Diary of an Assistant Tea Maker: ‘Tea People Are Great’

In our new “Diary” series, we hear from an assistant tea maker, Solenne Federici, and tag along for her amazing journey as a newbie to the tea industry. (Photo: Courtesy of Jersey Fine Tea)

Editor’s Note: Last fall, World Tea News learned that Jersey Fine Tea – based in Jersey, a British Crown Dependency that forms part of the British Isles – was searching for a new assistant tea maker. No experience was required, and it was billed as an amazing opportunity for someone who was passionate about tea and wanted to enter the industry. As a result, Jersey Fine Tea hired Solenne Federici from the wine industry in France. And now, in this new “Diary” series at World Tea News, we hear from Federici and join her on her amazing journey as a newbie to the tea industry, as an assistant tea maker. Read her story below. Also, if you think you or someone on your team is a fit for our new diary series? Email me. – Aaron Kiel, Editor, World Tea News.

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Diary of Solenne Federici, Assistant Tea Maker, Jersey Fine Tea:

Sept. 1, 2020

I made the decision to quit my job [in the wine trade] and put all my energy into my new passion for tea – a world that I’ve now been exploring for four years.

Oct, 28, 2020

President Emmanuel Macron announced a second national lockdown until at least the end of November. The situation is confused and it’s hard to imagine what the future holds, but the idea of joining a European tea garden never leaves me. Every week now since September, I’ve dedicated many hours to sending out my resume and I dream of setting foot in a tea garden.

Nov. 26, 2020

I had an e-mail interview with the amazing Beverly-Claire Wainwright, tea consultant and founder of the Scottish Tea Factory, and she offered me an internship for July 2021! Joy turned quickly to sadness when I realized that I would have to turn down the offer for personal reasons. Beverly offered to keep me in mind for other opportunities – she has shown me such kindness.

Jan. 11, 2021

Beverly emailed with information on a position as an assistant tea maker at Jersey Fine Tea. I did some preliminary research into the company and the island of Jersey – it seems to be famous for potatoes, Jersey cows and breath-taking landscapes! I applied immediately.

Jan. 15, 2021

I had a virtual interview with Alicia, the project manager and tea maker at Jersey Fine Tea. She's American and seems cool. I like her. It’s hard to express my mixed emotions now of longing, stress and excitement – I really do want this job.

Jan. 29. 2021

I had a third interview with Alicia today and she offered me the job – the sense of relief is immense. The contract officially begins in April and Jersey Fine Tea is providing accommodation at a reduced rate and a car – I feel so incredibly grateful.

But there is so much to do in preparation, and I hardly know where to start. And I'm under no illusion that this is going to be a romantic stroll in the tea fields: The job will be tough. I hope I've got what it takes.

March 14, 2021   

Today, I arrived in Jersey, just two months after first meeting Alicia. I’m so thankful for her help in getting me here – it would have been difficult at the best of times, let alone during an international pandemic.

It was so strange to start this outstanding adventure with a COVID-19 test upon exiting the ferry, and then quarantine. I’ve 10-days isolation to come and two more COVID tests. But my studio flat is nice. I’m staying on the north coast overlooking St Catherine's Bay – it's incredibly beautiful. I can't believe I have a sea view.

First impressions: The roads are tiny, the island's small and everything is tidy. Driving on the left is going to be tricky for me, but I'm more concerned about handling the actual work well.

Photo: Bouley Bay, Jersey (Courtesy of Jersey Fine Tea)

March 24, 2021

D-day and I escaped from quarantine! I am so full of joy and indefinable happiness to commence my tea adventure.

March 25, 2021

Alicia took me on a tour. We saw those pretty Jersey cows (they have huge eyes!), went food shopping and of course visited the tea fields. I've seen the gardens on social media, but they look bigger now that I’m here: Six acres of tea is a lot of land to look after.

This still feels dreamlike – to be safely here on this magical, foreign and mysterious island, a mere handful of kilometers from my homeland.

March 25, 2021

I met the rest of the all-female tea team this evening at a restaurant in St Helier, the main town. We're very international. Alicia's American, Eunice (the marketing manager) is Scottish and Lucyna (the field manager) is Polish. But we all seemed to get along and understand each other! Tea people are great.

March 27, 2021

My first (unofficial) day in the field! We're farming responsibly, and several times a year we practice hand weeding. As Alicia said: "Doing all this work makes the tea taste better." As expected, it is hard work but the ladies chattered and time passed quickly.

Photo: Courtesy of Jersey Fine Tea

March 29, 2021

I got sunburn weeding at Gorey Hill garden – in March, in Jersey! I need to buy sunscreen and after sun. My tan lines make me look like a farmer. Bof. Not feeling my sexiest.

April 4, 2021

Snow is forecast! I need to buy more warm working clothes but I’m not so confident about driving in the main town yet – the roads are so narrow and winding here!

Photo: Tea pre-drying (Courtesy of Jersey Fine Tea)

April 5, 2021

The tea leaves are beginning to flush faster now, and I await with excitement my first steps in tea making.

April 6, 2021

I knelt on a dead rat this morning whilst weeding. Great.

Photo: First Flush, Green, 2021 (Courtesy of Jersey Fine Tea)

April 8, 2021

Today was a very special day for me. The tea plants are only just beginning to flush, but we decided to pick and make an experimental batch of tea.

There is a knack to plucking that I didn’t really master this morning, but I have time.

In the afternoon we made our first batch of wok-fired green tea. There is so much to learn about the amazing transformation of the leaves, and I feel apprehensive about having to do this on my own sometime.

Coming from the wine trade, I’ve always admired wine makers for their wonderful work – a science and art that is both precise and intuitive. The same goes for making tea, and I am a little awed by the work of both Alicia and Lucyna. There are timers and temperatures to be set, but they interpret how the leaves look and feel and smell.

We ended the day by tasting our first hand-rolled tea of the season. Here again there are great similarities between tea and wine: searching for balance, the discovery of sometimes subtle aromas.

Without doubt, making tea is a challenge to be taken up with humility. Being a part of a global tea community that has centuries of history is a true honor.

This road is long, but so full of promise!

To learn more about Jersey Fine Tea, visit JerseyFineTea.com. And watch for more "Diary" series articles at World Tea News.