Tea In Hospitality

I’ve worked in Hospitality since the mid nineties, in that time we have seen a great deal of progression and change in terms of the food and beverages we serve and the manner in which we sever them, I’ll never forget the first time I prepared a cappuccino under the instruction and supervision of my boss, who instructed me to get as much volume and body out of the milk as possible with the aim being a towering and intimidating drink that if a customer dared to pick up and drink as if it were served in a cup would surly drench there eyebrows in milk, the nirvana of this school of thought was to achieve a summit of 4-5cm over the lip of the cup (very difficult to serve in a nor westerly) during this time I observed several sculpting techniques to achieve maximum altitude with the meringue like drink? and felt that I was beginning to master the requisite skills when I began to here whispers of cafes where they treated the milk with some degree care and respect instead of as something to hide the bitter and astringent blackish brownish inhabitant of the base of the cup, places where they took pride in their short blacks this was a world gone crazy to me and yet I allowed myself to be drawn into it if only to find out their what madness they were peddling.

In early 2005 I moved to Melbourne with the intention of engaging myself in the café industry of a city with more multicultural cuisine influences and planning on bringing this experience back to Christchurch, and so I set about the age old tradition of working more than one job at a time as a new immigrant. Until this point I had stayed away from tea mostly because of childhood memories of a bitter and offensive taste accompanied by a smell like an institutional rest home. However I was pleasantly surprised as in both jobs they served loose leaf tea but in different ways.

The first place a grungy, funky wee bar in the edgy suburb of Fitzroy where they hired me solely because I was a Kiwi, served tea in a thermal glass with the tea packed inside a single serve infuser. My curiosity was further piqued by the ritual and style of my new boss’s method of service. Staff were instructed to draw water (92°C) from his retro yet fully functional Faema E55 and place the glass on the bar in front of the customer while taking the appropriate tea tin from the shelve and dosing the infuser while removing any excess tea from the exterior checking that it closed right and then placing the infuser in the glass and stirring the glass with the infuser until the colour of the tea was just beginning to leach from the strainer allowing the top of the glass to remain just hot water and giving the customer a show at the same time. Care like this for tea! I couldn’t believe it all that I knew about tea was now not enough.

My other job fuelled my imagination and desire to find my own way to innovate with tea. I had taken a position as a Barista in a chocolate café under the management of an ex-tea grader from Sri Lanka who had also experienced silver service training with Emirates and the Hilton Hotels his guidance on tea service was quite formal with the a fine bone china cup being placed first in a position one hand in from the edge of the table and with it’s handle in the 3’oclock position spoon across the top of the saucer and with it’s scoop facing up next the strainer was placed in the cup then at a forty-five degree angle a small cup to place the strainer in then a milk jug or a wee bowl of honey if required after which the pot was placed at just the right angle so that a guest might pick it up with out any effort handle set to meet there hand with ease and grace.

Both experiences have given me ideas that I will one day put into practice in my own establishment and inspiration to innovate in this ancient and venerated custom that is serving a cup of tea.

Nick Hawkins 2008-10-09

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