How This Millennial Turned A Hobby Into A Travel Career
By Laura Begley Bloom, Oct. 13, 2016
The Grand Salon of the Baccarat Hotel in Midtown Manhattan feels like a modern version of Versailles, with its mirrored walls, lavish chandeliers and jewel-box displays of intricate crystal sculptures. It’s a magical settingworthy of Marie Antoinette. When 28-year-old Gabrielle Jammal was hosting little tea parties for her dolls in her suburban New Jersey home, she had no idea that some day she would be working in a glamorous place like this and jetting around the globe to sample rare blends of tea. But that’s just what her life is like these days as the tea sommelier at this hotel just off Fifth Avenue.
With finely honed tea chops that would rival any wine sommelier, Jammal’s background combines English and Middle Eastern roots, a perfect pedigree for this line of work. Here, she talks about what it takes to turn a passion for a subject like tea into a travel career.
Gabrielle Jammal: Tea has always been in my life. It makes me happy and just makes everything better. I grew up drinking tea with my family. My mother told me she used to play tea party with me and my dolls when I was little. If that doesn’t make you feel warm and fuzzy all over, then nothing will. As I got older, I became interested in health, wellness and organic living. Ten years ago I started working in tea; I love the way it makes people feel.
Begley Bloom: Do you feel like Eloise at the Plaza?
Jammal: I feel more like a mother hen watching over her nest. During tea time, I like to know everything that’s going on, interact with everyone and ensure that our guests leave saying to themselves, “Wow, that was really special.”
Begley Bloom: What does it take to become a tea sommelier?
Jammal: It takes constant education and the desire for learning because the tea world is always changing and you can never know enough. I am certified with the International Tea Masters Association. In terms of learning and certification, I am cautiously optimistic that the world is starting to catch up with the wine world when it comes to accredited standardization.
Begley Bloom: What’s the difference between a tea sommelier and a wine sommelier?
Jammal: The biggest similarity is that both roles require you to be extremely knowledgeable about your subject. The biggest difference is that right now in the tea world, there is not as much standardization with regard to levels of expertise as there is in the wine industry.
Begley Bloom: Are there any other tea sommeliers that inspired you?
Jammal: Christopher Day at Eleven Madison Park completely changed the way people see tea as part of the dining experience. Sebastian Beckwith, who started In Pursuit of Tea, and Kevin Gascoyne from Camillia Sinensis are also huge inspirations. They are changing the way people buy and consume tea, and they continue to have a big impact on me. Oh, and I almost forgot to mention Beyonce — she is an inspiration, because every woman wants to be fierce like that!
Begley Bloom: Where do you travel for inspiration?
Jammal: I am lucky enough to live in a city where people fly across the world just to enjoy a long weekend here. I get inspired every day I walk out my door. But I’m also always traveling for inspiration. I recently went to Southern California, as well as Canada, where I studied with some of the world’s top tea masters. No matter where I go, I always travel with my own personal tea stash.
Begley Bloom: How do tea and travel relate?
Jammal: Tea is very special because it is at the heart of most cultures. You will find it anywhere in the world. The top three tea travel destinations on my list are Darjeeling, Kyoto and Taiwan.
Begley Bloom: Any exciting tea surprises in store?
Jammal: I am working with Emily, our lead bartender, on tea-infused cocktails. I’m also debuting a Tsar Nicholas afternoon tea service that will feature caviar and champagne for two, prepared and presented in a way that you haven’t seen anywhere else.
Begley Bloom: Are you creating house blends?
Jammal: Mariage Frères from Paris created a Melange Rouge house blend for the hotel. It’s a delicious rooibos tea from South Africa that is “Baccarat” red in color.
Begley Bloom: What is your favorite kind of tea?
Jammal: It depends on my mood. Currently I’m obsessed with a first flush Darjeeling from the Glenburn Estate. I also love oolongs.
Begley Bloom: What is your favorite tea recipe?
Jammal: I love to use matcha in everything. Baking, seasoning fish, in smoothies… it’s so versatile. Currently, we have a vodka cocktail on our menu, shaken with matcha, yuzu and cucumber. I also love a hot toddy with tea on a cold winter day.
Begley Bloom: What’s your advice for other women who want to get into this career?
Jammal: Be passionate, have humility — and follow your heart. It may sound silly, but it isn’t always so easy!