A recent article on Tea-Biz took me for a nostalgic trip down memory lane marking one of the meaningful moments in U.S. tea education. “World Tea Academy Celebrates First Decade”**. Publisher, Dan Bolton, interviewed World Tea Academy director Lisa Boalt Richardson on the program’s anniversary. It’s important to acknowledge and explain the significance of the ten-year anniversary in U.S. tea education. Richardson shared the stats; “… more than 1250 students from 64 different countries.” And in the same time frame, we’ve watched other programs struggle. Efforts to create what is most needed by tea consumers and tea business owners in the U.S. market are like literally like inventing the wheel. Challenging! So, celebrating this decade of continuing success is a joy. 

World Tea Academy

World Tea Academy offers two levels of certification. Every certification requires completion of seven classes. Our beginner Core Level Tea Certification which consists of six Core class and one Advanced class of the student’s choosing (this ADVANCED class can be used to jump start your Advanced Tea Certification as well. The student will earn the Certified Tea Specialist title with completion of the seven tea classes.)  WTA Website

A Little Perspective

What triggered a flood of memories for me was the photo of the creator of WTA and the first director, Donna Fellman, with some of the students from the first class taken at the 2013 World Tea Expo. The beginning – and the people who eagerly joined the first class. So many of these first students continue to work in the tea industry.

It’s easily forgotten how forward-thinking this project was at the time. How innovative. How controversial. And what a great need there was for the opportunity. Donna Fellman, with the support of the owners of World Tea Expo, Kim and George Jage, and the Advisory Board fearlessly bucked the belief at that time that tea education had to be in person; that virtual experience had little value. Ten years ago, when WTA was launched, online education was in the very early stages. But we recognized that it could fill one of the greatest needs for Specialty Tea retailers; affordable employee education. It was an honor to be part of the “we” by serving on the World Tea Expo Advisory Board at the time and later, assisting Donna Fellman with proofreading course content and as a substitute teacher for the World Tea Academy.

Affordable Employee Education

A driving force to launching WTA was the enormous neeed that we struggled with every year at the annual World Tea Expo. Affordable staff training. Small business owners could barely afford to attend live classes themselves, much less afford to send their employees. And the amount of their own time that was required to train new employees was overwhelming to many. This is where the growing resources to create online programs became vitally important. But ten years ago, the technology was in its infancy. Unlike today where almost anyone with a computer can plug into a robust DIY program, Donna Fellman and the WTE team made the most of limited options and served an enormous need for our community. 

Donna’s experience managing tea houses, training staff and talking to customers convinced her that tea education was essential for the future of the specialty tea industry’s growth. To that end, she focused her work on serving the tea industry’s needs by creating educational programs and classes especially for the tea professional through many organizations and company training programs. Donna served as the director of World Tea Academy from its inception in 2013 to 2019.

Donna Fellman is a contributor to T Ching. Read her articles. 

A Community of Tea Educators

Another important goal that the creators infused into the creation of WTAwas recognizing and introducing a community of tea educators. Courses were written by many different educators. Not only was it critical at this time to elevate accomplished teachers and speakers, but also to give students the experience of different points of view. Of note, WTA curriculum continue to feature some of the most respected educators in the U.S. Specialty Tea community.

When I noticed the article by Dan Bolton in Tea-Biz, I called Donna Fellman and we reminisced some of the early days. There were stepping stones that had guided the creation of the program and Donna Fellman had been one of my first teacher/mentors. She and Richard Guzauskaus and Phil Parda had been part of several different memorable tea education in-person programs. Some of those memories were even how our first attempts “got it wrong”. But we were willing to take some of the risks. That was a commitment to build something for the future of the tea industry.

What do we call ourselves?

Another important issue in the early days of tea education was what we would call ourselves. There was a temptation (and some succumbed) to call ourselves Tea Masters or Tea Experts or Tea Sommeliers even after an introductory course. For those of us who knew about and respected the origins of these terms that originated in other countries with ancient tea cultures, this was not acceptable. A decade ago, explaining our training and expertise was challenging; we were still trying to educate a population of tea consumers in the U.S. who barely understood the nuances of the basic types of tea. And ten years ago we were ambitious and arrogant enough to think that a decade of training tea educators would make a huge difference in the larger population. Most of us who were part of the early days of tea education in the 90’s now fully realize that we’ve barely tapped into the desire and need for quality tea education.

WTA was organized abound different certification programs that included multiple classes and series of tests. Students are encouraged to present themselves and their eduational experience more specifically when applying for jobs in the tea industry or authenticating their expertise.

Certification Programs

Hand-in-Hand with what we tea professionals (educators, entrepreneurs and entertainers) call ourselves, is how the industry and the public recognize and value the many different certification programs. This is what makes a decade of success is what will increase the value of having earned a WTA certification. Respect, longetivity, and number of graduates who continue in the industry and find success are the factors that will increase the value of WTA’s programs.

Personal Conclusion

Some of us who now count a couple of decades working in the Specialty Tea section of the global tea industry sometimes reminesce about the “good old days” – the early days of tea education. This anniversary has inspired even more of those conversations. Ten years in this industry is something to celebrate. I’m also inspired to take this opportunity to look ahead at what is needed to satsify the tea lover’s thirst to know more about tea and to support all tea entrepreneurs. 

** Audio Recording and transcript of the entire interview with Lisa Boalt Richardson are available on Tea-Biz

Lisa Boalt Richardson – Education Manager – Director of World Tea Academy   

Lisa Boalt Richardson has traveled the globe extensively, researching and learning from masters about tea and specialty tea. Forming “Lisa Knows Tea” in 2000, Richardson has consulted with numerous companies and fortune 500s – including Lipton-PepsiCo, Unilever and Bigelow – to help them develop products and launch new tea lines. 

She’s also trained employees at major brands about tea knowledge and service. Overall, Richardson is a sought-out speaker, industry expert and educator, teaching both the industry and the public. She authored three tea books with her latest being Modern Tea: A Fresh Look at an Ancient Beverage (Chronicle Books 2014). She’s also been featured by The New York Times, NPR, Food & Wine, Fox News, BrandWeekNational Geographic, Discovery, HGTV Magazine, Chowhound, Women’s HealthReal Simple, Shape, and World Tea News, among many others. (From World Tea Academy website.)