Day Trip: Tea Sommelier Gabrielle Jammal - Imbibe Magazine Subscribe + Save

Day Trip: Tea Sommelier Gabrielle Jammal

The French crystal maker Baccarat opened its flagship hotel in New York City in 2015, and certified tea sommelier Gabrielle Jammal joined at its inception, curating an afternoon tea program without parallel. Born into a family with a daily tea tradition, Jammal worked at Teavana and Bergdorf Goodman’s BG restaurant prior to launching her ambitious program at Baccarat Hotel New York. The hotel’s annual holiday tea showcases Jammal’s work at its most creative, and here she shares a peek at service from behind the scenes.

7:00 a.m. I arrive at work masked up and have my temperature taken before settling into the day. The hotel reopened for service in October, following March’s COVID-19–related closure, and we do things a little differently now. I have my first cup of tea at work because I like to take my time. Lately I’ve been drinking a lot of white tea—specifically, this beautiful aged Silver Needle from a friend who has an aged tea company. White tea is generally lighter, but this is the darker, complex version with notes of cocoa powder. I’m quite sensitive to caffeine, so white tea is a bit gentler, and I can have multiple cups throughout the day. I make some for myself and then re-steep the leaves to share with the rest of the morning crew. If I get a new sample in, I’ll brew it in the morning. I currently work with seven different tea companies based in New York or on the East Coast who source directly, so I can text and say, “Hey, I want to know what garden this came from, what field this came from, and who the farmer is.”

7:45 a.m. I have a hybrid role as tea sommelier and food and beverage manager, so I spend the rest of the morning managing the floor during breakfast service, with my PPE and hand sanitizer. I have a restricted tea menu available, and I like to feature teas that broaden guests’ understanding of the category. For example, instead of an English breakfast, which is a blended tea, I have a really beautiful Indian Assam. Green tea can be kind of finicky and very temperature- and time-specific, so I have a Bhutanese, hand-processed, organic green tea from a 26-person co-op my friend helped establish. Aged, fermented pu-erh is another really cool parallel to a breakfast tea. It reminds me of when I was little, I went to this playground with a castle made out of wood. When it would rain, the castle would smell like this tea. I try to describe teas in ways people can relate to, like, “This is like a walk in the park in the summer when the dried grass smells like hay.”

11:15 a.m. As soon as breakfast ends I’m making sure everything is pristine for our holiday afternoon tea service. That includes double-checking menus; mapping out the tables; and laying out the cutlery, Champagne flutes, and teacups and saucers. It’s important to create an air of expectation. The afternoon tea is technically reservation-only, and despite decreased capacity, I’ll always hold a few extra services every day for walk-ins—I don’t like turning people away.

12:00 p.m. The salon doors open and I’m orchestrating afternoon tea, which runs from after Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day. The grand salon is designed after old château and palace salons, so you come into this room and feel like royalty. In past years I’ve done menus based on The Nutcracker and A Christmas Carol, building the service around the story. We always do a Le Petit Prince–themed tea for children, and I have beautiful, pocket-size versions of the book produced to give each child. I’m kind of in five different places at once during afternoon tea, making sure each tea is being brewed properly, welcoming folks, checking in with the kitchen and the tables. I’ve got my white tea to keep me going.

4:00 p.m. Once service wraps, I cool down by brainstorming holiday pairing events before I head home. We’ve done tea and Champagne, tea and honey, and tea and cheese. We’re in the planning stages for a tea and chocolate event. I try a sample of a sesame candy bar covered in chocolate. The tea we pair it with brings out this whole other marine flavor that wasn’t initially present in either. I’m on the fence, but a colleague likes it, so I include it on the menu. Everyone’s palates are different!

Editor’s Note: Due to COVID-19, indoor dining at Baccarat, including afternoon tea, will not be offered through the end of the year.

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