Q&A: Sebastian Michaelis, Director of Tea Buying & Blending, Tata Consumer Products Ltd.

Sebastian Michaelis, director of tea buying and blending at Tata Consumer Products Ltd., will present at the upcoming World Tea Virtual Summit, Oct. 12-14, 2020. Photo: Courtesy of Tata Consumer Products Ltd. / Sebastian Michaelis.

By Aaron Kiel, World Tea News

Sebastian Michaelis, “The Man with the Million Pounds Taste Buds” and the director of tea buying and blending at Tata Consumer Products Ltd. (formerly Tata Global Beverages), will present at Questex’s World Tea Virtual Summit: What Now?, taking place Oct. 12-14, 2020.

Michaelis will keynote the upcoming summit, which will feature insightful educational sessions, a New Product Showcase, The Best of Tea Awards, a virtual happy hour and opportunities to connect with the industry.

Michaelis started his career at Tata more than 15 years ago. During that time, he has managed the tea sourcing of all major tea origins for the group. He also oversaw the company's ethical sourcing program, supporting producers on their journey towards Rainforest Alliance certification.

As an experienced tea taster, Michaelis has represented the Tetley brand (a subsidiary of Tata Consumer Products Ltd.) with multiple TV and radio appearances, following the company’s decision to insure his taste-buds for one million pounds.

World Tea News chats with Michaelis about tea and the pandemic and the upcoming World Tea Virtual Summit.

Question: In these challenging times, what’s your best advice or words of encouragement for the global tea industry?

Answer: In the U.K., our office has received many heart-warming messages of thanks from people working on the front line and those who were isolated at home alone and received tea we supplied in support of the relief effort. As an industry, we may not be saving lives, but we can bring a small moment of relief and respite to those that do. Tea is the second most popular beverage in the world after water, and it impacts literally billions of people, so we should take solace that our industry reaches and helps so many.

Question: How important is it for the tea industry to come together now as a community?

Answer: There are millions of people involved in the cultivation of tea who are living in regions with limited health and economic support to weather this crisis. It is our duty as an industry to work together to help those most in need. This may be easier said than done, especially with lockdown measures in place globally, however, as a minimum, it’s important to keep buying tea, if you are able, to ensure farmers continue to receive an income.

Sebastian Michaelis - Photo: Courtesy of Tata Consumer Products Ltd. / Sebastian Michaelis.

Question: What issues and topics should the specialty tea industry be focused on together as we move forward in the coming year?

Answer: It feels like we are still in the eye of the storm, and it’s still difficult to see what the world will look like in the coming months and years ahead. China, Sri Lanka, Nilgiri, Assam and Darjeeling have all been impacted to different extents, however, production has restarted in all these regions – albeit at a reduced level to limit the risk to people. The hope is that not too much tea will be lost and quality will return quickly. I think it is important to be honest and open with consumers about these challenges, if it impacts your business.

Question: What message should the tea industry be sharing with tea buyers?

Answer: We are all still adapting to this new world of uncertainty, so we should focus on returning to normality where possible and keep buying tea to support everyone in the supply chain. There will be – and already have been – many challenges to sourcing tea in the short term, but I have been immensely impressed how resilient the industry has been to this crisis.

Question: Thanks for your time. What are you looking forward to the most at the upcoming World Tea Virtual Summit in October?

Answer: First of all, I am hoping and looking forward to connecting with colleagues from across the world. Despite its global nature, tea is very much a people business and it runs on relationships between people who love the product. It’s a brilliant opportunity to meet people from across the industry and see what exciting new products and brands are coming to the market, and discuss key issues.

Hear more from Sebastian Michaelis at the World Tea Virtual Summit, Oct. 12-14, 2020. Registration and the full conference program will be available in early September at WorldTeaExpo.com/VirtualSummit.