Gradually, tea is coming out of its teapot: more and more chefs are using it as an ingredient in their cooking. First there was baking with matcha; now tea is making itself more at home in the kitchen as a flavouring for savoury dishes.
Tea is also served as an accompaniment to food, like here at Yam’Tcha, in Paris, where a pu erh is paired with a chicken dish, poularde de Bresse.
For those of you who are getting your first taste of a first flush Darjeeling, I’d like to remind you that these are rare and fragile teas that need to be prepared with care. The infusion time, for example, should not exceed three minutes and 45 seconds. A fine tea is all about harmony. We look for a balance between the textures, flavours and aromas. With first flush Darjeelings, the best way to find this harmony is to keep the infusion time to between 3’30 and 3’45.
At the moment I’m tasting between 50 and 100 different teas a day.
I try them in series of about 10 or 12. When you taste so many teas at the same time, you spit them out, for obvious reasons. Most importantly, you taste each tea twice, and in a different order, so you’re not influenced by the qualities or flaws of the previous tea.
This is because when you taste several batches in a row, you have a tendency to pick out what is different about them rather than their similarities, and if I didn’t taste each one twice, I could miss out on some wonderful teas.
There are different grades of rooibos, but not much difference between them. However, the “long cut” offers the most interesting experience in terms of fine flavours and powerful aromas. It is the most harmonious. It is the only grade I have bought for years.
An amusing detail: for rooibos tastings in South Africa, the cups are lit from beneath in order to judge the clarity of the liquor.
In some countries, people don’t just drink tea, they eat it.
Like here, in Burma, where they ferment tea leaves in bamboo tubes before serving them drizzled with sesame oil. This dish is served as part of a meal, but it can also be offered at the end of some family and religious ceremonies.
I hear that there is much talk of marriage at the moment in France, and the opportunity has arisen for me to tell you what I think of it.
If there is one marriage I cannot recommend, it is tea with a slice of lemon. The effect of the acidity alters the tannins and the aromas, and the result is not particularly harmonious.
On the other hand, if we look at practices around the world, tea is open to many marriages: with mint leaves in Morocco, cardamom pods in Afghanistan, rancid yak butter in Tibet, jasmine flowers in China, a drop of milk in Britain, and with a little of all the spices in India.
Vive la différence – and vive l’harmonie!
Every day, I have the pleasure of tasting very different teas. But the technique is always the same, and in each tasting session my senses are alive to the experience. I pay as much attention to the tea’s colour, smell and texture as to its flavours.
Here, I’m tasting three different cooking matchas in order to choose the best one. This powdered green tea from Japan can be used to flavour your cakes, sorbets and other dishes. Even a Christmas log, why not?
When you make yourself a cup of tea, you naturally don’t need to measure out the leaves to the nearest milligram.
It’s not the same for me. At each comparative tasting the tea must be weighed with the utmost precision, otherwise I can’t assess each liquor properly.
Tea tasting requires nothing more than a table, fresh water brought to the correct temperature, an attentive assistant and good light.
A peaceful place like this one helps you concentrate on the essentials: the tea’s aromas and flavours.
All along the roadsides in India there are many stalls serving delicious spiced tea. The flavour varies according to the mood of the person preparing it and the clientele’s preferences.
Here, near Jammu (India), I’m about to taste the local brew. I’m particularly looking forward to it as I don’t often come to Kashmir. I can’t wait to discover the flavour they give their chai around here.