Is there such a thing as a tea connoisseur? Well, as they used to say on a popular TV show of yesteryear, “you bet your sweet bippy.” Of course, when the word “connoisseur” is bandied about, the first thing most of us probably think of is wine, followed by some of the other finer things in life, like cigars, fine art, and whatever else.
But before we go on to take a look at the connoisseurship of tea, how about a few definitions? The Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines a connoisseur as an expert, or “one who understands the details, technique, or principles of an art and is competent to act as a critical judge.” A second, related definition is “one who enjoys with discrimination and appreciation of subtleties.” Not surprisingly, when it comes to giving an example, Merriam-Webster’s lexicographers go with “a connoisseur of fine wines.”
But what about tea connoisseurs? There are certainly numerous tea people out there nowadays who fit these definitions of tea connoisseur, but one could make the argument that it wasn’t always thus. While there may always have been such individuals, it’s safe to say that they used to be considerably less numerous than they are today.
All of which has to do with the evolution of the tea industry itself. A quarter of a century ago — or perhaps even as recently as a decade or so ago — the tea that was available to the majority of us was likely to be cheap stuff in a bag, to be quite blunt about it. Once upon a time, laying your hands on a high-quality Formosa oolong or a topnotch Darjeeling, to name a few, would have been considerably more difficult and doubtless more expensive than it is today.
It would take more time and resources than we have here to trace the reasons for this evolution, but pioneering tea writers like James Norwood Pratt, who first published his Tea Lover’s Treasury in 1982, can’t have hurt the cause. We can also point to such developments as the rise of Starbucks and the corresponding interest in better grades of coffee, not to mention the overall increase of interest in foodie culture in general.
Now, if we could just come up with a good name for ourselves, tea lovers would be set. Wine lovers have already staked out “oenophile,” though it’s arguably not very widely used. So exactly what do you call a connoisseur of fine tea?
Lots of tea info for guys and gals on William’s blog, Tea Guy Speaks!
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