A tea lover with an entrepreneurial spirit, Matt Chong took his passion and turned it into his career.
Tea is the number one most consumed beverage after water in the world. It’s also a passion Matt Chong has had for as long as he can remember. Being a lover of tea his entire life, Matt decided to take his passion for tea and turn it into a business. As a Tea Sommelier and owner of his own company, Chong Tea Co., Matt is immersed in the world of tea and the experience each cup gives you.
We had a chance to sit down with Matt Chong to talk entrepreneurship and all of the things that come with being a tea sommelier.
What exactly does it mean to be a tea sommelier?
Being a tea sommelier is very similar to being a wine sommelier. What I specialize in is understanding how tea is grown where it comes from and the whole process of how it’s produced from the raw leaf all the way to the different products tea creates. This includes white tea, green tea, black tea, oolong and all the different iterations from there. The real speciality of a tea sommelier is on the chemistry and biology side, but also on the sensory side. What teas taste good, how they should be paired with food and ultimately, what is the best tea for various situations.
How did you get into the tea business?
I’ve always valued entrepreneurship and I realized that in Toronto, there seemed to be a gap for specialized tea. When I first moved here, I couldn’t find the tea I was looking for, which was a specific kind of Chinese tea. Brands like David’s Tea do a great job on the mass side but I really wanted to specialize in this one type of tea that has many flavours similar to scotch or wine called pu-erh tea.
What brought you to become a tea sommelier?
I have always had a love for tea and started studying tea in a serious way a few years ago when I started my own tea business. I attended my first World of Tea Expo in Las Vegas where I met with other tea sommeliers and I realized you could actually become a tea sommelier. That said, as I was starting the business, it was really easy for me to create a website, get a Shopify account and figure out what I wanted to sell but the challenging part is why people should buy from me? I felt that becoming a tea sommelier would give me that legitimacy to inform people of what teas they should be buying. It was really a value add decision for my business.
Why do you love what you do?
I love history and eastern philosophy. Tea has been a way to honour both of those things, but also to enjoy a product that has pretty much been made for thousands of years even though humanity has evolved and changed.
How does this career feed your overall life goals?
A lot of people in other countries, like in China, have studied tea their entire lives and never mastered it, so for me, the reason why I like studying tea is that I actually feel like you learn a lot about yourself. I am interested in using my passion for tea to travel and to be an entrepreneur. I’ve always wanted to be my own boss and this is a way to do that.
What kind of person or personality is suited for being a tea sommelier?
You definitely need to be meticulous. For example, to pass my tea exams for various courses, I had to be able to memorize knowledge, present it to people, but also taste a tea and identify where it came from and how it was processed. You have to be a pretty detail oriented person but also have the passion. Anyone can get the certification to become a tea sommelier but I think the first step is really having a passion for tea and a curiosity for how tea is made. Start there and then look into formal education.
Three tips for being successful as a tea sommelier?
#1 Figure out how water tastes. That sounds like a funny thing to say but you need to understand how water tastes before you can understand how it reacts with tea. Know your palette.
#2 Be able to communicate complex ideas. You have to be able to talk to people about tea and to translate complex knowledge to be easily understood.
#3 You need patience and tenacity. You are tasting a lot of cups of tea, sometimes 50 cups of black tea, suddenly they all start to taste the same. Getting the subtle nuances of the tea is important but it takes time.
Visit Chong Tea Co. for upcoming events and tea tastings around Toronto, as well as to purchase tea products (coming early November). You can also connect with Chong on Instagram where he shares tea moments, reviews and tips and tricks. With a lifetime passion and an entrepreneur mindset, we can’t wait to see how Matt Chong changes the tea game. How he starts each day? You guessed it, with a cup of tea.