Tea sommeliers, tea tastings, tea cafés — all are part of the burgeoning tea phenomenon. Flavors and styles are endless, as are the uses for tea. The ancient beverage has gone beyond the teacup into tea cocktails, smoothies and flavor agents for dishes and desserts.
Cynthia Gold '93, tea sommelier at the Boston Park Plaza Hotel & Towers, has made it her livelihood. Previously the owner of three tea restaurant-cafés in Boston, Mass., Gold has traveled to Asia to study infusion, and teaches internationally about cooking with tea and pairing tea with food.
Gold's wealth of knowledge begins with the source of tea — the leaves. All tea comes from one plant species, Camellia sinensis. Different types — black, green, white, yellow, Oolong and Pu-erh (dried tea) — are varieties of the plant that have adapted to thrive in diverse regions and under distinct styles of processing, explains Gold. Black tea is the most widely produced and includes the popular Darjeeling, Earl Grey and Ceylon teas.
Main factors affecting tea during processing include when and how leaves are harvested, the heat source used to fire or dry the leaves, and oxidation, a chemical change in tea leaves when their cell walls rupture, exposing them to air. Like brewing coffee, how tea is steeped can enhance its flavor. Each tea has its own needs. Lower oxidation tea like green tea calls for a shorter steep time and lower temperature than higher oxidation tea like black tea. The water quality and temperature, infusion time and taking care not to crowd the tea (whether in a tea ball, tea sack or mesh cup) are also key.
As to the health benefits of tea, "the research is very promising, but more is needed," says Gold. "What's earned green and white tea the lion's share of press is that they are so high in antioxidants." As for caffeine levels in tea versus coffee, Gold says, "There is some variation between teas, but all tea still has a fraction of the caffeine in coffee." And herbal tea isn't tea at all without Camellia sinensis. "Herbal ingredients may be blended into the tea, but if no tea is present, it simply isn't tea," assures Gold.
To learn about tea, Gold suggests the Specialty Tea Institute (www.teausa.com), part of the Tea Association of the USA that holds certification level classes.
Steeped in Tea RecipesThe Charlotte Campus was host to S&D Coffee’s Tea Recipe Contest in November 2010 that drew more than 60 entries. First place went to Blair Cannon ’11, who won $500 for his Grilled Green Tea Duck. Charlie Ward ’11 took the first-runner up prize in the beverage category for his Fire & Ice Tea, winning $300, and first runner-up in the food category went to Michael Daniel ’13 for his Orange Ginger Cupcakes, for a $100 prize. Paul DeVries, Charlotte assistant professor of culinary arts and Jenna Thompson ’09, account specialist at S&D, organized the contest, and S&D Coffee donated all of the tea used by the contestants.
Chef Rick Hirsch '88 was named 2010 Chef of the Year by the Maine
Restaurant Association. Hirsch owns Damariscotta River Grill in