To celebrate the Middle East launch of Tetley loose leaf tea, master tea blender Sebastian Michaelis, whose taste buds have been insured for $1 million, was in Dubai and we caught up with him on everything tea.
Tell us a little bit about yourself.
For the past 12 years I have worked at Tetley Tea, as a master tea blender. Before that, I had never heard of a tea tasting job, but I also never wanted a normal nine to five desk job and the tea taster position ticked all the boxes. Who doesn’t love tea and travel?
Tell us about your visit to Dubai.
I was very fortunate to be invited to visit Dubai to help the launch of our Tetley loose leaf blends and speak with food bloggers about the art of blending. I chose the teas for these blends specifically for Dubai. You can really tell when you’re drinking a poorly blended tea, it will taste flat and stale. Balancing the flavours is crucial to get a bright, flavourful cup.
How have you developed such a strong taste for tea?
A lifelong habit, I started drinking tea at a very young age. However, before I joined Tetley I didn’t know very much about it. The training programme at Tetley involves an intense five years of tasting hundreds and thousands of teas to refine my palette and develop the skills to make a perfect blend. A typical week will involve tasting a few hundred teas and grading them very precisely using our in-house tasting language Uhuru (meaning freedom in Swahili).
Which is your favourite flavour?
When I taste tea it involves slurping a very strong brew using a soup spoon and spitting it out. It sounds a bit rude, but it’s necessary to pick up all the flavours. I separate the process of tasting tea with just enjoying my cup of tea. Despite tea being my job, I have managed to maintain my love for it and usually drink six or more cups a day. My favourite is our extra strong blend which has very brisk Kenyan teas, it has lots of flavour and is just a touch bitter.
Your secrets on making the perfect cup of tea?
Always use freshly drawn water from the tap rather than water that’s already been boiled, as it can affect the taste of your brew. If you’re making black tea, you really want to use boiling water, so make sure you pour the water from your kettle as soon as it reaches 100°C. Green tea however doesn’t like it too hot, it can make your brew taste overly bitter. I recommend leaving the kettle for two minutes after it’s boiled before pouring.