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What’s it really like being a professional tea taster?


Louise Allen, 35, is a professional tea taster and managing director of Teapigs. She lives in south west London with her husband Phil and their 18-month-old son Max

My cocker spaniel, Harvey, is an absolute handful in the morning. As soon as I wake up at 7am he’s following me around, barking and squeaking, even while I’m getting Max dressed. So once I’ve had my breakfast – a quick bowl of cereal sprinkled with green tea powder – I’ll get dressed, drop Max off at the child-minder’s and take the dog for a walk around Richmond Park.

I tend to wear dark colours to work because more often than not I’ll end up covered in tea stains, but by the end of the walk I’m normally covered in mud too, so I have a quick spruce back at home before driving to the Teapigs offices in Kew at 8.45am. Five years ago, I left my job at Tetley – where I travelled the world to remote regions, tasting exotic teas – to set up Teapigs in the UK with my friend Nick. There are now 12 of us in the company and I act as MD and official tea taster, creating new blends, sourcing new teas and overseeing sales.

We service the whole online business from the office so we have a mini warehouse next door where we keep all the new products we’re developing and store all our finished products, so it can get quite cramped! It’s also full of tea samples. Especially in my designated ‘tasting area’ where I’ll spend the early morning trying out any new samples and blends that we may have been sent from producers.

Tasting tea is quite similar to tasting wine but the key is to slurp it off the spoon to make it hit all your taste buds. I can get through hundreds of samples in a day – although I always spit it out, that much tea isn’t good for you. I had my first cup of proper tea when I was tiny. My parents always had the finest loose-leaf assam tea and they’d make it in a proper teapot.

As a result I’ve always been a tea snob so I also check our current blends for consistency, making sure the teas that we’ve packed taste just as good as when we first mixed them.

The rest of the morning will be spent looking after the sales side of things (getting the product to our customers and dealing with buyers) or filming for our YouTube channel where we demonstrate how to make things like the perfect chai latte.

There are a lot of foodies in the office, so one lunchtime every week, we’ll each bring in something we’ve made from home and eat it together while chatting about tea, naturally. My chicken and mushroom pie always goes down well.

My afternoon will be spent organising my trips abroad for the next six months. We’re starting to export and import to and from different countries such as Japan and China so it’s important for me to go out there, visit tea estates and forge contacts and source new teas. Earlier this year I went to Japan to source and sell products and I’m planning a trip to Rwanda in the next few months. I’ll also be visiting an orphanage in a village from which we source a lot of our tea. You have to travel around the world to get the best tea. We’re known as a nation of tea lovers but most of us Brits just stick to bog standard breakfast tea. Having trained for five years to become a ‘Master of Tea’, I’ve developed a palate that distinguishes between different types of tea, identify what region they’re from and be aware of different levels of strength. I’ll go abroad two or three times a year but since Max was born I’ve tried to curb these as much as possible, limiting trips to two weeks at a time.

I usually collect him from the child-minder at 6pm so need to be out of the office by 5.45pm. When I get home my husband and I will make dinner, have a glass of wine and I’ll check the Teapigs’ Twitter and Facebook accounts and cast an eye over any urgent emails. I don’t really relax until about 9pm when I’ll completely flop and watch something trashy on TV like Don’t Tell The Bride with a cup of tea. On top of all I have to taste for work, I’ll also get through about eight cups a day, usually my favourite tung ting oolong tea from Taiwan. Although I make the effort to be out of the house as much as possible on the weekend, I’m always exhausted on a weekday evening so will head to bed early. Normally I’m fast asleep by 10.30pm.

Photo credit: Gemma Day, Getty



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