Monday, May 23, 2016

Interview: Gabrielle Jammal of Tea Sommelier at the Baccarat Hotel, NYC

Gabrielle, left, I'm on the right

A few months ago I had an amazing afternoon tea experience with Jee and Lisa at the Baccarat hotel. We instantly bonded with the tea sommelier Gabrielle, who's passion for tea is clear from the moment you meet her. We had such fun chatting about tea, that we've even found time to meet for lunch away from the hotel. I thought you'd all be interested in learning a little bit about Gabrielle and what she does as a tea sommelier for the hotel. I'm happy to present our interview below.

Why did you start working with tea?
I started working with tea because it was something familiar to me that I really enjoyed but didn't quite understand. I started really getting into health and an organic lifestyle. I found that tea, something that I always loved, fit like a missing puzzle piece. So my journey began.

Why become a tea sommelier?
I became a tea sommelier on accident. Since I first started working with tea I've always done my best to research all types of tea. Tea is something I feel I could learn everything and I would still want to learn more. It's also something I think people kind of forget about because there is not always a concern for quality. We are so used to being served a tea bag. That's something for sure that needs to be changed.

What's your favorite thing about being a tea sommelier?
My favorite thing about being a tea sommelier is that my job is being able to talk about tea all day! I love talking to all ages and people from different cultures because it reminds me that no matter anyone's background tea seems to have some deep memory linked to warmth and comfort. Being able to make someone happy is an amazing feeling.

How did you select the teas to present with the savory options at Baccarat?
Our afternoon tea menu is really special. We wanted to do a nod towards our history (and Mariage Freres, who we have partnered with) of both the Royal and esteemed clientele list that we have had throughout our 250 years. There are certain personalities that we have chosen whom I have I picked the tea to represent. Then the sweet and savory options were based upon that.

What advice can you give to anyone thinking of becoming a tea sommelier?

For anyone thinking about becoming a tea sommelier I say "be passionate!" Especially in service. Sometimes things can be frustrating but it ultimately is my passion for tea that drives me. I feel particularly working in service and hospitality people can see if you're excited about what you're doing. At the end of the day you must love what you do or you will not find success.

If you could travel to one tea growing region, where would you go?
My first tea region to go to would be Kyoto, Japan. Matcha and Japanese green teas is considered to be the "oldest" tea. I feel that is where I'd like to start.

Is there any area of tea study that you'd like to focus on more deeply?
At this point there's not one thing I'd like to focus on more than any other in tea. It all interests me and I do my best to "infuse" my mind with all about tea!

What are your future goals as a tea sommelier?
My future goal is to be as successful as I can in teaching what I have learned to others. Right now I'm teaching as much as I can to my colleagues at the Baccarat Hotel so they are as knowledgable as I am. Whether I am in service or eventually have a tea shop I'm not sure. I love to be around people. I'm excited to find out where my journey will take me.

Do you have any personal tea rituals?

I don't have any personal tea rituals but I do prefer to share my tea. Growing up it was always my family sitting at a full table for tea time and lunch. I feel like those were some of my happiest memories. It's nice to have a cup home when it's quiet but it's even nicer to share it with my mom. I like to bring new teas and have her try them.

What are some of your favorite teas?

A favorite tea?! I guess it really depends on my mood. I love oolongs. I just recently when to Té Company and tried the Pear Mountain oolong from Taiwan. That was so amazing! Lapsang Souchong and matcha hold special places in my heart.
Thank you Gabrielle for taking the time out for the interview! Check out the afternoon tea at Baccarat if you are in the NYC are and are looking for something extra special (and fancy)! Gabrielle will be more than happy to talk tea with you.

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