IN CONVERSATION WITH TEA SOMMELIER GABRIELLE JAMMAL
THE TEA LADY
New York-based tea sommelier on her journey to tea and the inspiration behind the most exclusive afternoon tea service fit for royalty
Photo by Baccarat Hotel, New York
Here we are at the Grand Salon at the Baccarat Hotel in New York, a modern interpretation of the Parisian hotel particulier, it doesn’t get any more luxurious than this. Describe the afternoon tea service at the Baccarat.
For centuries, Baccarat has been privileged to create crystal master pieces for royal households throughout the world. Honouring that legacy we have imagined a tea service as it might have been enacted in palaces from St. Petersburg to Bangalore. Pairing our menus with world-renowned Marriage Freres teas to evoke distant lands, we have carefully curated each royal tea to bring these imaginary journeys to life.
Our tea service is based on the royal clientele list of Baccarat – starting with King Louis XV, who issued a royal decree to establish a glassworks factory in Baccarat, France in 1764. He enjoyed life at the Palace of Versailles with his more famous mistress, Madame de Pompadour, supported the arts and hosted elegant celebrations featuring tables adorned with Baccarat crystal pieces. The French Tea at Versailles menu is inspired by King Louis XV.
We wanted to serve an afternoon tea like our guests have never experienced, even in their imagination. Our salon is designed after the old Baccarat maison in Paris, and the idea is that our guests sit down and transform themselves into one of the clients.
We offer tea services around King Louis XV (A French Tea at Versailles), the Prince of Wales (An English Tea at Windsor), Nicholas II of Russia (A Caviar Tea at Tsarskoye Selo), and Sultan Abdulaziz (A Turkish Tea at Dolmabahce Palace). The entire tea service from tea to the canapes is based around the personality of these men. We have the most expensive tea service in New York City, so I try to make it a special occasion.
The tea service around the Sultan took me two years to develop, requiring research of the food of the entire Ottoman empire. I am currently researching the last emperor of Japan and we will hopefully debut The Emperor tea service in September.
“We have carefully curated each royal tea to bring these imaginary journeys to life.”
Let’s start at the beginning, you grew up in New Jersey, like myself. In my family, my mother would have about 10 cups of tea a day – in some ways as she was adjusting to a new life in America after moving from India, tea was her comfort. Tell us a little about your family culture around tea and what inspired you to then follow a career in the tea industry, eventually becoming a tea sommelier?
My father’s family moved from Israel. My maternal grandmother was Norwegian-English and maternal grandfather was Irish-Native American. My mother grew up in Hoboken, New Jersey and my maternal grandparents were a big influence in my life as I spent a lot of time with them growing up. We used to drink afternoon tea everyday and I have wonderful memories of that. I first started working at Teavana (now owned by Starbucks), which introduced me to the world of teas. I am also a big proponent of living a healthy lifestyle and tea is a big part of that. I simply followed my passion and here I am – the tea sommelier at The Baccarat Hotel.
My mother reminds me that I used to host tea parties all the time when I was little. So, now I have the tea room that I always wanted here at the Grand Salon!
“We have imagined a tea service as it might have been enacted in palaces from St. Petersburg to Bangalore.”
“I now have the tea room that I always wanted.”
Photo by Baccarat Hotel, New York
“It is a common misconception that organic tea is always best.”
For those who do not know what it takes to be a tea sommelier, tell us a little about how you become one and what the job entails.
The process involved completing a certificate course from the International Tea Masters Association, with a combination of in-person and Skype sessions over the course of 3 months. However, my education does not stop there. I am constantly educating myself and empowering my team, but also educating our guests about tea.
We have an international clientele and while I have not travelled as much as our guests, the expectation is that I am the expert and should know every aspect of the guests’ experience. Tea is such an important part of so many different cultures, there is so much to learn. Mariage Freres is our main partner, but I also support companies that I know are making a difference for the farmers and their community.
I strongly believe that by educating the clientele, the more they understand and like the product. For example, there is much misunderstanding about organic vs. non-organic. Organic is great, but with tea a lot of the smaller estates don’t have the money for organic certification. It is a common misconception that organic tea is always best. What’s more important is to know where the tea comes from. I want to support estates that are interested in making a difference in their communities – making a difference one cup of tea at a time.
“I am constantly educating myself and empowering my team, but also educating our guests about tea.”
You have a very global clientele that is probably quite familiar with tea from around the world. Americans are now familiar with chai latte and green tea. Have you seen changes in the way Americans consume tea?
The tea market in the US has changed enormously – the consumer is better informed, they want to know where the tea is coming from, people have started reading labels. Consumers, especially millennials, are not looking at the cost of the tea, but so much more at the efficacy of the product, where it’s produced and the experience of the tea. They buy the tea, take it home, and share it with parents and grandparents and try and educate them and also have an experience together.
“Millennials are not looking at the cost of the tea so much, but more at the efficacy of the product, where it’s produced and the experience of the tea.”
The idea of pairing tea with food, similar to wine pairings, is fairly new. Are there a few pairing suggestions that you would recommend?
I have paired the tea based on the personalities of the gentlemen we feature. The Prince of Wales tea service is paired with Earl Grey as it’s a traditional British tea.
We recently partnered with Dalmore Whiskey and hosted a 3-course dinner, pairing scotch and tea in our Petite Salon. We offered an intimate experience, where our guests learnt about how you can put two different beverages together in a different way. We poured the scotch first, then poured the tea and then served the food.
I think of pairing tea similar to pairing wine with food. White wines go with fish, sometimes chicken. Red wine goes with meat and lamb. Teas and coffees are very similar to liquors and wines, because it has a lot to do with where it is grown – the terroir of the land. For example, Matcha is super green and tastes like seaweed, because it is grown in Japan, the soil has a salty note to it, which comes across in the tea if it’s grown closer to the ocean or further from it. If you are serving fish from a local region in Japan – the best pairing would be with a sencha or hojicha.
“I think of pairing tea similar to pairing wine with food. I wouldn’t pair a white tea with meat.”
Photo by Baccarat Hotel, New York
We are a huge fan of tea infused cocktails. We recently served a Green Tea Elderflower Cocktail and our Jodhpur No. 3, our Jodhpur Blend served with champagne. Can you share a favorite tea cocktail recipe for our readers?
I work with the bar team to add one tea cocktail per season. Currently we have with the Baccarat Rouge – it’s our custom Baccarat Rooibos blend infused in a large ice cube with hibiscus and Aperol. It is a tequila based cocktail with lemon and when the ice cube starts melting, it gives the cocktail a wonderful ombre yellow to red color.
We also have a Matcha mocktail on the tea menu with a yuzu-lemon, flavor for people that don’t drink alcohol.
*Matcha mocktail recipe*
Ippodo fuku matcha
Rosemary simple syrup
Shake with ice. Then top with club soda.
“What are the elements that make for a perfect high-tea?
Good tea, good food and great company.”
A Turkish Tea at Dolmabahçe Palace
Pistachio Financier, Roasted Fennel, Olives Date Crisp, Parsnip, Duck Prosciutto Lamb Merguez, Feta Cheese, Filo Purse
Chicken Pastilla, Almonds
Sunflower Fennel Simit
Apricot Saffron Jam
Labneh, Rose Halva, Candied Kumquats
Best Paired with Dunes du Sahara 300
Paired with one/two Glass(es) of Ruinart Rosé NV
Paired with one Bottle of Dom Perignon P2 1996 Rosé 2000