Tea Makers Profile: Executive Chef Mark Gordon

At Far Leaves Tea, we call those who drink loose leaf tea, Tea Makers, because they don't just drink tea as a beverage.  They take the time to make and experience loose leaf tea through the numerous different infusions as the tea leaves unfurl.  In the spirit of learning more about how these Tea Makers began their tea journey and their tea rituals, we are, of course, sitting down and having tea with them.  

We are fortunate to have chef Mark Gordon, executive chef of San Francisco's Rose's Cafe, Rose Pistola, and Terzo, be our first Tea Maker Profile guest.  Below was our tea dialogue where he shared the why's and how's of his loose leaf tea experience with us.

Q: Why do you drink loose leaf tea, Mark?

A: I drink loose leaf tea to slow down and take my time.  Tea bags are great but they are for people in general who can't slow down.  They have their place and they are quick.  For my restaurants it would save me a lot of money if I had tea bags, but i don't do that. I want my customers to slow down and have a tea ritual at my restaurant: to smell the leaves, the tea, and keep getting infusions from it.  My work demands a lot of time.  Having tea is a way to leave my regular very rushed and complicated life behind.  Just a way to slow down.  

Q: How did you start drinking tea?

A: I started drinking loose leaf tea in college at Madison, Wisconsin.  Before that I had Lipton tea every so often by the bag.  I was drinking blended herbal teas which was really cool at the time.  That's kind of how I started.  I drank a lot of herbal teas for a good many years.  I liked the flavors and the lack of caffeine.  It's a hot beverage that I can drink.  I didn't drink a lot of coffee because of the jittery caffeine it would give me.  I would do it to cram for exams.  I enjoyed the ritual of having the tea leaves, smelling it, (seeing the brew in) different colors.  That was my ritual.  And then I discovered Far Leaves Tea.  

Q: How has your tea ritual changed over the years?

A: My ritual hasn't really changed.  I drink more tea than I ever have now.  I almost always have a pot of tea in the morning.  For that, I drink more Puer than anything else.  During day I may have some Puer or Yunnan Supreme, with that chocolatey, hay like flavors you find in black teas.  I am kind of a tea snob (chuckles) since I like fine teas.  

At 5:30 or 6 PM I will have a pot of tea.  It gives me a little push as I get ready to go down to expedite the line at the restaurant, but in a relaxed way.  Sometimes I drink black tea.  Depends on my mood really.  Sometimes I drink Purple Bamboo.  Fun part of tea is that you have so much choice and you can make your own blends.  Sometimes I switch it up to something lighter like an Oolong.  I am really enjoying this Charcoal Fired Oolong right now.  

Oolong is kind of like a perfect tea.  As you know what you are getting and aware of your temperatures, you will get something very satisfying.  Can get through at least 10 pots in an hour.  It's the floral-ness and softness of it (that I love).

Q: Tell us how you view tea as a chef.

A: Loose leaf tea evolves as it gets older.  Sometimes it's not quite the same as what it tasted like when you bought it.  It's a living thing, which makes it interesting for me.

It's (also) a pairing thing, with food, with my mood.  You don't get that from juice or coffee.  Tea to me, it's a cherished thing because tea gets you in a mood.  For example, this brew is cooler than the last one (we had) but will still be delicious.  
I like my tea unadulterated.  I don't drink milk in any tea.  Not even Lapsang Souchong.  I don't really like milk that much.
Tea is the closest thing to wine I know as a beverage.   It would make sense for a wine drinker to be a tea drinker.  People don't end up drinking the equivalent of 10 cups of coffee in an hour.  
It's really good to see transformation of tea from dry to when it's gone. Wine is same too - when you let it sit out too long it may lose its edge.  For the nuances to come together to be one:  tannins, acidity and fruit - it takes some time.  With tea, it's the infusing that does that.  I like drinking tea with people.  It's a communal thing too.

Q: What's your favorite tea and food pairing?

A:  Puer with chocolate at the end of a meal.  That works out really well since both Puer and chocolate are in your face.
Green tea with Japanese food.  (Green tea) goes so well with raw fish.  Delicate.  Only makes sense to have delicate food with delicate tea.  And a bowl of rice and egg with White Peony is really tasty too.

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