A Different Kind of Sommelier

When I heard about Marc Almert being voted the best Sommelier in the world by ASI (Association de la Sommellerie Internationale), I was first of all happy. Happy, that a fellow German has won this title and that there is hope (half-jokingly), that my German taste buds have some genetic advantage in the world of tasting.

Once the happiness settled in and I congratulated Marc, one of my old questions came back to me: Why is it always wine that is associated with the word Sommelier? As a tea and water sommelier, how do I compare?

It also brings back a point I was advocating for over the past years, that we sommeliers would benefit from collaborating. Let me first be clear for the people which already have started to type comments: in Sommelier terms, wine will always play a major role, there is no question that wine plays a dominant role when it comes to fine beverages in the restaurant world.

But let us ponder an additional question for one moment: how can sommeliers, wine, water, tea or even olive oil or chocolate sommeliers benefit from collaborating with each other? Can the customer experience be enhanced by having a heightened experience as a product from Sommeliers getting along with each other?

Sommeliers from different areas do not need to be in competition with each other. I do not think there needs to be a conversation on which field produces the best sommelier. There is no need to look up or down, as respect for each other’s accomplishments will all move us in the right direction. Each specialist, who is passionate about his or her area can contribute to the table experience and add value to what ultimately the customer will benefit from.

@MartinRiese has successfully demonstrated that water sommeliers add significant value and bring water forward as a significant revenue center for the restaurant. Sommeliers like Martin make water entertaining and important for people to notice. The fine water industry is at the beginning of a new beverage revolution where the conversation on fine water will enter front and center.

How about that certificate?

I agree, that a 4-day summer course, where you are presented with a “Sommelier” certificate will not make you an expert. A one-year Tea Sommelier course which brings you to the ability blind taste tea and determine the year and even the tea plantation does. A hands on, intensive course over 3 months with the fine water academy and the expert guidance from Martin Riese and Michael Masha certainly will.

I remember the summers when my family went off to the beach to relax and I would stay for 8 hours in the kitchen to taste and describe different teas. I remember long weekends of water tastings to develop a palette for water flavors and textures. Tasting is an essential skill for sommeliers and it takes a long time to develop enough confidence to develop a good skill level. Certified Sommeliers in the tea and water industry with credible institutions are passionate individuals who want to make a difference in the world and lead the way to a higher level of spirit and sophistication in their industry.

What is a Sommelier?

If you google ‘Sommelier’ most likely the words ‘Wine waiter’ or ‘Wine steward’ will pop up on the top of the list. Ads for sophisticated wine schools and expensive wine classes will be offered. Other beverages will not appear until far, far down the list and rarely in the context of Sommelier.

Sommelier history

King Philippe V of France first recognized the job of sommelier as a formal profession in the fourteenth century when a ‘sommelier’ was a court official charged with the transportation of supplies. The word came from the Middle French – a ‘saumalier’ was a pack animal driver, derived from the word ‘sauma,’ referring to either the pack animal or the packsaddle. In King Phillipe’s day, the job of sommelier involved keeping the provisions of the royal house well-stocked. It also involved taking nibbles of perishable foods and sips of perishable wines to ensure that they were still edible and had not been poisoned. A wise sommelier would need to take careful stock of the popularity of the nobleman or monarch he chose to serve if he wished to preserve his health!

The modern version of a Sommelier

As a dual Tea and Water Sommelier, certified by the World Tea Academy and the Fine Water Academy, I am enjoying my ability to learn and educate in two different yet equally passionate industries. I made it my mission to be a bridge ambassador, who can connect the world of tea and water and identify opportunities for the hospitality industry. I am working with brand owners to develop strategies and ways to get the public more excited and more educated about incredible products the industry has to offer.

Everybody has a different preference and a different flavor and taste profile. Sommeliers taste hundreds of different products to be able to recommend an option to a customer which they would enjoy. Some people might like sparkling water, some might like a still water, some a green tea and some an oolong tea. We all have a different set of taste buds with which we are enjoying the world and it is the opportunity of sommeliers to find that magic match. Sommeliers can spark interest and highlight the benefits of high-quality products to enhance the customer experience.  

A night to remember

I had a wonderful collaboration experience in November 2018. During a networking event for my current job, I met the Olive Oil Sommelier Benedetta in Italy, who conducted an Olive Oil and Balsamic Vinegar Tasting. I learned new things and most of all I could sense her passion to give people more information about Olive Oil and Vinegar, in order for them to improve their choices and their experience selecting the right oil in the future.

For me that is the essential point: A sommelier has the ability to spark an inspiration in people and show them a side of a beverage they have not seen before and what will make their experience better and more enjoyable.

Each island of the beverage industry produces experts who have a passion and developed a way of presenting their knowledge to people who do not think about beverages in such an extensive way.

As a water and tea sommelier I have the good fortune to be certified in two wonderful industries. What connects these industries is the passion to make their beverage more visible and more exiting to the public.

Conclusion

The bottom line is that Sommeliers from different industries should collaborate more and exchanging perspectives and ideas that will benefit us all. I would love to see a cross industry network of Sommeliers to present their ideas to each other.

I am looking forward to the Fine Water Summit in Stockholm in a few weeks where I will talk about the bridge between Water and Tea and the opportunities for both industries. I am looking forward to exchange ideas with the best of the best in the fine water industry in looking towards new trends for the future.

Looking forward to sharing my insights from the summit here on this blog.

Until then, Stay thirsty!

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