Interview with Shabnam Weber, Director of Academy of Tea

The Academy of Tea is the only English provider of our TEA SOMMELIER® Certification Program. Since the program was launched online a few years ago, it has expanded from ten students in Canada to hundreds spread across the country and internationally.

We had a chance to sit down and share a pot of tea with the Director of the Academy of Tea, Shabnam Weber to get to learn a little more about her and the online program. Shabnam is also the author of our TEA SOMMELIER® Certification ProgramShabnam_India
What is your favourite part about teaching this program?

I wrote the program nearly a decade ago and handed it over to THAC with a lot of love and dedication to the material.  Being able to teach that material, myself, to students across the globe, and have them connect with it is more gratifying than I could possibly express.  I feel fed by the energy my students bring to each module and am thrilled to see tea for the first time through their eyes.  You just can’t beat that.

Tea Cupping for TEA 106 Menu Design, Food Pairing and Cooking

Tea cupping from TEA 107: Menu Design, Food Pairing & Cookingtion

What is your favourite memory with tea?

Every visit I have to origin (producing country) is a truly special memory. Tea would exist without every executive in every major corporation of every major or minor tea company.  It would exist without me and you.  But none of this would be possible without the tea pluckers in the fields and the workers in the factories, producing our teas.  Visiting origin is a sobering reminder of what is real.

Louise and Shabnam with two women smallholders in Blantyre, Malawi

Shabnam and Louise with two tea smallholders in Malawi (2016)

Castleton Tea Estate (Goodricke)_2

Castleton Tea Estate Factory, India (2015)

Have you always been in the tea industry?

I have not.  I have lived several lives in different fields before I entered the world of tea…17 years ago!

The Academy of Tea’s program is completely online, but are there any live components where students get to interact with you?

Each module has a live tutorial – one for TEA101 and two each for TEA102-108.  They are held at two different time slots during the day.  I highly recommend you attend the tutorial as it is your opportunity to have me live for 30 minutes to ask questions. Also, the final presentation for each module is done live with me over Skype.  I also find the human interaction an important one, as e-learning can be a very cold experience sometimes.

How long does it take for a student to complete the certification online?

Once you have completed TEA 101, you may take a maximum of two classes at a time.  Keep in mind that we recommend spending a minimum of 3 hours per week per course. The Academy of Tea offers four modules every 7 weeks, so our students are never waiting for ‘availability’ to complete the program.  We don’t have the same constraints as colleges do, so we’re very accommodating in that sense.  We never cancel classes, so I would say that most of our students are able to complete all modules within a year.

Who are your students? Are they coming from a particular industry?

I have students from truly all walks of life and across the globe.  Some are taking the program out of pure interest and love of tea.  Others are in the tea industry and range from being independent shop owners to medium sized chains to working for large international conglomerates.

Any tips for students taking the course?

Plan your time well if you intend on taking more than one module at a time. You have to remember that the final evaluation (blind cupping, written exam and oral presentation) for each module will be held on the same day.  More than anything though…enjoy the process.  All learning is a lifelong journey.  It shouldn’t be any different for tea.  This is part of the tea journey.
What is different about the program online as opposed to in person?

All of the course material is the same. You will be doing the same reading and cuppings in both the in-person classes and online classes the only difference is the delivery method.  Because we don’t have the same constraints as colleges do, we have never cancelled a class.  That means that students are able to finish all modules in a very fluid way.

To register in the next TEA SOMMELIER® class with the Academy of Tea visit

Upcoming Classes:

TEA 101: Introduction to Tea

  • September 4-September 25

TEA 101: Introduction to Tea

  • October 2-October 23

TEA 102: Regions of the World

  • August 21-September 25

TEA 102: Regions of the World

  • September 11-October 16

TEA 105: From Bush to Cup

  • August 21- September 25

TEA 106: Preparation, Consumption & Health

  • August 21- September 25

TEA 108: The Business of Tea

  • August 21- September 25



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