How did you become a Master Blender?
I started as a batch boy at Spicers in 1989, preparing the teas for the senior buyers to taste and evaluate. I watched and listened, I tasted everything and learned where the teas were grown, the different types of grades and qualities and began a training programme absorbing all the knowledge I could from the senior tasters. After a few years, Spicers were confident enough in what I was doing and I became a junior taster/buyer. Over time I moved up through the ranks and eventually had the experience to be in charge of the Tea Department earning the title of Master Blender.
Which are your favourite parts of the job and why?
Tasting different teas and creating new blends is always a pleasure, it’s like an art form and very fulfilling. Also, being able to travel to the tea growing countries throughout the world, seeing tea being grown and processed, exploring areas off the beaten track, places you’d never see as a tourist, I’m very lucky to be able to do this.
What advice would you give anyone wanting to work in the tea industry?
Prepare for the long run, it’s a job that can’t be learnt overnight, patience is a good attribute!
What’s the hardest part of your job?
Negotiating the price, you need to get the best price possible for the business, but you also want it to be equitable throughout the supply chain. Also, tea is bought and sold in Dollars so the exchange rate is causing a great deal of pain at the moment too!
Do you find it easy to balance work and play?
Yes, I’m very good at switching between work mode and family mode. I try to never take my work home with me, well, except for a really good blend of tea!
What was the inspiration behind your first Loose Leaf blend?
I was very keen to have a really good leaf tea blend in the business, something that looked and tasted amazing, something special, something different. I’d tasted a lovely leaf tea from Kenya some time ago and it was so flavourful it inspired me to use it somewhere, somehow. I began tasting other leaf teas from Rwanda and Assam until I found teas that would work in harmony together with this beautiful Kenyan tea, eventually creating the Sandbanks Loose Leaf Blend that has proved to be so popular.