Surely tea is for the teapot, not the stew pot?

Cynthia Gold, former sommelier at Park Plaza, is to take charge in a similar role at L’Espalier in order to emphasise its own fantastic tea menu. In a recent e-mail interview, Gold spared some time for Eater to share her envisaged role and give us a sneak preview into how they’re going to develop their own house blends and expand dishes and cocktails all in a cookery masterclass with the star ingredient: tea!

The first task for the purpose of this article is to perhaps introduce the idea of cooking with tea to an English audience. And we’re not just talking different ways of serving it in the afternoon, such as do we put the milk in first or second? or do we favour a shortbread or Garibaldi first? We’re talking proper alcoholic cocktails and real food with tea as a solid ingredient, either as the base or infused at some point during this most refreshing of cookery classes.

There is a popular school of thought that cooking with tea can overpower other ingredients that going into making the meal itself. Like any recipe that is deemed a success, it is all about getting the correct balance of ingredients. Tea is no different, especially when it comes to forming the base of an alcoholic beverage. Weird? Well not when you think about how popular Pernod and Ouzo are, and they have aniseed at their bases, so perhaps we could all learn something about a cookery class that teaches us about brewing up bevvy that incorporates an ingredient that is so very English.

To understand a little bit more about how one learns to infuse tea to make varieties of sangria, salt-rimmed shots where the crystalline edge has been smoked in tea or for your homebrew bitter, it is perhaps worth knowing what exactly a sommelier is and how one gets to become one.

The original masters in the art of the tea sommelier are relatively new, when you consider how long the stuff has actually been drank by the gallon as part of the afternoon tiffing regime of the old Empire Britannia. Gold was the only chef amongst the original set and so it seemed a very natural progression for her to learn to cook tea in different ways.

She sees two things in the leaves about her future. Firstly, at L’Espalier, a subsidiary menu of rare teas will accompany the existing menu which draws upon their estate teas in a combination of both savoury and sweet dishes from their kitchens. In the background, Cynthia is putting her head together with Canadian, British and French ambasadors for the industry to produce a multi-national certificate in recognition of the art of becoming an accomplished tea chef and the necessary background studies to achieve this standardisation.

Mmm, it may take the UK public some convincing to take tea with anything other than milk or sugar – we’ve never really taken to popping lemon into it, so Tea-kka Masala? You’ve got your work cut out, Cynthia.

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