Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Coffee & Tea Festival: Lectures

Here are some notes on a few of the lectures and demos I caught at the Coffee & Tea Festival this year. I won't be giving away TOO much, as I'd hate to see my many hours of work distrubited on someone else's website without my consent. However, this should give you a "taste" of the tea events at the Festival.

Coffee & Tea Infused Cocktails--Kara Newman (food and drink writer and lecturer) and Beniot Cornett (of Sanctuary T, NYC)

Obviously, both of these lecturers know their stuff when it comes to making tea cocktails. They discussed the trends of "extreme cocktails" (those with Red Bull and other energy drinks), sweet/savory blends, super-fresh ingredients, and pairing cocktails with desserts. They listed some major considerations in creating your own tea cocktails: whether it should be hot or cold, what its caffeine and tannin levels will be, and how to balance the flavors. They went on to please the crowd by mixing (and distributing) several tea and coffee cocktails. Unfortunately, there were only enough samples for those who REALLY wanted them (which a lot of people did!), so I didn't get to try them. However, my bartending experience, previous experiments with tea cocktails, and reading of The Art of the Bar by Absinthe's fantastic bar chef Johnathan Raglin told me that they were solid recipes. A few more hints they gave and I stand by: vodka and gin infuse well with tea, and homemade flavored symple syrups are one of your best allies at the bar.

Afternoon Tea for Fun and Profit--Ellen Easton (Afternoon Tea Consultant)

Ellen Easton's approach to tea is VERY different from mine, however, I have the utmost respect for her expertise in the tradition of afternoon tea. She delivered a fascinating lecture on afternoon tea from its rules of ettiquite to balancing a tea menu to tea's relationship to the suffragette movement and, finally, the "fun and profit" aspect of afternoon tea. She dispelled myths (The most controversial: "A raised pinkie is a sign of arrogance." Not true!) and even dipped into the oft-overlooked realm of the politics of tea. I'll be reviewing her book some time in the next few months. Look out for it.

Tea Blending: An Elusive Art--Nini Ordoubadi (Tay Tea, NYC)

Nini is a professional tea blender and I can tell that she is one of the rare few who loves her job. (We can sense our own!) She discussed the art of tea blending as an almost spiritual endeavor. "Think of it as a meditation," she advised. The basic steps (examining the dry elements, adding hot water, watching the elements infuse, "drinking the tea with your nose," decanting into a clear container, tasting the isolated flavors, blending, tasting, and evaluating) are simple enough, but it is an understanding of the essence of the tea that is complex. She maintains that it is something that everyone can do, provided they do three things: be completely honest in your evaluation of each blend, be patient, and keep a notebook. I have the feeling that at least a few members of her audience will be following her advice in the near future.

Tomorrow, I'll continue this train of thought with a post about two more lectures, Green Tea 101 and The Future of Tea. Right now I'm off to brew some tea and write some tea descriptions!

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