Sebastian Michaelis: The Tata employee with the Rs 9-crore tongue

Last Updated: Fri, Mar 30, 2018 10:43 hrs
Sebastian Michaelis - Tetley's tea blender (Image Courtesy: Tata and Tetley's)

Sebastian Michaelis, 34, is a philosophy graduate who passed out of UK's Sussex University in 2004.

His is an interesting name because there was a Frenchman named Sebastian Michaelis, who wrote a classification of demons in early 17th century.

Then there is the anti-hero by the same name in the manga (Japanese comics) series Kuroshitsuji (Black Butler).

But Michaelis sure doesn't need to hang on to their coattails. He is a name by himself.

A journey that began with him chancing upon an ad that read Do you like tea? Do you like to travel? Have you got a university degree? has led him to a position where his employers Tata have valued his tongue at 1 million pounds (a little over Rs 9 crore) - since 2014.

While there have been celebrity body parts (Cristiano Ronaldo's legs, for instance) that have been valued higher, Michaelis' is the costliest tongue to have been insured.

For good reason too. At Tetley, United Kingdom's famed tea brand now owned by the Tatas, Michaelis, in a 14-year-long career, has sat on judgement on over 250000 blends of tea.

Getting to this position has been hard work for the one-time wannabe philosopher.

To be become one of the ten tea blenders at Tetley requires at least five years of training, tasting between 500 to 1000 teas every day!

"Physically, it's very demanding, but mentally it's even more challenging,” he told Fast Company in 2016. "You are learning how to use your sense of taste in much more refined way. It's like learning to walk again."

Michaelis also spent time - nine years in all - touring the Tata tea gardens spread across India, Africa and elsewhere.

He had to master Uhuru ("freedom" in Swahili) too - the in-house Tetley tasting language used for grading teas - like all other Tetley tea blenders.

The now master tea taster was quoted by the Tata website as explaining his job thus: "Blending tea, like blending whisky or champagne, is a fine art. First I examine and grade the colour, size and density of the leaf. Then I assess the brew's purity of colour (its sparkle), the weight of the tea in the mouth (its body) and the overall liveliness of the tea on the palate (its zing). This is how we ensure each Tetley blend is made to deliver the same quality taste, cup after cup."

So, what does Michaelis find amazing about tea, sipping which has made him world famous?

Quite simply, the fact "that it all comes from one plant, camellia sinensis, which will taste completely different depending on how it is produced."

There is zing in that thought.

P.S: If Sebastian Michaelis' million-pound nose interested, you might also love the story of cheese taster Nigel Pooley's 5-million-pound (Rs 45 crore) nose:

Also Read:

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Jamsetji Tata - The man who saw tomorrow

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