The Detroit Tea Examiner will be featuring tea authorities from across the country in an on-going series: Spotlight on Tea Professionals. The first tea professional in our interview series is Elizabeth Knight, author of “Tea with Friends” and former tea sommelier at the historic St. Regis Hotel in New York. She is also a contributor to Tea Time Magazine and frequent guest on national television programs including CBS’ Sunday Morning, The Travel Channel, The Home Shopping Network and QVC.
How did you become interested in tea?
I grew up with tea. My mother, whose heritage was English and Irish, drank tea not coffee. My father, a Southerner, drank iced tea at every meal except breakfast, no matter what the weather.
Of all the books you have authored on the subject of tea, which did you enjoy writing most?
That’s a bit like being asked to name which of several children is the favorite. Writing my first book, “Tea With Friends,” was exciting because I got to share with readers knowledge that I’d developed after years of teaching tea classes, and catering.
I wrote “Celtic Tea With Friends – Teatime Traditions from Cornwall, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales” when I lived in London. It was wonderful to explore cottage teas, posh teas, hotel teas, farm teas, heritage estate teas, teas served on trains, boats, and from caravans parked at antique fairs, and outside cathedrals. I toured Taylors of Harrogate’s factory in Yorkshire, visited the Teapot World Teapot Museum in Conway, Wales, [and] took a cooking class in Edinburgh, Scotland. [I also], met the Duke of Bedford at a Woburn Abbey tea event among other “tea thrills.”
“Tea In the City New York – A tea-lover’s guide to sipping and shopping in the city” allowed me to mix my favorite beverage with my favorite city. Even though Manhattan has a cocktail named after it, tea was the city’s first fashionable beverage. Dutch and American colonists drank it before the English.
What was your role as tea sommelier in New York? Did you assist with menus, pairings, and etiquette?
Yes [to all ]. I often met with the food and beverage manager, chefs, and PR staff to develop special menus for holidays and special events as well as “freshen” the standard menu with seasonal offerings. In addition to pairings we also worked on tea-based cocktails.
Guests always asked questions about the proper way to brew, serve, and enjoy tea. We also hosted “refresher” seminars for kitchen and wait staff.
What did you like most about that position?
I enjoyed the opportunity to listen and learn from a multi-national, multi-ethnic staff many of whom came from centuries-old tea drinking cultures. The guests who came for afternoon tea always had something interesting to tell me about their tea experiences either in the hotel or when they traveled the world. In fact, I toured Japan for two weeks to talk about New York tea experiences after meeting a Japanese businesswoman who imported fine hand-crafted tea from China to her home country.
You have been conducting tea tours of New York City for many years. Can tea enthusiasts still sign up for those?
I’m not offering the tea tours this summer as I am busy speaking, renovating and moving to a new house. [However] I will be at the Word Tea Expo East [World Tea East, Philadelphia, October, 2012] this year.
To order any of Elizabeth Knight’s books or check out upcoming events, see her website, Tea With Friends.