Rarely can you hop on a plane from Vancouver, fly directly down the coastline to LA, and encounter nothing but transparent skies.  But during a recent spectacular four-hour flight, I was treated to such awe-inspiring highlights as the volcanic chain of snow-capped peaks starting at Mt. Baker in northern Washington and the majestic Mt. Rainier.  The captain flew at 43,000 feet that day to avoid turbulence, setting his course for the most scenic of plane rides.

I was heading to the city of too-many-lights to finish a project I embarked upon about two years ago.  I was completing my final Level 3 course for the Specialty Tea Institute’s (STI) Certified Tea Specialist (CTS) program.  The last component is oolong tea and I was quite psyched to splash those fragrant, slightly bruised, multi-rolled, larger-then-life leaves across my palate.

As I gazed out the plastic portal, a thought came to mind, a business term nonetheless – ROI (return on investment).  Was I getting my money’s worth?  Was all the traveling worth it?

That’s a difficult question to answer in this short piece, and it may be a bit premature.  After all, who can predict what doors may open and what opportunities may lie ahead?  I figure you have to put yourself out there, soak up all the knowledge, learn from the pros, and fill that grey matter with everything tea.

However, I can attest to the fact that the certification process came at a substantial price tag.  Flying to the U.S. from Canada six times in two years is not easy on the bank account.  The course fees are also a pause for thought, adding up to a $4,000 investment spread over seven courses.  Of course, there are also the other expenses, including lodging, food, trade show fees, and entertainment.  I surmise that at this point I have shucked out nearly $10,000 to acquire the designation of Certified Tea Specialist.

So now that the money has been spent, the certificate hangs on my wall and my knowledge of the leaf and all its diverse growing regions, processing methods, varietals, and taste profiles has increased substantially.  Just being in the same tea-sipping space with instructors like Yoon Hee Kim, Phil Parda, and Eliot Jordan was altogether exciting.  You could sense the osmosis occurring in the room.

I also made some great friends in tea – like-minded people who share a real passion for the leaf and are now embarking on their own amazing and innovative journeys.  This is where I found incredible value that you can’t put a price on.  I would not have befriended all these high-spirited tea sippers if it weren’t for STI, so, of course, fees and airfare aside, I am elated that my tea brethren have increased ten-fold during the two years I spent traveling to complete the STI program.

What will the new designation do for my chosen vocation in tea?  At this point, very little I suspect, but I am the eternal optimist.  I will set aside any premature judgment, and let the industry, my clients, and the local area that I serve determine if the knowledge I impart is worthwhile, current, and relevant to the people who might want to listen.

I would be interested in hearing from other people in the industry on the relevance of STI’s Certified Tea Specialist program, and how it has impacted their life in tea.

I wish you all well on your journey.