Usually, our Behind the Bar feature is an interview with a bartender, sommelier, or distiller. This week, we’re bellying up to a different type of bar for a spot of tea and a chat with Kiley Holliday, of the newly opened (and long delayed) Bosie Tea Parlor. Holliday was the youngest female tea master certified when she completed her studies. She has created an extensive collection of L’Âge de Thé blends for Bosie.
How does one become a tea master?
You can do the training in California under the American Tea Masters Association. I didn’t really have time to go to California for all of these seminars, so I did it through Skype. You have these two-hour conversations and you get this huge packets with maybe 100 samples of tea. You taste all of them and learn to identify them. You learn all about the production of tea, the history, the health benefits. I had to do a few of my own blends. I did a chai blend for him. And a breakfast blend. At the end, you take a long exam, everything from the finest orange pekoe to what tea would go well with a smoked-salmon sandwich.
Is there much of a movement for food-and-tea pairings?
The tea master I studied under is in the process of writing a book on pairing tea and cuisine, so he kind of imparted that knowledge to me. I’m actually really interested in that. I would like to have tea and chocolate flights because there are different types of tea that go with different types of chocolate.
What other eats will you have at Bosie?
We’re going to have pastries and light savory food. Light scones, éclairs, croissants, French macarons. Our pastry chef, Damien Herrgott, actually worked at Ladurée in Paris and Bouley Bakery in New York. He makes the most amazing French macarons. We’re going to have light, savory items — paninis, salads, and, of course, tea sandwiches.
What are some of the best tea-and-food pairings?
An Earl Grey would go beautifully with a crème brûlée dessert. Any sort of lavender tea goes well with apricot. Jasmine tea goes amazingly well with white chocolate. Second flush Darjeeling pairs beautifully with dark chocolate raspberry truffles. It’s just a flavor explosion. Certain green teas go very well with smoked meats.
Had you always preferred tea to coffee?
I started getting into tea as an undergrad. That’s when I switched my espresso for Irish Breakfast. I started out by drinking Irish Breakfast, then different Earl Greys, different green teas. Then I got really into Matcha, which is what I have every day now. I make Matcha lattes using almond milk and agave; it makes this beverage reminiscent of green tea ice cream.
What is Matcha, exactly?
Matcha is ground gyokuro tea, which is a very high-quality Japanese green tea. Other teas will have stems and things. With Matcha, they de-stem and devein the leaves, then grind it up by hand so it ends up being the consistency of talc powder. It’s bright green; you can tell the different qualities of Matcha based on how green it is. The great thing about Matcha is that it has about 10 times the antioxidants as steeped green tea because you are ingesting the whole leaf. It has a much higher concentration of chlorophyll, which is the green stuff that clears out your liver. Lots of anti-cancer properties, too.
So, are most tea masters old men?
Yes, I guess so. I was the youngest female to be certified. Tea, in general, is a very male-dominated profession. The estate owners are male. The estate managers are almost always male. The tasters are male. Most people with tea companies are male.
Is your job more about prescribing tea for health reasons or being a tea sommelier?
I think it can be both. My course talked about the health benefits of tea and also being similar to a tea sommelier. I actually went back to China to study under a tea master to learn more about blending Chinese herbs and grasses and things like that for health. I definitely want to further my education in that sense.
With some of the other tea parlors opening, are we experiencing a tea renaissance?
People seem more and more interested in it, outside of just the health benefits of drinking tea. To me, it seems most people are still coffee drinkers, but that’s OK. There are New Yorkers that definitely know their tea and want good tea. I think part of what’s strange is that people are coming to New York and wanting to charge an obscene amount for loose-leaf tea. I don’t want to mention any names, but there’s this tea company selling an ounce of herbal detox tea for $19.
Where do you like to drink tea?
I find flaws with all of them, but I think that Mendl’s is lovely. Tea & Sympathy, I like their concept and they have great scones, but I don’t like the fact that they only offer whole milk. I’m not that tolerant to dairy.
What’s the biggest mistake people make when it comes to tea?
Some people will argue temperature. I think you can fudge a little on the temperature of the water. Actually, you’re not supposed to have green tea steeped in water over 175 degrees Fahrenheit, but I think you can get away with it as long as you don’t steep it too long.
Is iced tea a taboo among serious tea folk?
Why would it be? I don’t think it should be. I’m not into having a purist Asian-style teahouse. It’s more of a European-style teahouse. I don’t see anything wrong with iced tea. I just make a very strong pot, then throw it into a martini shaker with some ice cubes. Not everybody can drink hot tea. Who am I to judge?
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 14, 2011