That Time I Met a Tea Sommelier

Once again, my posting as been erratic. Between illness and stress, when I find myself with nothing to do, I mostly feel like watching television shows and relaxing these days. But I have perpetual big plans to edit photos and start posting more regularly, I promise.

Anyway. Last weekend, my office had a big meeting at a fancy hotel downtown. I had forgotten how nice it is to be in a really nice hotel. There is a level of service that’s just above the places I usually buy for myself. It almost made up for having to get up and shower at 6 a.m. on a Sunday and 5 a.m. the next day. Almost. One thing I noticed about the fancy hotels downtown is that they take their tea very, very seriously. One of the hotels had pots of brewed tea out on warming stations outside the meeting rooms alongside the coffee. It was amazing. They had chamomile, which I skipped, and a delicious English Breakfast black tea. It was brewed to perfection, had lovely floral notes, not to astringent. And I decided to add a touch of honey to my cup to bring out the flavors, on the suggestion of another hotel’s tea sommelier.

Yes, I met a tea sommelier. I am of course familiar with the idea of a wine sommelier, and I’ve seen the concept extended to other alcoholic beverages, but I’d never seen it applied to tea before. It started when I was blearily wandering over the breakfast buffet upon arriving at the meeting entirely too early, even for me. As I examined the spread of eggs and sausages, I overheard a gentleman recommending the tea bread to a colleague. I looked over and saw a tray of sliced quickbread. I didn’t think much of it until he mentioned that it was Earl Grey tea bread, made with Earl Grey tea. Oh, that sounds lovely.

As I walked back to gather a slice for myself, I heard him go on about how they infuse the tea into the bread so that it not only tastes of bergamot but also takes on the deeper flavors of the black tea itself. He saw that I was listening and introduced himself. He was the hotel’s tea sommelier. What an interesting idea, I thought. I thanked him for the suggestion and he asked a bit about what I thought of tea. I told him I was, in fact, a tea-drinker and he was very excited. He asked if I would let him make me a cup of tea.

How lovely. Even when I’m at home and ask Boyfriend to make me a cup of tea, I generally dictate the entire tea-making process. To leave myself in the hands of a professional seemed decadent. He asked what kind of tea I liked and I responded that given the chilly, gloomy weather, I thought I’d like a cup of black tea. He seemed even more excited about this. We discussed different types of teas and he asked if I minded honey in my tea. He explained that he liked to put a bit of sweetener in certain kinds of tea to help bring out the flavors. I was intrigued, so I agreed to it. It reminded me a bit of having coffee at the Caffe San’Eustachio in Rome, where the default is sweetened coffee.

Several minutes later, I was reverently presented with a perfect cup of tea. It had the light flavor of a Darjeeling, with just a hint of sweetness. I was also presented with an herbal tea bag for later, which had some ginseng and gingko in it to help with focus without caffeine. It was a lovely conversation and perhaps next year I can see him again.

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