In their own words…
Tea is a common thread that has played a role in education, culture and an international move for TAC Tea Sommelier, Desiree Prins. As a teenager Desiree moved from Namibia (German coffee drinking culture) to a town in South Africa (tea drinking culture), not far from where Rooibos is cultivated, thereby piquing her interest in tea. A move to California further entrenched Desiree’s interest in tea when she discovered new types of teas in San Francisco from what she was accustom to drinking in Africa. “At my dentist office one day, I saw an ad for the TAC Tea Sommelier course in TeaTime Magazine. I inquired, signed up and my life literally changed” shares Prins. “The discovery that tea was all one plant, camelia sinensis, blew me away.”
Desiree Prins, TAC TEA SOMMELIER® Professional
Q+A with Desiree Prins
What is your earliest memory of tea?
My earliest memory of tea is drinking Rooibos. I used to live in South Africa in small area where Rooibos was cultivated; near the Cedar Mountains in the Western Cape. South Africans love to visit with one another and tea is always offered in a teapot covered with a tea cozy and served in tea cups and saucers. We drank Rooibos tea as well as strong Ceylon teabag tea with lots of milk and sometimes sugar. Later on in life, when I moved to San Francisco, I discovered Chinese and Japanese green teas and I was hooked.
Favourite TAC Tea Sommelier module?
Tea 105 From Bush to Cup. I enjoyed learning about tea and its cultivation and manufacturing processes as well as Tea 104 Tea Types where we learned about the cultural differences that shape tea drinking habits.
If you could drink two teas what would you drink?
High Grown Ceylon Tea and Oolong tea. I also discovered purple tea from Kenya in Africa. I find it to be a little ‘gruff’, but it may have potential for blending and scented tea.
Where in the world has tea played a role in your travels?
My dream is to go to Rue Cler in Paris to visit the Mariage Freres Tea Boutique. My daughter brought me a few of their teas from Paris and I have never tasted such exquisite blends with such high quality tea.
What is next for you?
I will continue my tea education and daily tea tastings to further my understanding of the nuances of tea. However, a tea business is in my future.
Have you always worked in the tea industry?
I have never worked in the tea industry. Tea is a love and a hobby, but I would love to transition to the tea industry.
What role did the TAC certification play in your career?
I learned a tremendous amount about the tea world in all its facets. The certification course opened the world of tea for me and cultivated in me a desire to develop my skills in tea tasting. I love educating my friends and students about tea, and even ordered a few tea plants for my demonstrations, i.e. from the bush to the cup.
What are some of the highlights and challenges presented with working in the tea industry today?
Expanding the experience of and love for tea to young people is such an exciting trend and challenge for the tea industry. Appealing to the palate of the young person as well as creating exciting venues for them to experience tea. The millennial market is a very rich market with a receptive generation – so if done smartly, the tea industry can establish a strong foothold.
What current trends in the tea industry excite you the most?
Tea blending and scenting. The science of tea and food pairing. Both these trends bring tea to the everyday person, especially the young person. These trends present tea in an exciting and appealing light.
Truth be told, I took on a 2nd job, a contract position as an educational/school psychologist which requires 10 more hours on the road per week over and above the extra hours. Right now I am drowning in work and have had to scale down on my Tea Activities.
So here I’ll just give you my story as it flows from my pen in a rather unstructured way.
My passion for tea knows no bounds. Everything that has to do with tea. As a teenager I moved from Namibia to South Africa to the quaint university town in South Africa, not far from the Cedar Mountains where Rooibos was cultivated. This move also meant that my environment changed from a largely coffee drinking German culture to a tea drinking South African culture. I was simply drawn to the ritual of setting the tea tray, sitting down and sharing a cup of tea over conversation with family/friends. I was/am a master sconce baker, and can whip these up in no time. We made strong black tea (teabags from Ceylon) and served it with milk (and sugar for some), just like the British. I loved the sound of porcelain/bone china cups clinking onto the saucer; the sound of the tea poured into the tea cups. I love to set a quaint table. I love my teatime. I am THE tea hostess in my circle of girlfriends (the guys in my world are not there yet).
At the time, living in South Africa I did not know there was anything beyond Rooibos and Ceylon Tea. Incidentally, it was common practice to make a pot of vert strong Rooibos in the morning, and have it sit on a hot plate/simmer on the stove all day long, simply adding hot water as needed. Both Ceylon and Rooibos were served when guests arrived.
As I noted in my previous responses, the world of tea really only opened up for me when I moved to the US, and I learned to drink it without milk. It was a natural and exciting journey to go into the various Japanese and Chinese shops and experiment with the greens. Then I discovered an Iranian store – The Rose Garden – with lots and lots of black teas and Earl Grey. It was like an explosion hit me. And I discovered the most interesting black teas.
At this time on my tea journey I was simply exploring and enjoying this wide variety of tea options that were unfolding for me.
Then at my dentist office I saw an ad for the TAC Tea Sommelier course in a TeaTime Magazine, inquired, and signed up. My life literally changed. The discovery that it was all one plant, the camelia sinensis, blew me away. After each lesson with Shabnam, I would hit Google and read and read and read. But to my dismay, when the tea samples arrived, I had a difficult time discerning the different teas, and describe them. But over time, as Shabnam reviewed these with us during almost every lesson, describing the taste experiences became easier.
I attended the World Tea Expo twice, and felt drawn in into a world of passionate experts. But also felt overwhelmed by the fine art of tea tasting and the vast amount of teas. So I would pick a few vendors, and revisit their booths frequently.
My dream was born. I would love a TeaHouse, but I am reluctant to put out the money – too risky at my age. I am still full time in a very lucrative career, and am nervous to give it up for a business that I know very little about. And I have serious doubts about my ability to transform myself into a business woman.
BUT….. I do want to sell tea in the small shops in South Lake Tahoe, a quaint holiday/ski resort on the border of California and Nevada. I am working on a website. I am working on my tea logo and tea label. I thought I could do this slowly when I can find the time from my day job, but I have discovered that this is not practical.
So the plan is to take the summer off June/July/August 2017, pay professionals to help me set up a small tea-selling business and have it launched by August. During this time I want to connect with the small shop owners and try to persuade them to have me do some tea tastings/education in their shops.
But as you can see, my goal for now is to keep it small and practice becoming a business woman. This is a very far cry from the real world of serious tea business, but for now it is all I can manage. I guess it could probably best be described as an extended hobby.
However, I plan to retire early in a few years, and then revisit the tea business options more seriously.
In the meantime, I am enjoying my tea journey, and I share it with friends and colleagues whenever I have a chance.
Interview with Academy of Tea