Here at Arigato Japan we’re all about food and drinks—as huge tea-lovers—so we are very excited to introduce a very special guest to our readers. If you follow our Instagram series “Tea Talks” with Lauren, you may have watched our episode which featured Mariëlla Erkens—Tea Sommelier, Tea Expert, and Tea Author. Today, we have the pleasure of having Mariëlla here on our blog!
Welcome to the Arigato Japan blog, Mariëlla! Please introduce yourself and let our readers know a little bit about you.
I am a passionate tea connoisseur and educator, based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. I have been teaching about tea since 2012, specialized in Tea and food pairing and I am the writer of the book: ‘Tea: Wine’s Sober Sibling’ published in Dutch in 2019 and in English in 2021. I am also a chocolate connoisseur since 2011, and ran my own restaurant in Brazil from 2003 till 2008. Originally I was trained at the Art Academy in Amsterdam to become a painter, but it turned out to be the wrong profession for me. I have always been an enthusiastic cook, ever since I was 4 years old I helped my mom in the kitchen. (Mainly with licking the pots and pans).
Could you tell our readers about your role as Tea Sommelier? How did you become one?
In 2010, while working as a chef, I visited a wholesale store to buy produce, and was invited to join a workshop on single origin tea and food pairing.
Before then, I had no idea about the endless possibilities of tea, and like most people I knew, I drank tea out of habit. That afternoon completely changed my thoughts about tea. I was awestruck by how tea could taste and how wonderfully it could enhance food.
I started reading as much as I could about tea and signed up for a three-year tea sommelier course at the International Tea and Coffee Academy in the Netherlands. Gradually, I started to do more tea training and consultation work. After four years, my professional cooking career took more and more of a backseat. Nowadays, I only cook for pleasure.
You also offer online and offline Tea Courses, what are they about, and what can participants learn from them?
My courses always start with the basics: the importance of the right water, weight, temperature, steeping time; what is tea, how do you taste tea. If there is still time, as some courses are only 2 hours long, others half a day, others a day and there is three day course. In the latter I also explain how analyzing flavor works, I explain the system for that, as developed by myself and then the participants have to try that themselves, with tea and food. I teach the western and eastern styles of tea steeping and my super easy method, especially developed by me for restaurants and cafes.
Besides being a Tea Sommelier, a teacher, and a Tea expert, you’re also an author. Why did you decide to write a book about tea?
When I found out how shockingly little the major part of the western world knows about tea (including myself) and what a waste that was of all the good tea being made, I decided to become an advocate for tea and started teaching. But things were going too slow, that’s why I decided to write the book: to reach more people and make the beauty of tea (once revealed how to properly steep it) visible to as many people as I can.
I was very impressed by how detailed it is, there’s a lot of information I’d never thought about before, and I certainly will never think of tea the same way again! You mentioned in the “Tea Talks” Instagram Live that you had a lot of notes and notebooks full of your tea discoveries and research. How long did it take you to go through your writings and organise them to make them into a book?
I started writing the outlines and working out the notes in 2016. The fist edition, in dutch, was released in 2019, so about 3,5 years in total. The English version took another year and a half; updating the Dutch version for the third edition (as I had learned a lot more in the two years since the release) took another half year.
Something else you mentioned during the “Tea Talks” Live on Instagram was that you didn’t know anything about tea until your “wake-up call”. Was there a particular fact—or piece of information—you discovered that left you shocked?
When I had my introduction to real tea, properly steeped, the host explained why he used soft water. That was the real eye opener. Now I understood why tea tasted so very bad most of the time. It wasn’t the fault of the tea, but of the water!
In Tea, Wine’s Sober Sibling you talk about so many different varieties of tea. Without pairing it with any food, do you have a favourite among all the ones you listed in your book?
No, it all depends on the time of the year, the moment in the day, and my mood.
You’ve paired tea with food, cheese, and chocolate. Was there a pairing you’ve found challenging (in terms of flavours)? And if so, what did you find challenging about it?
There were many that were challenging, especially in the beginning, when I didn’t know quite what to look or. A very complicated dish for example, with lots of components. How could I achieve to emphasize the key ingredient? Or very strong dishes: how to pick a tea that wouldn’t be wiped out by the food?
Is there anything else you’d like to add for our readers?
Keep on trying. You can only master this when you practice a lot. Taste things in an alert way, focus. Not the entire meal, just the start of it. Do this every day, preferably. Not in a heavy and serious way, but in a curious, happy way. Always see the fun part of it. Enjoy!
Thank you so much Mariëlla for answering our questions! It was an absolute pleasure to have you as a guest on “Tea Talks”, and it was a delight to host you on our blog!
Follow Mariëlla Erkens:
- Website: www.theesommelier.me
- Facebook: @MariellaErkensTheesommelier
- Instagram: @me.theesommelier
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcbl9tzwJH6KRkvVtMs5Xnw
- Buy Tea, Wine’s Sober Sibling: at Barnes and Noble; Apple Books; Google Books; Amazon.com; Kobo (The book is best read on iPad, tablet or laptop, as the e-reader does not do justice to the photos and pictures in the book).