Thursday brought an expert tea sommelier to our school for a tea tasting. Tea Sommelier?! Yes, I never knew that there was such a thing! Technically, there is no official certification, so I'm not quite sure how one can call herself a Tea Sommelier, but whatever.
We were seated and received two glasses for tasting and one plate of cured salmon, pork, and various cheeses to share with the person sitting next to us.
Cynthia Gold is a Tea Sommelier and was our speaker for the day. She currently is working at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel & Towers. I found her to be extremely knowledgeable and so willing to share her passion for tea. She was a bit unorganized and I could see that it was going to be hard to keep our attention with a subject as engaging as tea. Most of the attendees were culinary students in the restaurant portion of their classes.
Ms. Gold's main purpose was to show us how to use tea in culinary applications. This brought to mind many things I hadn't thought of before. She described how you can grind tea leaves and use it for rubs (like on the pork we received). You can also add it in powdered form to baked goods. It can be infused into any sort of liquid as well. I can see myself using it in heavy cream for tea-flavored whipped creams and in truffles. Could be good!
We got to sample a few teas that she steeped for us. One was Chinese Dragonwell Green Tea also called Lung Ching I think. She wanted us to taste it and have it with the gruyere cheese. Previous to this lecture, I would never have dreamed of pairing tea with cheese! The tea was very clean and grassy tasting and went very well with the cheese, amazing!
We also tried a Darjeeling tea, grown in the mountainous regions of Northern India. We tried it with triple creme cheese (very rich) but I did not like the flavor of the tea. The third tea we tried was Lapsang Souchong. The best way I can describe it is that it tasted like I was drinking a BBQ! It was smoky and we tasted it with bleu cheese. Very interesting.
Ms. Gold introduced us to Tea Cocktails as well. I had never heard of these before and found the concept very unique. As mentioned before, tea can be steeped in any medium. Ms. Gold showed us how to steep tea and various ingredients in separate bags to control the amount of flavor for each ingredient. She made us two blends of tea cocktails:
-White port, black tea, lychee and ginger.
-White port, black tea, lavender, and rose petals.
It was interesting but I'm not sure I'd be able to drink a whole serving. Maybe it was the port, maybe it was the flavors. But I would like to try other combinations to see what is possible!
She gave a few pointers for organizing pairing:
-Why are you pairing?
-How can you better the taste? Bring out something interesting and subtle.
-Add contrast between two different textures. Use astringency to cut richness and cleanse the palate while eating.
-Pair by regionality.
I thought the whole presentation was great. She was rushed for time and a lot of students left halfway through. My friend Ian and I stayed all the way through to the end, and then stuck around afterwards to ask her some questions. Out of the 100+ students that were there, only he and I and another girl showed enough interest to request more information. Ms. Gold told us that having a good tea background can add something to our skill set when applying for a job. It will be another thing that can make us more valuable to our employers. Good point!
Ms. Gold shared with us an "aged" tea - I never knew there was such a thing! Here is a picture - aged 12 years! I can't remember what kind of tea it was, but it tasted very earthy.
She gave us a packet about tea that was twenty-five pages long! It was chock-full of valuable information. I got her contact information and she said she'd be interested in "talking tea" anytime through e-mail! I also got a few recommendations about good books. Sometimes I forget that in the past, I worked for a tea company. I wish that at the time, I would have taken more initiative in tasting the teas and asking questions. Good thing I am still in regular contact with my boss :) and we are great friends!
When I was younger, my mom and I used to have tea sometimes. I know my mom really liked tea and wanted to spend time with me. I could only stand the tea with lots of sugar and I very much enjoyed the snacks! Tea snacks are the best :) Since then, my tea tastes have changed a lot. I am a lot more adventurous in what I will try. If the tea is fruity enough (passion tea!) I can have it straight with no sugar. When I lived in New Orleans, I even started to get into iced tea. I especially appreciate a good tea time with sandwiches these days.
Tea is something that is very versatile and I am so glad I attended this presentation. It really opened my eyes to the possibility of cooking with tea. I'm looking forward to experimenting with it in the future!