TAZO Brings You: Adventures in Tea
Meet the people who make, market, drink and enjoy TAZO—and the explorer’s spirit that unites them. Each tells a different story, in their own words, but all agree: Often, the best things in tea, and life, are unexpected.
A Winding Road to a Dream Job
January 21, 2019
Alexander White, R&D Group Manager-Tea beverages, Professional Tea Taster, Unilever
A Winding Road to a Dream Job
I come from a multicultural background and have had the good fortune of living in and enjoying different countries and cultures. I am a Biochemist by formation, but always had a passion for the culinary arts and went to Rome to train as a chef. As I grew up in Rome, I really enjoyed its coffee culture. In Italy, coffee has a very social role: you just bump into someone on the street and stop at a bar to have an espresso and take a moment to catch-up with people’s daily lives.
I was (and am) an avid coffee drinker so, until then, tea had absolutely no role in my life until I was offered a position in Unilever’s tea research and development team. Unilever is a major tea company, vertically integrated with its own tea farms in East Africa and purchasing almost 10% of the world’s black tea.
The moment I entered the tea world, it was instant love: Tea opened up a new world to me. I delighted in the heritage, traditions, history, legends, and mystique around tea—and the virtual travels around the world tea takes you on with every cup. I wanted to learn more and embarked in a journey to become an operational tea taster for the company, a two-year (and ongoing) program to learn to taste and categorize tea, travel to the estates to understand the process from field to cup, attend the auctions and understand the logistics of tea being dispatched at port.
My travels took me to wonderful places such as the Kenyan highlands to the west of the Rift Valley, the tropical provinces of northern Argentina, the mountains of West Java, the beautiful settings in Malawi, the bustling port cities of Mombasa and Dubai.
Each struck me for different reasons, but the one held in common by all was the fact that these fields are all attended to by a tightly knit community, in a self-sustaining system.
I am always fascinated by anything to do with self-reliance and off-the-grid sustenance (I am an avid forager, I grow my vegetables, and have learned to preserve food); so this really appealed to me.
These tea communities, with their own schools, shops, places of worship, libraries, hospitals are often fueled by their own hydroelectric power stations and, in addition to tea, the villagers grow a lot of their own produce, raise livestock and sometimes have their own ponds for fish farming.
This all comes with a commitment of these communities to protecting and conserving the tea gardens and the enchanting surrounding area they live in, and this is an extremely important facet to me of how the tea industry needs to prepare itself for a future where only sustainable practices will be able to face the pressure of an ever-expanding world population.
Though Tea is clearly not indispensable to our survival, these are the sorts of explorations each cup of tea evokes, with different teas taking me somewhere new and exciting.
And that’s what TAZO is all about. Tea is thought of as very traditional. But TAZO, in its little way, brings adventure into your day by waking you up from the status quo. We throw a little lavender into our Black Earl Grey, a dash of Darjeeling into our Awake English Breakfast, a hint of tarragon in our Refresh Mint tea. TAZO livens things up with a spike of the unexpected.
And embracing the unexpected makes our tea, and our life, richer and better. In modern society, we are encouraged to do everything according to a plan. We should learn to wander a bit in the unknown and enjoy the opportunities that come with that.
As unlikely as it seemed, growing up at the center of coffee culture, I found my dream job in tea. And now, I drink tea all day long to remind me of the territories and stories that lie behind it.