Looks as if I missed yet another calling—tea sommelier. As this article points out, experts can “unlock new flavors in your food by pairing it with tea.” For example, “a hot cup of green tea melts the texture of goat cheese and enhances its creamy notes.”
Like their wine counterparts, tea sommeliers must know where the leaf is from, how it’s made, the aroma, flavors, and so on. They give advice—the ultimate tea leaf readers.
Although I have decades of tea-drinking experience, I’ve kept my amateur status. Growing up on a farm, I—like the rest of my family—became addicts early. During hay baling, bean walking, or ball playing, iced tea was the drink of choice. We had deep well water softened by the Culligan man, and we made a straight, black tea that was strong enough to keep us awake while driving tractors or milking the lone Guernsey.
Overseas employment took my wife and me to a couple of tea-loving countries. Australians use to boil it up in “billy cans,” and on one trip across the Outback, we accompanied a couple of New Zealanders who organized regular tea breaks on the famous Birdsville Track. Out came the Sterno stove, Carnation milk, and loose-leafed tea. “When it’s bloody hot like this,” said Ollie, a Kiwi physician and part-time gold prospector, “hot tea makes a fellow sweat. Much better than that iced nonsense you Yanks drink.” I drank his concoction, but I’d rather have had a cup of nonsense.
While living in Japan, we drank green, barley, jasmine, rice, kelp, and many other types of tea, but ironically, straight black iced tea was not prevalent back then. Of course we tried green tea ice cream, and eventually the vending machines there included just about any liquid you could imagine—milk tea in a can was the most normal. We admired the cultural significance of a real Japanese tea ceremony, but we’d occasionally slip off to McDonald's where we could buy fresh-brewed black tea.
Maybe I could have succeeded at the sommelier thing after all. My kids thought I was a tea snob; on vacations, I’d drive out of the way to get fresh-brewed rather than some powdered mix or tea in a bottle. But as I read on in the article about professional sommeliers, I realize it takes some sacrifice. “Black tea goes surprisingly well with Chiriboga blue cheese,” says one expert. “We once served a pu-erh tea with celery root that had been cooked in a pig’s bladder,” said another sommelier. “We wanted it to highlight the earthiness of the tea on the palate without competing with the fragrance of the bladder course.”
On our farm, we drank iced tea with our pork chops, and hot tea with grilled cheese sandwiches, but I’d be a boring sommelier. I’d just have to say something like, “Pour a glass of strong, black tea on ice and enjoy it with one of Mom’s fresh-baked cinnamon rolls. Believe me, it brings out the flavors.”
by dan gogerty (top pic from pinterest.com; bottom from toxel.com)