Tea masters

In my tea journey thus far I have heard time and again from various and sundry places that this person or that person is a tea master, or in at least one case a "tea sommeliere" (sp?). Now I think I know that there are Japanese schools with actual programs of study that teach one how to do the Japanese tea ceremony (and I think there's more than one, is that right?) but when it comes to other terms I wonder if there's any kind of standardization. I suppose it depends on the accrediting institution in the Western model but I'm not sure what it would depend on in the Chinese model. Does anyone have any knowledge in this area (i.e. who the main "Chinese tea masters" are, where they are actually located, whom they have taught outside China, etc.) If there is no lineage at the very least then I fear that anyone practically can call themselves a tea master once they know the basics of gung fu and then they use that as a marketing tool. When I hear someone claim to be a master and they're selling tea...I am cautious, which is OK, but I am curious what others think beyond that.
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Marketing will never cease to overwhelm actual credentials. How many health professionals have we heard calling themselves doctors only to discover that they're referring to their doctoral work?
In Japan, walk into a neighborhood bar and practically everyone is calling each other "sensei" after a few drinks.
The People's Republic of China certifies individuals as Tea Masters. I believe there are over ten individuals with this verifiable credential now. However, this certification is rewarded at ages under 80 years. Some would understandably argue that age is a serious criteria for being recognized as a tea master considering the immense breadth of true tea alone (3000 varieties from one species of plant).
Historically, tea culture after Occidental contact has been a dance of misinformation and monopolization. I think that if someone is claiming to have connections with a tea master or claims to be a tea master, then it is safe to assume that they are at least trying to qualify the level of serious interest the person in question has for cha.
There are at least a few schools of Chanoyu (Japanese tea ceremony) practice. Recall that a master of chanoyu may be more cognizant of aesthetics, protocol, wabi-sabi, etc. than of tea.
Being a tea sommelier simply means you can make a damn good cuppa tea in a restaurant or hotel setting. Many tea sommeliers are responsible for ordering and training at their place of employ. However as all of us know, there are many ways to acquire great whole leaf tea via the internet. Not necessarily brain surgery.
At least in my neck of the woods (or desert, as it were - Tucson, Arizona), I know that ZhuPing of Seven Cups Fine Chinese Teas , is an actual Chinese-government-certified Tea Master. She herself - middle-aged - admits that she has tremendous amounts still to learn.
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Very true, very true.
Are you saying here that a true tea master should be over 80 years old? And how long would a person have to actually study...after all, someone who's 80 but has been learning about tea since they were a child would possibly be more knowledgeable than someone who's 80 who's been studying since they were 60.
Mmm...maybe. Or they are trying to portray themselves in a light that will draw customers.
Again, true, which is one reason why I have had not so much interest in Chanoyu. I am personally at this time mroe interested in tea than in the things surrounding tea...ettiquette, tableware, etc.
::nod:: So it's a hospitality term then.
Yes, I don't think anyone could ever claim truthfully to know everything about tea. Thank you for your input here.
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For the record, although I do realize this was all in jest, I do not consider myself a Master of anything. I am but an Aprentice when it comes to Pu-erh, and even less than that when it comes to tea in general. Every time I *think* I am starting to understnad something another layer of the onion is revealed, and another, and another.....
The Chinese are a very complex and facinating people, their culture and tradiitons must be understood to a large degree if you really want to learn about pu-erh, or Chinese tea in general.
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Mike Petro

I've often seen various certificates put up around teashops, but I have yet to ask exactly what they are. I know one of them is a license to open a shop, but the others usually look like some sort of accrediation or a reward for something. Then again, it's easy to get such things off of ebay these days. heh
My question would be who exactly can give the title of "Tea Master" anyway?
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Since my wife is mentioned here I think maybe try to stir the mud a little bit and see if I can make it a little more confusing. I was recently in a factory in Yunnan and because I'm American I was shown a certification from a group called something like the Association Of American Tea Masters. It was a bit faded and looked hand done. It was an appropriate award since it was awarded to the factory that developed the wonderful sweet Yunnan Black tea in the 1930's. Surely they were masters. On closer inspection I found the faded signature of Roy Fong, the owner of Imperial Tea Court in San Francisco's Chinatown, from 1995. Even if he is a self proclaimed master, and I'm not sure where his title comes from, but surely he is a master because he a been a great teacher of tea and tea culture in San Francisco, and even if he is in business, there is no doubt that he is a respected teacher. In it's simplest since a master is someone that has gained enough knowledge to teach a subject, and there are students that learn something, right or wrong from them. I Guangdong province, my wife as her certificate so that she can teach tea and tea culture primarily to tea house workers, and can ask pay for doing so based on the certification. She didn't attend a formal school, though there are some around China and Taiwan, with more being opened all the time, that do provide a good education, mostly in tea culture, but rather she took and passed a test. There are two university's that I know of that offer PhD in tea science. There are a lot of graduates that safely be called masters, and there are those in the tea community that have gained the respect of their peers that are called masters, some of these are very old, smoke cigarettes and can beat me up the stairs. The person that said that no knows everything about tea is certainly correct. The Chinese say you can study tea all of your life and not learn the names of the teas. Usually people like me that sell tea are called merchants not masters, but I don't think it matters tea much. The tea does all of the talking and if you like what your drinking it's good tea and if you don't it's not, at least for you. I loved the irony of finding Roy Fong's award and love him for giving it and caring so much about the tea, even if he is a merchant.
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Austin Hodge

Austin snipped-for-privacy@g47g2000cwa.googlegroups.com5/30/05 00: snipped-for-privacy@gmail.com
[snipped some interesting detail to get to the meat...]
[more snippage]
Austin, I think in these words you are most in synch with my own thoughts, and you hit on the great truths (he says, patting himself on the back as well). Like Melinda and others, I'm somewhat sceptical of "teasmasters," not to mention the concept. I happily seek out and drink tea with those whose experience is vaster than mine, and I reserve my more worshipful poses for the tea itself.
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Michael Plant

Yes of course it was meant as teasing Mike...no offense was meant. And I know that you know that...well, see my sig, lol...
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Bruce Lee is often paraphrased "the only thing a black belt is good for is strangling someone". You want a professional working on your car, electrical, plumbing but you don't need a master for your teapot. Teacher/student is an oriental concept. It even applies to the academic circles. I recently saw a CCTV segment about a modern historian on Chinese astronomy who is popular in the media was the only student his teacher accepted in the past thirty years.
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Space Cowboy

I can. I have a Gestetner press and I can make certificates that look just as good as anyone's. Just send me all your money. If you act now, you also get this "yixing" glazed teapot made in Mexico, and that's not all! You also get this wonderful gold-and-red wall hanging that says "So stupid that I don't know what this means" in Chinese. So act now! Operators are standing by! --scott
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Scott Dorsey

My favorite quote from him was, "you use a belt to keep your pants up." I often would quote that to my Taekwondo students.
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In Japan there are a number of places where you can study with lots of middle-aged women about Western tea, Chinese tea, or Japanese tea. The most widely known is probably Le Picier (which oddly enough means "grocer" - the Japanese owner wanted to open a European imported food shop but got stuck with tea, luckily for Japan) with their school at the head office in Sendagaya, I think. They have some decent sounding programs, but will not pronounce you a somellier upon completion. They might let you work there, though. The closest thing to what should be a somellier that I have found knew less about tea than little old me, which is excessively sad. He was the head of the Lipton owned tea room in the Prince Hotel next to Tokyo Tower. Nice guy, though.
Rufus Firefly USA (since April)
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Rufus T. Firefly

"Melinda" wrote in message
A *sommelier* , sommeliere for a woman, is by the original definition a person that studied efficiently (during 5 years mini) the process of wine-making, blending, cupping, visited producing areas, got the knowledge/experience to be able to select producers, select among that different sorts and levels of quality, storing (changing bottles, etc), checking the aging, giving advice on serving and matching with food, writing comments to advise the drinker and ....accessorily do the serving and comment themselves in the restaurant. A large part of their job is in the cellar or outside at shopping/cupping and visiting vineyards, many work more at advising businesses than doing the waiter-sommelier. The Japanese are very good at it, 20 years ago, they had zero sommelier, now they have the highest population of assistant-sommelier and several world champions.
All that to say, there are people doing a comparable job for tea : get the teas from producers, do the storing, check freshness, make blends, and advise about how to drink a given tea. Their is no standard name for the job as far as I know , so in Japan they sometimes say sommelier. They get trainings and certifications from tea trade associations or professional schools related to agriculture, business or food-drink industry. Those that read Japanese should check : "boku ha nihoncha no sommelier" (="I'am a Japanese tea sommelier") by Masamitsu Takau (ISBN 4-480-87744-4). I've learnt a lot at reading it. This man is in the tea business and gives lecture about the different Japanese teas (history, production areas and techniques , grades, how to serve them). There are competitions for tea professionnals, so those that get many prizes tend to be considered as masters.
The "tea ceremony masters" belong to *schools* that are organised like churches (yes, there are several ones) with the masters at the top choosing their successors on social/cultural/leadership/relations/wealth criteria. They don't have fixed programs nor formal examinations...and about tea, they restrict their knowledge about serving macha traditionnally. Korea tea ceremony is similarly organised.
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