An interview with the Tearista at Fortnum & Mason
Interview by Anna Sulan Masing | Illustration by Gwendoline Blosse
It is no surprise that the restaurant world is called the hospitality industry; the act of service and the art of welcoming is what keeps us coming back to our favourite places, it is what makes us feel special, and what endears us to dining out. In this column, Anna Sulan Masing takes us on a journey around the UK, speaking to the talented people who orchestrate the most memorable experiences we have at the table.
For this column Anna speaks to Domenico Gradia, Tearista at the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon at Fortnum & Mason Piccadilly.
How did you start your career in hospitality?
I moved to London three years ago and started out in hospitality at Fortnum & Mason. I was delighted to join the team at the epicentre of tea expertise, which is my passion. I am one of three Tearistas at Fortnum & Mason and there are more in training.
What made you specialise in tea?
As an Italian, I should be drinking endless coffee, but I betrayed my traditions to follow my heart, which is in a cup of tea. I started to learn about the subject 20 years ago when I took a Master’s degree and my professor gave me tea as an experimental subject for my thesis. I was interested in everything – from tea’s history to how it is portrayed in English literature.
How big is the tea sommelier community and what countries are particularly interested in this expertise?
It’s not that big in comparison to all the tea lovers in the world and the people in the tea industry! It’s becoming bigger, especially in the UK, America and Canada.
What is the rhythm of your average day?
I train and mentor staff in the morning; most commonly it is to advise on how to answer the age-old customer query “what would you recommend?”. My response is to always discover and extract what the customer really likes or wants.
As service begins in the Diamond Jubilee Tea Salon, I check every pot of tea for perfection – we're very particular about that at Fortnum’s. My tea sommelier duties are on top of the usual afternoon tea service: asking customers how they’ve enjoyed it and why, recommending new flavours and introducing them to undiscovered tastes. Some days, I might be serving at an event – Fortnum’s knows how to throw a party!
What is a perk of your job?
Fortnum & Mason gave me the chance to train further at the UK Tea Academy. The Tea Sommelier course is notoriously intense and hard to pass and, to date, there are only 11 people in the UK to have passed it. I am one of them, and two others also work at Fortnum’s.
Another massive perk is the happiness and satisfaction I feel anytime I meet customers who are devout coffee drinkers or cynical about tea – hearing at the end of service “you were right!”.
What is your favourite tea?
It’s a green tea called Anji Bai Cha, one of the rarest and finest Chinese green teas. It’s a favourite because it is delicate and light, and contains a very high level of antioxidants and amino acids.
Who do you admire in the industry?
The person I admire is very close to home. Dr Andrea Tanner is Fortnum’s archivist – we have a shared love of history and she is charming and endlessly knowledgeable. I think it’s so important to know the history and traditions of food and drink if you are serving it.
What is your first food memory?
Mandarins, clementines and bergamot – Calabria is the land of zesty scent and taste. Bergamot is in Earl Grey so when I drink a cup it instantly transports me back.
Finish this sentence – the rule of good service is…
Before even speaking, it is so important to smile.