On tea ceremonies and workshops what one experiences is often left in the magic hands of the tea master. A tea virtuoso takes his/her guests on a sensory voyage through aromas and flavours. A tea master becomes the narrator and the tastes and smells experienced ona tea ceremony often leave a lasting imprint on ones subconscious, with the journey as a whole more important than the destination.
When it comes to somebody’s tea experience, the tea master has to be an ambassador of each tea, he or she needs to know about the drinks you might experience on a tea ceremony and curate the other factors too. It is important to have the right teaware and to present the tea at the table at the correct temperature, for example.
Kelly Meeus’s professional tea adventure started with an online course. Soon after, she discovered that there is the Tea Academy in Belgium and signed up for a full course. “It is a 12 day course, one day a month. Therefore, we had plenty of time to study and reflect. And yes, we had to study for tea. It requires a significant time commitment. Earning the title of a tea specialist is no easy feat”, says Kelly.
Meeus’s love for tea started at a young age in her family’s kitchen. “I’m drinking tea since I was a girl, I don’t like coffee. For me, tea was always around. At first it were teabags, later I discovered loose herbs and the herbs brought me to loose-leaf tea. It was in a small teashop, I was looking around, when I discovered gunpowder. That’s how my “real tea days” began. I also perfectly remember how in the past my family and friends would put on a kettle of tea, sit and enjoy time together”.
For tea connoisseurs, constantly honing their skills is another vital aspect of this challenging profession. Kelly keeps her tea skills set perfectly polished by giving workshops. She teaches all around Belgium, and occasionally presents her knowledge on specialized events. “Most people I meet are not familiar with tea. My workshops usually start with telling about the differences between the ‘real’ tea and herbs and fruit infusions. From that point on, people are really interested and I get their attention. Then, we go and discover the 6 tea types: we do this by smelling and tasting it. We discover Western & Eastern ways of making tea and I give them tips and tricks to make a real nice cup of tea. Other workshops are ‘Ice tea’ or ‘Tea Cocktails’. I would like to specialize in Gong Fu Cha, a kind of Chinese tea ceremony, involving the ritualized preparation and presentation of tea”.
Whatever we do, we need to make it special, we need to make it tangible, we need to make it real, we need to make it outstanding – that’s how we become professionals. “The more I discover tea, the more I want to dive in. It is the world beyond imagination. The tea itself, and everything around it, – explains Kelly. – The different countries, the farmers, the people who practice it, the people who drink it. It is a connection you have and it is strong. These days I get in contact with a lot of people all over the world. From New York to Darjeeling, from Argentina to Africa. If you dive in and open up for tea, your world will change. Tea makes my life exciting”.
Unsurprisingly, Kelly’s kitchen is full of tea accessories.Western teapots and glasses. Also, typical Eastern accessories like yixings, gaiwans, kyusu, a teatabel… “How I drink my tea depends on how I feel and what I would like to drink. Sometimes I don’t have a lot of time and make my tea western way. If I have more time I will drink it Gong Fu Cha. So it depends. I do drink tea all day long. All day, every day. No sugar. And I even pair it with my meals. For me, no red wine to accompany my meal – a cup of tea will do great!”.
So how did she first experienced ‘real tea’ and who has been the biggest influence on her ‘tea work’ to date? “It was Gunpowder. And I was amazed by the way it looked and with the story around it. I discovered it in a teashop and bought a whole lot. Later I figured out that they use it in Moroccan tea too. So I have been drinking it long before I even knew about it. As for the influences, I first spotted a teablogger in America – Nicole Martin. She made me get fond of tea. Robin Boels from The Flemisch Tea Academie has been a great influence too, he is an amazing teacher. Miss Mei Lan will teach me to go deeper in Chinese tea ceremony”, says Kelly.
Two months ago Meeus started her own teablog (http://www.detheeblog.be/ ) and it seems to be something that people like to read. “I cover everything about tea: the ‘real’ tea, but fruits and herbs too. Stories I bump into, people I get to meet. Fun things I get to do. And pretty soon I will cover stories about farmers and teapeople all over the world. Ain’t that great! Belgians are not really into tea yet. So far it has been amazing to tell people about what tea really is. The fact that tea in Belgium is so small, inspires me. It is a real joy to share my passion with others!”.
By Marina Kazakova