Tea and food

Preparing for a successful tasting

14 July 2017
Preparing for a successful tasting

The Tea School provides training for Palais des Thés employees to ensure their knowledge and expertise is as good as possible. The school also offers courses for members of the public who want to learn about tea and the best way to drink it, and lastly, it trains food professionals. Recently, these have included teams from the Ritz and Bristol hotels in Paris. In this way, maîtres d’hôtel and sommeliers learn about tea, and many are passionate about the subject. Some have built up their knowledge over a long period, while others are thirsty to learn. This is how we prepare the tasting session – this one took place at the Institut Paul Bocuse a few days ago. There are three tasting sets per participant, to taste three premium teas (Jade Oolong by Mrs Ming, Dong Ding Antique, Pu Erh Menghai XO Milésime 1999). In addition, five teas were infused in cold water and served in stemmed glasses: Ryogôchi Saemidori Shicnha Ichibancha 2017, Kagoshima Benifuki by Mr Kumada, Népal Kanchenjunga Gold Récolte Tardive, Satemwa Dark and Enjin Jukro from Korea. The leaves are examined in little dishes. However, we do not label the teas – I like people to taste them blind and if possible I hide the tea colour, without saying what type of tea it is, so that students can keep their minds clear and not form preconceptions. This is a refined approach to tea. It is about awakening the senses, describing a texture and a flavour, and recognising aromas. My dream is to initiate new people into this vocation so that one day they can become a tea sommelier!

Share on Facebook. Tweet this!

Waiting for the tea tasting to begin

9 June 2017
Waiting for the tea tasting to begin

The preparation for a tasting is a special moment. I watch what my host is doing, each precise movement. The leaves are presented on a base that allows you to see them, then the tea is weighed out to the nearest tenth of a gram, before being steeped for a specific time. Each tea must be brewed in exactly the same conditions. Before tasting the tea, while the liquors cool a little, I like to take a few photos of the room itself, of people going about their activities, their faces, or the landscape. I often make use of windows. The reflections can be unexpected. I take photos through the window, while others look on, puzzled. Here, at the Kanchenjunga Tea Estate, through the grille-covered window, you can see the tea being prepared against a background of mountains and the tea garden.

Share on Facebook. Tweet this!

Tea Sommeliers day

21 April 2017
Tea Sommeliers day

Working together is good; sharing good times is even better. Yesterday was the Tea Sommeliers day, which I devote to the people who have obtained their precious diploma. The aim of the day is to spend a good time together, with tea, food and treats for the senses.

We began by tasting the entire selection of first-flush Darjeelings, which I have just completed, before joining Nathaly from L’Esprit-Cuisine for a meal of food and tea pairings. With Nathaly – a remarkable, positive and passionate teacher – we prepared an onglet of Aubrac beef with crème à l’anguille, flavoured with Bourgeons de Yunnan Premium tea. It was delicious, and we ate it accompanied by the same tea. This followed a fresh herb soup served with a Taiwan Si Ji Chun, and was followed by a delicious streusel, chocolate and black sesame biscuit served with the famous Jukro from South Korea.

In the afternoon we returned to the tasting room, where our tea sommeliers discovered a few rare teas, tasted blind of course, before we all decided together whether they merited being called “premium” teas. Among the curiosities we tasted were a goishicha from Japan, a compressed dark tea from Hunan, little tea balls from Sri Lanka, a tea from the Nainital region of India, and a black tea from Colombia!

 

Share on Facebook. Tweet this!

The “tea pet”, the tea enthusiast’s best friend

17 March 2017
The “tea pet”, the tea enthusiast’s best friend

Pets are wonderful creatures that can show the greatest humanity at times when our fellow humans may be lacking. We find these friends to be so sensitive and loyal that the description of animal does not do them justice.

In China, all tea connoisseurs and enthusiasts who use the Gong Fu Cha to prepare their brew have one or more “tea pets”. The tea pet is a terracotta figurine placed on the tea boat, over which tea is poured from time to time, to share special moments with it. Over the years the figurine acquires a patina through repeated dousing. The tea pet can be an animal or a human figure, as seen here.

A tea pet, or company being, shares your day-to-day life. Like other pets, it is always in an agreeable mood and is good at listening. You know where to find it. It is always there for you, loyal and happy.

Share on Facebook. Tweet this!

A happy combination

23 December 2016
A happy combination

Identifying tea and food pairings is a serious business. By this I mean identifying a tea to accompany a dish so that you create a happy combination for both protagonists. And that’s where it gets difficult. For example, if I pair a Genmaicha with a hazelnut financier, it only works if the tea’s vegetal, toasted notes enhance the cake, and also if, having consumed a morsel of the financier, the Japanese green tea is revealed in a new light, to its advantage. A few weeks ago I spent a solid six hours in the company of chef Michel Lentz, at the Baccarat Crystal Room in Moscow, tasting with him a profusion of bouchées, tartlets, crèmes, madeleines, financiers, meringues, ice creams and sorbets, made by him, accompanied by an equal number of teas, so that together we could find many happy combinations. I would particularly like to mention the crème caramel, with memories of childhood, which we enjoyed with a Dan Cong for the top part, while the liquid at the bottom of the ramekin was the most successful pairing with a Jin Zhen, with warm notes of stewed fruit, wax and honey.

Share on Facebook. Tweet this!

Being present in the moment

4 November 2016
Being present in the moment

Tasting dozens of teas like I do every day of the year requires the ability to be present in the moment. You can’t compare several teas or form an opinion on the aromatic richness of a liquor if you’re rushed, stressed, preoccupied or simply thinking about other things. Tasting involves analysis, and this sensory analysis means you need to be very present. When I’m not in exactly the right state of mind for this task, which can happen to anyone, if there’s noise around me or if I’m distracted by something, if I’m tense or the slightest bit annoyed, I get away from everything. And I take however long I need to look at a beautiful landscape like this one. I focus on the scene before me. I gaze at it until I’m thinking of nothing else. I dive into it in the true sense, until I’m ready, free from all distractions; until I’m present in the moment. Then I can go to my tasting sets and contemplate the flavours and aromas of the teas I drink.

I recommand this focusing exercise before every tasting session.

Share on Facebook. Tweet this!

With Manuela and Nathanaëlle, certified “Tea Sommeliers”

28 October 2016
With Manuela and Nathanaëlle, certified “Tea Sommeliers”

On this blog you follow me on my search for teas and at my tasting sessions, and I thank you. Sometimes I also talk about pairings of teas and food, and I should also tell you about the tastings I’ve enjoyed so much in the company of chefs and tasters of other quality products such as chocolate and oil.

But I have another mission, which is to share knowledge. I’ve learnt everything I know about tea from farmers and planters: every trip, everyone I meet, every tea I taste, throughout the year. I’ve been learning for 30 years and I know just enough to understand that I’ll never have time to completely get to grips with the subject. One lifetime is not enough, not nearly enough, to learn everything there is to know about tea. Since the start of our Palais des Thés story, and quite quickly with the Tea School, sharing knowledge has come to play an important role in our company. Today we’ve passed a very important milestone. With the help of my knowledgeable entourage, I’ve developed a practical and theoretical exam that will recognise, promote and encourage the best tea experts. So far, five people have been awarded this Tea Sommelier certification. Here I am with two of them, Nathanaëlle, our store manager in Marseille, and Manuela, a sales advisor in Paris, both of whom have accompanied me on a trip to Darjeeling. Well done to these two!

Share on Facebook. Tweet this!

“Tea sommelier”, the book

14 October 2016
“Tea sommelier”, the book

I’ve been dreaming about it, and now it’s here. I want to talk about this book, published by Les Éditions du Chêne, which will be in bookshops this week. The project of writing the book, entitled “Tea Sommelier”, has been very important to me for a long time. Prestigious hotels in Europe, America and Asia have been asking me for several years to help them create tea and food pairings. One day a hotel in Hong Kong asked me which tea would go best with caviar; another time a Michelin-starred New York chef had so many questions to ask me, as he was discovering all the ways tea could be used in the kitchen. That’s what has changed: tea is no longer reserved for breakfast, brunch or teatime, it’s now an accepted presence at the table, in the kitchen, even at the bar. Tea is also being prepared at room temperature, and sometimes it’s even served in wine glasses. My friend Mathias and I cover all these topics in great detail in the book, in a serious yet fun way, accompanied by many illustrations. Naturally we also discuss the tea plant and its cultivation, along with the different types of tea and the various ways it can be prepared and consumed. The book is detailed, uplifting, accessible, and can be understood by anyone. We hope you enjoy reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it.

 

Share on Facebook. Tweet this!

Overexposed broken leaves

1 July 2016
Overexposed broken leaves

Sometimes I’m asked to taste some very good teas, before being served others that don’t interest me at all – broken-leaf teas, for example. I taste them unenthusiastically and move on as quickly as possible. If the light is good and the place interesting, I like to play around with my camera while my host finishes the tasting. I experiment with the settings on my EOS5D as a way of commenting on the quality of teas in front of me. I distort the teas I don’t like – I overexpose them, as I’ve done here. I subvert reality, I frame the shots differently; I’m not interested in these overly black liquors, these broken leaves that develop a dreadful astringency and are devoid of any subtlety. I prefer to create something interesting with my toy, while my puzzled host looks on – he’d rather I got on with tasting and took fewer photos.

Share on Facebook. Tweet this!

The desire to share my knowledge

3 June 2016
The desire to share my knowledge

I spend a good deal of my time training people. Between tea tasting sessions, between trips abroad, I invite colleagues or students to join me at my tasting table. For me, it’s important to impart knowledge to my colleagues, and share with them what I’ve been lucky enough to learn on my distant adventures. Tastings are an opportunity for plenty of conversation, about the quality of the teas, and their organoleptic profiles (touch, aromas, flavours). We talk about how the different sensations interact and complement one another. And because I’m lucky enough to spend a lot of time in the places where tea is produced, the discussion moves on to the broader subject of how teas are made, and to the many aspects of the incredible world and culture of tea.

Share on Facebook. Tweet this!