Food and Drink
Posted by Jen Curcio
19. Oct, 2011
This time a year ago, Sarah Cowell finished working for the South Australian Government and travelled Asia in pursuit of becoming a Tea Sommelier — a role that didn’t even exist in Australia. From working on a Taiwanese tea farm to visiting some of the world’s most prestigious tea expos in Japan and Korea, Sarah’s dream took a new turn in Melbourne.
Three months later, she found herself working her dream job as Tea Sommelier at Vue de Monde — the only role of its kind in Australia. Join us as Sarah shares her passion and gives her advice on how to brew the perfect cuppa.
What is your role at Vue de Monde?
I am the resident Tea Sommelier where I work mostly in the restaurant, creating tea experiences for the guests — usually at the end of the meal I’ll match tea with the 10-course degustation. I also train staff in tea knowledge and service skills.
How did this job come about?
Shannon [Bennett] had been searching for a Tea Sommelier for years. I was introduced to Shannon by a mutual contact, a local tea purveyor in fact (who I’d discovered in a newspaper article on tea entrepreneurs).
What is the process involved in creating a tea list? How did you decide yours at Vue?
I wanted to offer something new. Thus, I put together a representation of most of the major styles: white, green, oolong, aged and herbal.
There is more to tea service than just the tea list. I choose different tea-ware to complement the teas; from tiny glass cups for the delicate white teas to rough clay for the full-bodied oolongs. This not only enhances the tea experience and looks beautiful, but it allows me to share the stories around the different tea-ware and customs from different cultures.
Water temperature and timing is a vital skill to enhance tea’s characteristics. I believe another important element is bringing heart to the service. Being fully present, serving carefully and gracefully shows respect for both the tea and the guest. Slowing the process down seems to gather your guest into the stillness and helps them relax, breathe and slow down. I pour my heart and hospitality into the cup along with the tea and the guests seem to appreciate that.
What is your personal favourite brew at the moment?
It depends on the time of day, how I feel, what I’m eating. I’ve been more of a white/green/oolong tea drinker in the last year, but am getting into black teas a bit more recently. I can’t go past the Taiwanese #18 Hong Cha (red tea) from Sun Moon Lake — all that lovely honey caramel aroma and flavour that comes naturally from the processing. Another is a heavier, more oxidised roast — the Iron Goddess of Mercy (Ti Guan Yin) from Taiwan is also fantastically complex and aromatic.
What’s your advice on how to brew the perfect cup?
All teas will vary. Good tea brands will usually give instructions, but here are some tips I find useful.
• Warm the teapot and cup with hot water first then discard otherwise the heat of the brew will dissipate quickly.
• Use filtered fresh water — hard water and re-boiled water will make the tea taste slightly tainted and flat.
• Green and white teas — pour enough cool (room temperature) water over the leaves before pouring on boiling water. This will protect leaves from scalding and becoming bitter.
• Follow the time guidelines. Leaving tea in the water too long will cause the tea to over-brew and become astringent. Too short a time and the flavour will not have fully developed.
In Australia’s coffee capital one can forget the art and beauty of the tea drinking ritual. The tea bags on our supermarket shelves merely scratch the surface when it comes to quality, flavours and varieties. Maybe next time you catch up with someone for a ‘coffee’, you could try a tea instead.
If you can’t make it to Vue there are plenty of other places to try quality tea in Melbourne. Here are some of our favourites:
Ay Oriental Tea House
A restaurant and teahouse, you can pair your yum cha with an incredible selection of teas. The best part is that they’re all for sale in store or online.
Australia’s largest range of loose-leaf tea, tisanes and all the tea-ware you could possibly need you will find at this one-stop-tea-shop.
Locations at www.t2tea.com
La Belle Miette
Some of the best macarons you will ever have in Melbourne go together perfectly with their range of Mariage Frères French Teas. You must try the Earl Grey or the French Breakfast!
30 Hardware Lane, City and 432 Church St, Richmond.
These thoughtful tea blends are enough to encourage you to take a break. We love the Dream (lavender, camomile and hawthorn berries) and Harmony (cinnamon, cloves, lychee berries, cardamom, ginger, lemon balm and purple marshmallow flowers). Available in loose-leaf or bags.
Stockists at www.husk.com.au or in store.
Henry Langdon Tea
Some of the best quality local tea you will try and the packaging is almost just as good! Choose from all your classics like Peppermint and English Breakfast varieties to Chai and Green Tea & Mint.
Stockists at www.henrylangdon.com
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