepare tea sets and equipment to brew by themselves, and have a longer interval between classes and this is conducive to practical and theoretical learning. Through online learning, students can make a deeper investment and develop more enthusiasm for learning. For the tea course, UKTA send out a lot of tea samples to each student for the course and, if required, will also send brewing equipment. During the course, tutors guide students through brewing and tasting all the different teas. Sending out the teas to international students has caused some problems, especially after Brexit of the UK from the European Union, and the teas do not always arrive on time. But these situations are gradually being solved.

UKTA courses are offered at three levels. The theoretical knowledge of basic courses has been developed into an online self-study course called “Tea Champion Theoryand “Tea Champion Practical”. Students can also follow some self-study courses on their own and master the content independently. At the intermediate level, course material covers teas from the most important tea producing countries. Specialist tutors from various countries also teach theory and tasting knowledge about tea characteristics and flavour profiles of teas from their own country or area. UKTA has in its team tutors from China, Taiwan, Japan, South Korea, India, Sri Lanka, Scotland, and so on. Advanced courses focus on the specific situation and needs of each student. Managers and employees in hotel industry, catering and other related industries need professional training, while amateur tea lovers prefer courses of more general interest. In China, there are four types of work in the tea industry, including tea artists and tea assessors, tea gardeners and tea processors. Relevant training institutions obtain Chinese national vocational qualification standard certificates according to textbooks. According to my observation, the first two grades of UK Tea Academy are close to Chinese tea artists and involve some skills of tea assessors. As Europeans began to be interested in growing tea, the UKTA has been working closely with the Scottish Tea Factory and now offers a new course on tea planting and processing, which is mainly aimed at ordinary consumers but is also suitable for tea professionals and new growers. Out of their hobbies, they planted a small number of their own tea trees and experienced the processing and production of tea. I don’t know whether the college will launch the training of professional tea gardeners and tea processors in the future, as in China’s tea industry training.

I had the honour of participating in one of the regular special online events organised of the UKTA. The owner of Satemwa tea farm in Malawi, Africa, introduced the tea field and their methods of production, and registered participants received the relevant tea samples after registering online for the event. During the online event, everyone brewed and tasted Satemwa black tea, green tea, oolong tea and dark tea while listening to the explanation. This kind of regular online activity takes place almost every month, and all the events are open to the public to sign up for. People can participate only with a simple tea set. Jane was aware of the emerging tea growing areas in recent years and organized several related online activities. I was invited to give a speech at an online activity of the academy, telling my experience of growing tea in Germany and briefly introducing the history of China and German tea trade. Growing tea in Europe, Britain, Australia, New Zealand and other first world countries has always been a challenge due to the high labor and other costs. Jane feels that it is unlikely to have a great impact on the international tea industry in the near future. But it may also prompt tea consumers to think about why the price gap between tea produced in different countries is so wide that they are more willing to pay more for high-quality tea.

Chinese people may be familiar with Jane, from the tea documentary <Tea, Story of the Leaf>, she has also published 17 tea books, has many years of teaching experience and has participated in various tea related international activities, which can be regarded as experiencing great changes in the form of media. Jane said that the amount of information about tea in today’s we media era is amazing, but it is necessary to carefully distinguish the authenticity and correctness of network information, and cross checking is very important. It is certainly good for the younger generation of tea people to use social media to spread information about tea drinking and tea culture, but we should also realize that the way of studying tea requires time and hard work. The process of research and learning is long, there is no shortcut, and it should never stop.

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