Burj Al Arab Jumeirah’s Tea Sommelier Jefrey Garcia can tell you the name of a tea just by its aroma, look or taste. We catch up with him in the Sahn Eddar tea lounge over a cup of his favourite oolong blend and he shares his secrets to all things tea.
How does one make the perfect cup of tea?
Always use loose leaves if you can. Teabags tend to contain a lot of dust. The teapot ideally should be bone china or clay because they hold the temperature best. Warm the teapot first. Make sure the water temperature is correct. Black tea requires the water to be 95 degrees using 2.5 grams of leaves per cup. Green tea requires the water to be 80 to 85 degrees. The steeping time is important too. Green tea only needs two to three minutes to sit before serving – that’s enough time to release all the benefits. Any longer means the taste just gets stronger. The key is: the longer the leaves, the longer the infusion time.
As for adding other ingredients, such as milk, sugar or honey, it’s worth remembering that as soon as you do, you lessen the benefits of the tea. So in my opinion you really shouldn’t add anything else to tea. However, I know that this may not be to everyone’s taste, and tradition dictates. So if you want to add milk, then traditionally you do this last – although the first-or-last argument will forever reign on this one.
What are the benefits to drinking tea?
Tea is so beneficial. For me the taste, while vital to be able to enjoy the drink, is secondary. It’s the health benefits of the tea that I appreciate most. There’s a tea to assist with almost every ailment. Green tea is high in vitamin C and strengthens the immune system. Silver Needle white tea is particularly high in antioxidants, because it is made only from the pure buds of the plant. It’s very pure. Meanwhile, pu-erh black tea, from the Yunnan province in China, is great for digestion.
Tell me more about your role at the hotel?
I oversee the serving of tea and afternoon tea within the Burj Al Arab’s Sahn Eddar Lounge. Located at the base of the hotel’s famous atrium, this is where many of our guests come to savour our famous afternoon or high tea or simply drop in for a cup.
I also oversee the tea menu, ensuring we offer the best quality and variety and I make sure that each tea is served correctly – each tea needs to be treated differently if you want to reap its full benefits.
My main goal is that guests enjoy their first cup of tea as much as they do their last.
I’m also here to pass on my knowledge to the guests. I have a trolley that I push around the lounge visiting each table and, if the guests are open to it, I give them a brief presentation on the history of tea. I show them a few different varieties of dry leaves and explain the difference. And then we do a kind of blind tasting and they can guess which is which. It can be fun.
What do you love about your role as Tea Sommelier?
Well firstly I feel so lucky to be working at Burj Al Arab Jumeirah. I love meeting the guests who come from so many different countries. And of course, I’m passionate about tea.
Tea is like wine. While grapes are the base of wine, leaves are the base of tea. Did you know that all teas are made from the same plant – the camellia sinensis plant, native to Asia. Yet there are around 1,500 different varieties and each tea has its own special notes, after taste and blends. The difference depends on the climate in which the plants are grown and how the leaves are processed.
What are the most popular teas you serve?
Our Chinese guests tend to go for the green teas. They like strong flavours. While our European guests prefer the black teas, such as the traditional Earl Grey or English breakfast.
We also serve herbal infusions – which aren’t in fact teas at all, but we serve them like a tea.
I particularly like it when I have a guest that wants to be a bit more adventurous and try a new tea. I talk to them about their likes and dislikes and then I make a suggestion. It’s satisfying – as long as they enjoy it of course!
How did you learn so much about tea?
I was introduced to tea when I started to work for the famous tea company TWG here in Dubai. I’d worked in hotels as a waiter in my hometown of Manila in the Philippines for years, but in this job I was expected to actually sell tea – 400 different varieties! I didn’t know about one tea, let alone 400. So I put myself on a crash course and set myself a daily goal to learn about five teas a day. It became almost an obsession. Then TWG sent me on secondment for several months to the company headquarters in Singapore where I was confronted with 1,000 teas!
Following TWG I moved, as part of the pre-opening team, to the tea salon of the very British luxury retailer Fortum and Mason in Dubai. I stayed here for a further three and a half years until joining Jumeirah at the Burj Al Arab in November 2017.
What’s your favourite tea?
I have a palette on the lighter side. So I like Oolong tea. This is a white tea. It has less theanine in it, so it’s good to drink anytime of day. They say that Oolong is the best of both worlds because it has the aroma of a green tea but the taste of black. In the Burj Al Arab we serve Milk Oolong where the leaves have been steamed under milk. It has a wonderful caramel aroma with a smooth and sweet finish.