"Fuel your body...Delight your senses"
Stephanie Brina-Herres, MS, RD, CDN
Stephanie is an American Heart Association award winning Registered Dietitian (RD) and NY State credentialed Certified Dietitian-Nutritionist (CDN).
With solid expertise built over more than three decades of practice and spanning six states, Stephanie's background includes being a seasoned clinician, consultant, educator (including full-time professor), presenter, author, researcher, program coordinator, consumer scientist (including recipe developer), advocate, counselor, coach, and mentor.
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(image 177225 High Tea courtesy of picgifs.com)
Many people have heard of wine sommeliers as the trend to drink wine has increased in so many segments of society the world around, but did you know that there are also a group of people known as tea sommeliers? The group of individuals who qualify as tea sommeliers is much more rarified than those who qualify as wine sommeliers. We only recently learned about the specialty of a tea sommelier and wanted to share a little of what we found out.
We started our journey to learn more about tea after seeing an interesting infographic about tea. We found out that there are optimal temperatures for brewing tea and that not all teas are thus brewed at the same temperature.
That infographic (combined with some other reading) informed us that, for example, water temperatures for brewing teas could easily range from on average around 175° F for White and Green Teas (more specifically 65 -70 °C for a White Tea, to some 75-80°C for a Green Tea); then 80-85° C for a Oolong Tea, and climb up to 99°C for a Black tea.
Curiously, the reported caffeine content in that infographic for those same teas noted that both White and Green Tea have similar levels (32-37 mg/cup and 24-39 mg/cup respectively), while Oolong Tea came in at 29-53 mg/cup, but Black Tea was listed as having 64-112 mg/cup.
The infographic goes on to mention annual per capita consumption of tea around select parts of the world listing Turkey as having an even higher per capita consumption than the United Kingdom, and also mentioned about typical customs associated with tea, such as tea being served with salt and butter, for example, in Tibet.
Unlike many other food category items, teas, spices, and herbs often don’t require a nutrition facts label (if there are no significant nutrients to list and no nutrient claim is being made, then there is no requirement for a nutrition label for such products).
Next, it was on to learn more about the concept of the tea sommeliers. Experts in blending teas and pairing them with food items, tea sommeliers have a broad familiarity with the nuances of not only blending and steeping various varieties of teas, but also of combining them/pairing them with herbs, fruits, etc. Tea sommeliers know more than just the finer points of cooking with teas as well, they also know how to prepare both non-alcoholic and alcoholic cocktails with tea infusions no less! Some tea sommeliers might also be chefs, but that is not a requirement.
Such a collection of expertise is been presented in a book released back in 2010 and aptly named “Culinary Tea: More Than 150 Recipes Steeped in Tradition from Around the World” written by a Tea Sommelier here in the USA by the name of Cynthia Gold, in collaboration with Lisë Stern, a freelance food writer-editor also based in MA.
Cynthia is the Tea Sommelier based out of the Swan’s Café at The Boston Park Plaza Hotel and Towers in Boston, MA. Her book is divided into two main sections, one providing background information, and the other providing a wide range of recipes from her repertoire from the aforementioned tea infused cocktails through appetizers, soups, side dishes, entrees on finally to desserts.
At the Boston Park Plaza Hotel at Christmas time, there is an annual offering of what is fondly called the Park Plaza Tea-Nog. You can read more about the ingredients for it in an article published in the Arlington Advocate and we learned it is part of a wonderful “Afternoon Tea” program that actually runs year round, but focuses on more winter holiday theme offerings for the Christmas Season with a nod to the special seasonal Tea Nog.
The article goes on to quote Cynthia Gold as saying “We greet guests of legal age with a white port infused with tea and flower petals, except in December, when our Plaza Tea-Nog is served. The first course is a fresh-baked scone with imported Devonshire cream and preserves; the second course, pastries, confections, tea breads and tea sandwiches; and the third course, tea-infused crème brulee. The meal comes with unlimited tea, so guests can enjoy different kinds with their food.”
As a tea sommelier, Cynthia Gold creates special tea blends only for the Boston Park Plaza Hotel and it is reported that the hotel ships the tea blends all over the world. The article further quotes her as saying “All tea comes from the same plant,” she said. “The different styles come from how the leaves are processed. If the leaves aren’t oxidized, it’s either a white or a green tea; fully oxidized, black; and partially oxidized, oolong.”
Cynthia Gold urges anyone to purchase the freshest tea they possibly can, and to do so more often in smaller quantities so that the tea isn’t sitting around in your cabinet. She also suggests using a larger tea ball and filling it only part way, maybe 1/3 full, to allow more room for the tea leaves to expand as that is critical for proper brewing of the tea.”There’s no such thing as too much room for the leaves to expand” she is quoted as saying. She also admonishes that one should never use distilled water to make tea, and if need be, use a filter to remove any chemical taste; and as needed, a fine mesh or nylon strainer if a teapot should lack a built-in strainer.
Having been to wonderful Afternoon Tea events elsewhere, one can only imagine how delightful the experience must be at The Boston Park Plaza Hotel for their appointment only Afternoon Tea events.
High Tea indeed!
Post Script: Another tea enthusiast, Joanna Pruess, author of a book on the subject of cooking with tea titled Harney & Sons’ The Tea Cookbook: Inspired Flavors for Contemporary and Traditional Dishes (Kingsbridge Press 2011) co-authored a feature article with Neva Cochran, MS, RD, LD called Tea Time in the Summer 2012 (Volume 1, Issue 2) of Food & Nutrition Magazine. Joanna Pruess 2006 edition of a tea cookbook was called Tea Cuisine: A New Approach to Flavoring Contemporary and Traditional Dishes.
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One Response to “Tea: Lesser Known Facts, Customs & Sommeliers”
Sonia Showalter said on February 23rd, 2012 at 1:15 pm
Stephanie, what an awesome blog! LOVE IT! Thank you!
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