Part of my job is to introduce the incredible variety of flavours among teas to current and future chefs. This is the flipside of my work out in the fields with the farmers. On the one hand I select premium teas; on the other, I help chefs understand how to use them. There are teas of different colours, different origins and also of different varieties. These differences create the range and variety in the gastronomic qualities of tea. You have to taste them to understand, which is what I’m doing here with Bryan Esposito, pastry chef at the Collectionneur Hotel in Paris and former pastry chef at the Westminster Hotel. Introducing someone to the great range in the flavours of teas also means explaining the best way to obtain the liquor for the intended use. The amount of tea used, and the time and method of infusion, will differ depending on whether you want a liquor to be consumed as it is or used in a recipe. It is interesting to experiment with different aspects of the infusion method, including cold infusion, which opens the way to many uses in the kitchen. It goes without saying that I’m looking forward to tasting Bryan’s new creations!
This week I had the immense pleasure of tasting a fine selection of premium teas with Anne-Sophie Pic and her team of sommeliers. Anne-Sophie is such a kind and considerate person and treated me like royalty in Valence. She is eager to learn and so generous with her time, especially considering she’s the only French woman to hold three Michelin stars. She listens attentively and asks plenty of questions. Together, we tasted teas infused, both hot and cold. Our tastings took us to Darjeeling and Japan via Nepal, South Korea, Viêt Nam and even Africa. We talked about ways to use tea in cooking, and possible pairings between teas and dishes. It was incredible to contribute, however modestly, to her inspiration! And what a treat to share an unforgettable meal with her afterwards, an explosion of textures, flavours and aromas. Thank you Anne-Sophie.
The use of an aroma cup offers a unique tasting experience. It allows you to focus on olfaction – the smell. As soon as it has been filled, the aroma cup is emptied into the tasting cup. The former retains the tea’s aromas thanks to its tall, narrow shape. You lift it to your nostrils and try to distinguish each note left by the liquor. A few minutes later, you taste the tea itself, by which time it will be at the perfect temperature.
It’s no mean feat to obtain a Tea Sommelier diploma. First, the candidate must answer 24 open questions in just an hour. Then they must prepare, in front of three examiners, a tasting of six teas from among 22. The leaves placed in front of the applicant have no written indication of their type, colour or origin. Then they must perform a task chosen at random: prepare a matcha tea correctly, serve tea in a kyusu, or serve a pu erh using the gong fu method. That’s what this esteemed exam consists of, meaning that those who obtain the diploma are true experts! Here, I’m meeting some of them, with my assistant watching on. Bénédicte has infused a few premium teas, which we are discussing.
There are endless ways to use tea in cooking. For example, why not sprinkle it over food like a spice? Here, the aromatic, toasted, delicately woody and fruity notes of Jejudo Grand Oolong Impérial bring an exotic touch and a hint of crunch to this delicious burrata cheese. Sprinkle the tea over it and leave it in some green olive oil in the fridge for a couple of days. Enjoy it the Italian way: not too cold, as you sometimes see it served, but at a temperature of 20° to 22°C. To accompany it, infuse the same Korean tea in water at room temperature for 30 minutes and serve in small glasses such as vodka glasses.
My first trip to Malawi was just over three years ago. Until then, nobody had sold tea from that country in France, and I’m delighted to have found some very good teas there, which have been well received among tea enthusiasts. In a few days’ time I will be back in the far south of this magnificent country to see teas being made, including a dark tea and a smoked tea, and to taste them with Alex and his team. I will take some teas from other countries with me, which is something else I like to do in my work: encourage producers’ curiosity by getting them to try teas made by other people, not so they can copy them, but to inspire them and to connect them, through the tasting, with other farmers who have equally precious expertise.
The Japanese city of Fukuoka may not get many Western tourists, but if you go there and you like new gastronomical experiences, you should go to Yorozu. You need to book in advance, you need to speak Japanese, or go with someone who speaks the language, it’s essential, and you need a couple of hours free. Then, let yourself be guided, and Suguru Tokubuchi will introduce you to pairings of food with tea and various alcohols, dishes prepared in front of you in an intimate setting, which makes every sip even more precious, every mouthful chosen to accompany one of the cocktails. It’s a unique experience.
Named “Meilleur Sommelier de France” (“Best Sommelier of France”), Manuel Peyrondet is also interested in tea. He came to taste some premium teas with me, prepared at room temperature, meaning they were steeped for exactly an hour in water at 20°C. We talked about tea and food pairings, accompanied by Vanessa Zochetti, who was interviewing us for the next issue of Bruits de Palais. Tasting tea with a sommelier, especially Manuel, who used to be a sommelier at the Hotel George V, as well as the head sommelier at Taillevent, then at the Royal-Monceau, is a unique experience. In the world of fine food and drink, we often live in our bubble, focusing on our specialist product: wine for Manuel, tea for me. It’s really strange to move outside this world, to focus on how we respond to different textures, aromas and flavours. It leads to particularly enriching discussions.
And for those who don’t just drink tea, Manuel runs a wine club, which is an excellent way to build up a collection and attend tastings: www.chaisdoeuvre.com
(photo: Emmanuel Fradin)
It’s true that preparing tea consists simply of placing tea leaves in contact with water, an encounter that produces a delicate, fragrant drink. The process can be more or less straightforward, more or less delicate. In China, in the space of barely 20 years, preparing tea using the gong fu method, which must be done slowly and with self-control, has become incredibly popular. It is often young women who perform the task. They are always elegant, and every movement is precise. You watch in admiration as their agile fingers trace beautiful flowing arcs in the air before depositing a few drops of the precious nectar in your tiny cup.
When we taste tea, we pay attention to the leaves at every stage. Of course we are interested in the liquor, which we drink, and we also examine the dried leaves: are they whole or broken? Do they contain buds? What colour are the leaves? Are they all similar? Lastly, the infused leaves can tell us a great deal. We smell them, and press them, as Nirananda Acharya is doing here. Often, the smell of the wet leaves can tell us as much about the tea as drinking the liquor itself. The wet leaves inform us about every stage of the processing. We can pick up on the slightest defect, or on the contrary, we can revel in the wonderful bouquet.