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The Caribbean’s Tea Sommelier

By: Caribbean Journal Staff - September 18, 2014

Above: tea time at the Grand Residences Riviera Cancun (all photos by CJ)

By Sarah Greaves-Gabbadon
CJ Travel Editor

PUERTO MORELOS — The Caribbean has a storied tradition of rum drinking, but if one Cancun-based tea master has his way, we’ll all be sipping tea instead of knocking back Painkillers on our next vacation.

Christian Horn, a German “tea sommelier” who’s lived in the Mexican tourist mecca for the past two decades, is on a mission “to transform tea drinkers into tea lovers.” And today he’s attempting just that as he guides our group through the tea tastings offered to guests at Grand Residences Riviera Cancun, a new all-suite luxury resort in Puerto Morelos.

At an elegantly appointed table, each of us is seated in front of a canister of tea, a teapot and individual tea service as we see, smell, serve each other, and finally sip the five varieties of “camelius sinensis” (white, Japanese green, Chinese, Oolong and black tea) Horn has brought with him.

tea2

“There’s so much more to tea than just the tea bag,” he tells us, masterfully compressing 5,000 years of tea history into an illuminating 90-minute session.

I’m surprised to learn that herbal teas such as peppermint and chamomile, as well as fruit and floral teas such as my beloved hibiscus, aren’t really teas at all. (Since they don’t actually contain leaves from the tea plant, they’re considered infusions).

And I also learn that for my entire life I’ve been drinking tea all wrong.

“Forget about sipping!” Horn admonishes as I purse my lips delicately on the porcelain cup’s rim, my pinky poised to ascend skyward. “To get the true flavor you really need to take in air with every mouthful. Go ahead and slurp it as noisily as you want!”

Really?!

I throw caution and years of home training to the wind and slurp like a champion, cool air rushing over the hot tea as it bathes my tongue. And to my surprise, the brew does taste better. Definitely a more intense, fuller flavor than my previous sip. Who knew?!

tea3

Here, Horn’s five top tips for making the perfect pot:

1. Buy The Best
Don’t cheap out! While price isn’t always an indicator of quality, it doesn’t pay to buy bargain-basement brews. “Shop at a reputable tea seller and be guided by your own taste,” Horn advises. “In general, you can’t go wrong with white tea. It’s the most expensive but because the flavor is so potent you’ll use far less and save money in the long run.”

2. Watch Your Water
Don’t even think about using water from the coffee maker! Not only will it make the tea master recoil in horror but it will also adversely affect the taste of your carefully selected cuppa. Mountain spring water enriched with minerals is best, Horn advises. Purified tap waters minus the minerals simply won’t do.

3. Time It Right
Brewing tea for too long is a common mistake, Horn says. “White tea only needs two to three minutes,” he advises. Brew black tea and infusions for no longer than five minutes.

4. Take the Temperature
The ideal brewing temperature for white, green or oolong tea is 158 degrees Fahrenheit, Horn says. Any hotter and you “kill” the tea; any cooler and the flavor doesn’t fully develop. The easiest way to achieve this temp: Boil water in a kettle then wait five (if you’re in a cold climate) or 10 minutes (if you live somewhere warm) before pouring. Black tea and fruit or herbal infusions can be prepped with boiling water.

5. Get a Cup
Just as wine tastes better from a crystal glass, your tea will benefit from a proper cup. So ditch the Styrofoam and cardboard cups and invest in a fine china cup-and-saucer set. “Make tea time special; make tea a leisurely occasion with friends,” Horn encourages. “And whatever you do, never make tea in a coffee cup.”

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