The Evolution of a Sommelier: From Baggage Handler to Wine, Beer and Now Tea Expert

Anthony Anguille knows his pu-erh, the pressed large leaf tea prized for its earthy flavor and wine-like proclivity to aging. The 22-year-old is the "tea sommelier" at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas.

"A colleague had introduced a tea program to pair with spa services and it just became my obsession," says the psychology and biology double major at the University of Las Vegas. Currently, Anguille offers a dozen teas sourced from The Art of Tea in Los Angeles at the hotel's spa, including a delicately spiced white peach tea and more hard-to-find varieties including pu-erh (albeit a considerably less expensive version than the1952 vintage that goes for $3,000 an ounce at Dr. Tea in West Hollywood).

The idea of a tea sommelier isn't quite as hard to believe as, say, yet another cupcake shop in Los Angeles. According to the entry in Larousse Gastronomique, the word sommelier originally referred to the monk in charge of household basics including linens, bread and wine. Under Louis XIV, the word came to refer specifically to royal luggage handlers (basically a suitcase sommelier who made sure the King's possessions arrived safely). Only recently has the term come specifically to mean a restaurant wine expert.

In general, Anguille recommends lighter teas such as green and white with food, whereas full-bodied black teas like Assam are best sipped solo. The aged pu-erh teas like those included on the "look-and-sniff table" in the Fowler Museum at UCLA's Steeped in History: The Art of Tea exhibition are best savored alone, he says.

Though Anguille has rather limited food pairing options available at the spa--apples, oranges, and pretzels are the extent of his larder--he is nonplussed. In the future, he hopes to land a restaurant job where he can expand his culinary sippings. In the meantime, with the apples and oranges, he typically recommends guests sip an iced white or green tea like Beech Flower. The pretzels, on the other hand, are tricky. "They may be better paired with an oolong to aid digestion of the complex carbohydrates." The beginning of a new era of tea sommeliers; the end of the low carb diet.

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