DEBORAH FULSANG sat down with the distractingly handsome Nick Youngquest,…
Her new project, The Tea Book, has just hit bookstores, so we spoke with author Linda Gaylard about what she calls the ultimate fall beverage, and how its aroma and scent informs her job and life.
QUESTION: Why tea? What drew you to it?
LINDA GAYLARD: There is an infinite opportunity to learn more about tea made from the plant Camellia Sinensis. That’s what drives my interest in it. It is closely tied to culture, tradition and style. My approach to tea is one that encompasses all these facets. However, tea has achieved this level of recognition primarily because of its pleasurable taste and aroma. I also enjoy that the caffeine in tea is modified by compounds that make it less jolting than coffee. This is the reason that its early use was primarily in Buddhist meditative rituals. Tea is a pause, a moment to regroup, refresh and bring our lives back into focus.
Q: What do you like specifically about tea in the cooler, fall months?
GAYLARD: As the weather starts to cool down, we spend more time indoors and the clean scent of tea’s aromas provides a lift. We are not connected to the outdoors as we were in the summer months and tea’s warmth helps us cope with the cocoon-like lifestyle we must embrace. Holding a mug of hot tea is one of the great comforts of the autumn season.
Q: What are some of your favourite tea flavours for fall?
GAYLARD: I love Masala Chai once temperatures go below freezing. I enjoy making it from scratch and while I’m preparing it, my home is filled with the scent of anise, clove, cinnamon, cardamom, etc. It’s glorious! I also enjoy Lapsang Souchong, lightly smoked tea. It reminds me of the warmth of campfires.
For more home fragrance tips, read about our experience with nebulizers—the new scent diffuser.
Q: Talk a bit about how the aroma and scent of tea affects mood and your own day-to-day activities.
GAYLARD: As a tea sommelier, I taste teas professionally, making notes on their aromas and flavours. This is very focused work, but still enjoyable. The added benefit is that I have hundreds of teas in my collection that I can drink throughout the day.
While the choice changes from day to day, I usually start my morning with a green tea, for example Gyokuro, a high-grade Japanese shade-grown tea. It has aromas of ocean breeze, sweet vegetation and a slight hint of umami (a pleasant savoury taste). Its freshness invigorates my morning.
Midday, I’m ready for a more pronounced tea such as an Oolong like Tie Guan Yin (Iron Goddess of Mercy). Depending on its origin, it can taste of dried stone fruit, pine and have smokey and floral aromas. There is actually a traditional way to prepare TGY using nosing cups, so fragrance is central to the enjoyment of this tea.
If I have time I’ll pause for afternoon tea—usually a black tea, my favourite being Darjeeling, which has a strong muscatel grape aroma and a satisfying, layered flavour that is round and bright. Darjeeling is a good tea to pair with food, so I’ll have some light fare of cheddar cheese, apples and walnuts—all great fall snacks!
Evening is time for tisanes—herbal infusions made from aromatic herbs and spices such as lavender, chamomile and anise. These are fragrant ingredients that soothe and help me wind down for the day.
GAYLARD: Fall is probably my favourite season. The cool misty air holds the aroma of fallen leaves and the soil has a sweet smell. There is also a hint of fruit in the air as berries ripen on bushes. Even in the city you notice the fruity ripeness of crab apples as they fall on the sidewalks.
See some more of our favourite fall smells here.
Q: Do you have any tips for enjoying tea in the fall?
GAYLARD: This is the best time to enjoy spicy teas and teas with the addition of stone fruits. It is also still a great time to be outdoors before we get blasted with the frost of winter. Take your tea outside with you, either using a travel flask or enjoying a mug in the garden. There is nothing quite like watching the steam rise from your tea or inhaling the sweet smell of the blend while you are in the cool open air.
Q: Do you have any tips about serving tea to guests?
GAYLARD: Teatime with guests can be a relaxing and intimate way to entertain. You can have an afternoon tea or a tea tasting of several different teas that you’d like to try. Be sure to show your guests the loose leaf, as they will likely be fascinated by it. Let them have a whiff of it before you infuse it. Try as much as possible to follow prep guidelines on packaging but don’t be shy about experimenting with the teas before your guests arrive—you may like a stronger or weaker infusion. If you are serving a black tea, have some milk and sweetener on the table, but if it’s any other type, urge your guests to drink it au naturel.
Q: Do you have a go-to type of tea?
GAYLARD: As the cooler weather approaches I tend to drink more black tea. The aromas are rich and complex. I love the sweet maltiness of Chinese black teas such as Qimen or Yunnan Gold. They are satisfying on so many levels as their vapours lift their natural aromas of chocolate, burnt sugar and dried fruit.
Q: Are there any tea traditions that you’re particularly fond of? Anecdotes, stories, cultural curiosities?
GAYLARD: I had the opportunity a few years ago to be present during the making of jasmine tea in China. The flowers are harvested in mid-August and then added to already-made green tea. The perfume from the jasmine flowers on that hot August night permeated everything in the factory. Before visiting, I wasn’t a fan of jasmine tea, but after that visit I enjoy it as a souvenir of the experience.
The samovar [decorative tea urn] is a cultural icon for the many tea drinkers of Russia and other regions nearby. It was traditionally a strong presence at the tea table. In early models, water was heated by filling the central core with small pieces of hardwood. The fire would be started outside and once the wood burned down to coals, the samovar was brought indoors and water added. It filled the kitchen with the sweet smell of hardwood charcoal. Add to that the aroma of “Zavarka”—a very strong infusion of black tea—and the smell of fresh baking and you can understand why so many want to keep this tradition alive.
Lotus flower tea is a rare tea from Vietnam. It is lovingly made by placing dried green tea leaves in the petals of the lotus flowers just before they close at night. In the morning when the flower opens, the tea leaves are removed having absorbed the strong perfume of the flower.
Q: Do you wear perfume?
GAYLARD: I have to be careful about wearing perfume because I’m dealing with taste and aroma throughout my day. Tea is dry and porous and will soak up any aromas that it comes in contact with. That’s why it blends with spices and fruits so well. On days when I’m not going to be working with tea or when I’m going out in the evening, I will wear scented cream or a small dash of perfume on the nape of my neck or on a handkerchief in my bag. I will sometimes use scents to help me sleep.
Q: What perfume(s) do you wear and why?
GAYLARD: I find that scents are evocative and somewhat emotional. When I occasionally wear perfume I like the experience to be complex, just as I like my tea. I enjoy the initial freshness of the scent, but enjoy it more as it settles into my own essence and changes with the hours as certain volatiles evapourate.
I’ve always enjoyed Mystère by Rochas. It is sadly discontinued. I still have a small amount left in a bottle from the 1980s. When I do wear perfume, it seems to be my go-to fragrance. I love the layers of scent that it presents, even though I’m not sure I could recognize them all. Sometimes, I’ll just wear a little essential oil such as myrrh. If anyone can recommend a fragrance with tea essence, I’d be happy to give that a try!
Q: What scents are you generally drawn to?
GAYLARD: I enjoy pure essences and other natural scents related to woods, such as cedar. If the scents are herb-based, I find that they don’t overwhelm, for example rosemary and sage are fine—and anything earthy, such as patchouli (in small doses) and oak moss. I also enjoy lavender in small amounts.
Q: What is the relationship between tea and perfume to you?
GAYLARD: Scent is integral to the experience of tea appreciation. Tea producers work as much to create a beautiful aroma from their tea as they do to create unique flavours from the taste. Fragrance is also a tool that is used to judge the freshness of tea, particularly green tea. We wouldn’t have flavour in tea if it weren’t for the presence of aromas, as both aroma and taste combine in the olfactory system to create flavour.
Green tea was big in both beauty and perfume this year. Read more.
Q: Please talk a bit about tea as an experience vs purely as sustenance.
GAYLARD: Because tea encompasses such a variety of influences, there are many opportunities to look beyond the cup. The terroir of where is it grown and the cultural influences of its region and country have an effect on the aroma and taste of the leaf. The tea plant has a rich history—it was a major factor for trade along the Silk Road; it provoked wars; influenced rituals and poetry. The modern approach to tea is to experiment—tea is a primary ingredient for creative bar chefs and a great addition to both sweet and savoury dishes for innovative cooks.
I think the enjoyment of tea increases with its presentation. Creating an occasion with tea, whether the approach is North American or Asian, involves the use of fine tea ware, linens, and preparation vessels and ultimately a chance to share those moments with friends.
The Tea Book by Linda Gaylard, $24, www.chapters.indigo.ca