Thursday, September 29, 2011

Tea Education-Chefs and Sommeliers Take Notice

This week, I am in Seattle teaching classes for the Specialty Tea Institute with my friend and colleague, Kyle Stewart of the Cultured Cup in Dallas, Texas  The Cultured Cup ships their teas around North American and carries a huge selection of Mariage Frere teas.  Kyle wrote a great piece about education with the Specialty Tea Institute especially geared towards the culinary world and sommeliers.  I thought I would share it with you this week. 

For many years, tea and coffee were an afterthought at top tier restaurants across the U.S. No More! As tea continues to become more popular, restaurants are replacing teabags with quality loose leaf tea. Typical Earl Grey and English Breakfast selections are being replaced with single estate first flush Darjeelings, Wuyi Mountain oolongs, and 40 year old cave-aged Pu-erh brick teas. As better teas appear in the American market, how do culinary and wine professionals learn the basics about premium tea?

Sharon Hage, the former chef-owner of York Street Restaurant in Dallas, Texas and five-time James Beard Award nominee, created dozens of tea and food pairing luncheons and dinners over nine years. Working closely with Kyle Stewart, co-owner of The Cultured Cup, the CIA educated Hage tasted and discussed the flavor profiles of hundreds of artisan teas.

Photo courtesy of Dallas Morning News
“Quality tea was just as important an ingredient for York Street as the pristine fish from Browne Trading Company or the free-range chicken from Windy Meadows Family Farm,” said Hage. But her tea journey didn’t stop with quality ingredients; she learned how to adjust the flavor profile of teas by manipulating the steeping technique variables (tea amount, temperature and time). “Learning about tea for me was similar to an artist discovering a new range of colors,” said the CIA trained chef.

For James Tidwell, Master Sommelier and Beverage Manager at Four Seasons Resort and Club near Dallas, Texas, learning about tea was similar to learning about wine. Tidwell, a long-time tea drinker, says “Wine professionals are being called upon to manage or present many facets of the hospitality industry. With roles changing, and well-rounded experts needed to fill key positions, knowledge of the world's second most-consumed beverage is essential. Therefore, certification by an independent organization is as necessary for the study of tea as for the study of wine.”

Tidwell, also a CIA graduate, took both introductory tea courses offered by the Specialty Tea Institute (STI), and highly recommends them to culinary and wine professionals. “Although Sharon Hage and I have spent years learning about tea, STI Levels One and Two quickly give culinary and wine professionals the information and skills they need to know about tea.”

Level One: Foundations of Tea
Level One provides a strong understanding of the five tea categories and two traditional styles of tea production (orthodox). Topics include the components of teas, growing regions and terroir, tea processing stages, a comparison of tea categories, and steeping, tasting and evaluating the characteristics of tea (called cupping).

Level Two: Foundations of Tea
Level Two examines CTC (cut, tear and curl) tea production, blending, flavoring and scenting, and introduces sensory evaluation of teas. Includes: an explanation of tea grading, how to name teas by country of origin, and how to examine, cup (prepare, taste and evaluate) and compare the characteristics of 5-6 pairs of teas.

Students successfully passing Levels One and Two qualify to continue their tea education with five Level Three classes. By successfully completing the seven courses comprising Levels One, Two and Three, students are awarded the title of Certified Tea Specialist (CTS). According to Joe Simrany, President of the Tea Association of the USA, 65 people world-wide hold this title.

So chefs and sommeliers, what are you waiting for? 
 If you aren't learning about tea, you are behind on your game and training! 

I am teaching a Tea and Chocolate Pairing class at the Northwest Tea Festival  and doing a book signing afterwards on Saturday 10/1.   If you're in the Seattle area, I would love to see you!

I look forward to sharing all about Seattle and the Northwest Tea Festival!

Happy Sipping from Seattle, Lisa

1 comment:

  1. I think it's wonderful that restaurants and chefs are starting to think and care more about tea. It's always a bummer to pay for a fancy meal at a classy restaurant which serves good food, coffee, and wine, but then brings out some low-quality tea in a tea bag. And high-quality tea is so affordable, compared even to coffee of comparable quality, so there's really no financial's just a question of knowing a little about tea, how to brew it, and knowing where to buy it for a reasonable price.