| You have probably drunk more than one cup of coffee today already. The average Korean’s coffee consumption rate is 338 cups (standard for adults per year) and Korea’s daily consumption amount is 300 tons. To make it easier to understand, it means 37,000,000 espresso cups. We drink coffee just to chat with our friends at a café, but do you really enjoy a peaceful life while drinking a cup of coffee? You won’t be able to say “Yes” easily because caffeine gets you excited and sugar increases your blood pressure.
Here is a man who found the solutions to this problem with tea. His name is Jung seung-ho and he is the first Korean Tea Sommelier and a Korea Tea Sommelier Institute representative who has received systematic education. He gave up his high annual salary and stable job at a global IT managing Consultant Company after finding potential in the tea industry. He studied tea for 10 years by traveling around the world and now he is working in the field to promote tea. He spreads the culture of tea as a representative of the Korea Tea Sommelier Institute. His life motto is ‘Look out for your life in 10 years, not just now.’ Let’s listen to his story about life and tea.
| < Interview with Jung Seung Ho >
1. Hello. I want to say thank you for accepting this interview. First of all, I am curious why you switched your profession from a management-consultant to tea expert. When you gave up your stable position, weren’t you hesitant about your decision and weren’t there people in your life that were against it?
Before entering into the ‘Tea field’, I was working at a global IT managing consultant company as the head of the department after graduating as a management major. But one day, I felt skeptical about my life and working for others. At that time, I thought to myself that ‘I should find a job that I can enjoy’ and that’s when I came across the tea market. At that time, my colleagues questioned my decision and I too was also worried, but now I think it was the best choice I had ever made.
2. What garnered your attention in the tea field? Please tell us your story. Also, it is not easy to make an important decision so quickly, what did you see in the tea market that others couldn’t?
When I was a salaried-man, the coffee-market was on a quick rise and I was anticipating that this industry would hit the jackpot. However, at that time I also predicted what the coffee market would be like in 10 years. I thought, ‘Certainly there will be a timing of decrease after a spectacular spurt, during which the industry would then reduce’ After thinking for a while, I found salaried-men who weren’t drinking coffee at cafés. The rate was about 30 percent. I asked them ‘Why don’t you drink coffee?’ And the answer was that they already had too much coffee so they didn’t want more. During this period I was thinking what the alternative could be, and that’s when tea flashed through my mind. So, I found the potential in the tea-industry and I was sure that it would be a success.
3. I heard you drank more 1000 different types of tea up to now. Were there any teas that you felt tasted strange or have a fond memory of?
The tea that I thought strange was a Chinese tea called Rap-Sang-So-Chong. It is called ‘jung-san-so-chun’ in Korea. It has a burning scent but since it was a very famous tea in China I thought I would give it a try. But after I tasted the tea, it remains a very unpleasant experience. At that time, I thought ‘This tastes awful!’ and ‘Why would Chinese people drink this tea?’ but after knowing the tea’s meaning, when I drank the tea again, the awful taste became an acquired taste. The most memorable tea I drank was a tea I drank in a hotel in Sri- Lanka’s tea garden and in India. I can’t ever forget the tea’s taste with the fragrance from the tea garden.
4. What do you think is the special attraction for tea?
Actually, tea has a very large and deep territory. Ten years ago, Koreans knew only two types of wine, which were red wine and white wine. But now various types of wines are being displayed at wine-specialty stores. The scope of Korean thinking has expanded a lot, hasn’t it? At this time, you can notice that the tea industry isn’t just made up of green tea and red tea. The history of tea is over 5000 years old, and in that history exists culture, health, and even philosophy. Also above all, it is a hot item that is related with ‘Healing Code’ that is a topic all around the world. I’ve never seen anyone fighting over a cup of tea. A cup of tea is placed between generations and human relationships; this is form of communication.
5. People today have a lot of stress and suffer from depression. What are the medical effects of tea that help treat these problems?
First, tea is considered a medicine in classic literature. Natural medicine doctors are on the rise and they are connected to natural extracts and medical cures. Though I can’t say that tea is a panacea, it does cure. Tea has a calming effect and people say that they feel relaxed and calmed when they consume tea. Thinking of such aspects, it is possible to cure contemporary people’s mental illnesses and problems.
6. In order to recommend tea to customers, it seems that a tea sommelier should know the customer’s character and taste in a short time. Is there a special method of apprehending one’s taste?
Recommending tea usually differs and depends on the situation. Also, the tea sommelier’s experience is another deciding factor. Tea sommeliers should recognize that customers are not people with much tea experience and their tastes are all different. By having a wide knowledge of teas we can help recommend teas to customers.
7. Before becoming an educator, was there a memorable customer you met while working as a tea sommelier?
One customer remains in my memory. He was a person who was working in a high management position, and he drank a lot of coffee. To relieve his stress and stay awake, he drank more than 10 cups a day. I recommended that he drink red tea and herb tea and from that moment on, he switched from coffee to tea. A few months later, I met him again and his face that was once filled with fatigue and stress looked better. It was because of tea’s calming effect and he said to me, “I don’t’ drink coffee anymore, I always drink a cup of tea.”
8. What is your goal and dream?
I think the driving force that led the coffee industry to grow was not because of ‘Starbucks’ or ‘Caffe Bene’, but because of coffee Baristas. So, I decided to establish the ‘Korea tea Sommelier Institute’ to help the growth of the tea industry. Through this institute, I hope to nurture many tea specialists to widen Korea’s tea industry. My other goal is to systematize the education and set our system to a global standard. My dream is to establish a school to help produce tea-specialists. I hope that this school can become a driving force to lead the tea industry into a bright future.
9. Do you have any comments to university students and also others who are trying to find new career paths?
I studied management when I was in college, but at the time I didn’t study just to make a good living, but to do something only I could accomplish. However, after being employed I found myself going in the complete opposite direction. When I came to my senses, that’s when I discovered the potential in the tea industry. Life is not a 100 meter dash, it’s a marathon. Though the present is important, it is not the most important moment in our life. We have to look at everything in the long run because our future and dreams are more important than one’s annual income.
At the Korea Tea Sommelier Institute I saw the most impressive scene, the various types of teas and tea pots. During the interview, I was given herb tea and I could really appreciate the tea. Though I knew that there were various types of teas, I didn’t know how vast the tea’s types were. Tea was mentioned as a ‘healing code’ and not just a beverage that substituted coffee. I felt like I was listening to a lecture rather than doing an interview. I could feel his passion and wide knowledge in tea. His most memorable message to me was, “Look ahead 10 years.” Through his life, I learned what his dreams were. It was an eye opening experience and gave me a lot to think about my future goals and dreams. He is currently working hard to help develop tea-specialists and spread the knowledge of tea-cultures. I think his driving force is based on his passion. If you want to escape your daily life and have some quality time to relax and think, then I recommend you have a warm cup of tea and think about your future. I hope we can all find our own way into happiness, just like Jung Seung-Ho did.< Copyright © The Gachon Herald All rights reserved >