The story behind Phuket Fire, the creative mashup between Gregory Gourdet of Departure Restaurant, and Smith Teamaker, as told by Tony Tellin, head tea master. The limited edition product is now sold out.
I came into the first meeting with Gregory with great excitement to hear his thoughts and inspiration for what we would make for the third Maker’s Series. I am a huge fan of his cuisine and it was an honor to have him join our series.
We began our conversation by chatting about Thailand and the meals we have both had there. We discussed the bold and assertive Thai flavors balancing acidity, sweetness, floral and heat - the same flavors that Gregory has embraced to put himself and Departure on the map for culinary genius. I loved this direction and had a feeling that this could truly be something special. We planned to launch this tea in December- a perfect time for a bold flavor that is bright, fresh, and a touch indulgent with warming heat.
We went to the lab and tasted some teas and ingredients together, discussing what we liked and didn’t like. By the end of our first meeting, we had a few directions for us to explore on our own before reconvening. I started going through the Smith pantry and thinking of ingredients to provide the backdrop to the blend. We wanted a rich color in the cup and I started investigating black and oolong teas from various origins.
Tasting some teas and ingredients
One ingredient we zeroed in on from the start was toasted coconut. The coconut is absolutely delicious by itself but when toasted, it becomes nuttier and richer- perfect for this occasion.
So I toasted some coconut, sifted it down to size and tasted it with various ingredients. I also chopped up dried chilies of different types to see how their flavor and spice translated to the cup. I even explored dehydrated beets for the liquor color, and many, many other ingredients. Several of the concept blends were good, but not great.
Gregory invited me to his kitchen at Departure to explore his pantry. I love this part of my job: seeing the ingredients and spaces of other creators and makers- from small kitchens to large factories. I live for it and this trip proved very inspirational. Gregory first showed me candied and dehydrated pineapple that had been infused with lime. The finished pineapple is a beautiful color and could easily be diced to an optimal size for our tea. This was a no brainer and a perfect fit for our project.
He also brought out Thai chilies and pea flowers. The pea flowers are really cool, beautiful and something I have not seen before. I had also brought with me a blend, or a roux, made from a jasmine green tea, toasted coconut, smoked chilies and lemon myrtle. We chopped up some of the pineapple and threw it together with the blend I brought and steeped it in a cup. The tea was delicious and it became evident that this maker’s series was starting to take form but we still wanted a bigger presence.
On the outdoor patio of Departure
I was excited and on a mission and walked away with enough ingredients to play around with. I went right back to the lab, starting deseeding and dicing chilies and then cut the pineapple, sifting them both to steeping or the ideal or the optimal size. That’s when the idea for the perfect backdrop hit me. Hibiscus. And it turned out to be the winner.
I blended the toasted coconut and pineapple with hibiscus and nothing else. At first taste, I knew this was the foundation from which we will build the finished product. I threw away all of the previous concepts- this had the acidity, body and texture to perfectly highlight the coconut and balance the sweetness of the pineapple.
From here I added spice with the Thai peppers, more floral sweetness and aromatics with osmanthus blossoms, a little bite and flavor of ginger root and some bright citrus notes from lemon myrtle. It needed lime as well and Gregory suggested Kaffir lime leaves, a staple of Thai cuisine, which worked out wonderfully.
Candied pineapple, chilies, toasted coconut, and hibiscus, among others
Gregory and I got together a few times over the next couple weeks to taste and adjust the recipe ever so- pushing for the perfect balance of heat, acidity, aromatics and sweetness. The finished result is something that gives us both a lot of excitement and pride. At this point, we can now calculate how much of each ingredient we need. So we roll up our sleeves and start getting to work.
Gregory takes on making the pineapple and toasted coconut and drying the Kaffir lime leaves. Over 100 pineapples were prepped, infused with lime and then dehydrated. He drops off the final ingredients to our facility and I get to work.
I start dicing and sifting pound after pound of Thai chilies. I de-stem and chop the dried lime leaves and then sift all of the ingredients to remove any dust and smaller particulates. Sizing the ingredients is critical for the right extraction, for loading the blend into our sachets and for the visual appeal of the finished product. It all comes together nicely and a small pilot run in our facility proves just how stunning this blend is once placed in our unique sachet.
November 25th - Game day
Gregory is arriving today to make our tea. I sit down with Dan who is our lead blender to go through the sequence and process for making this blend. The ingredients have to be folded into each other in a specific order to help break up pieces of the pineapple and to assist in dispersing the heat of the chilies. I hand over the hand-cut and sifted ingredients and Dan starts working on the first batch.
Gregory arrives and after a cup of white tea, we get started signing each of the 575 labels needed to complete this run. We discuss this project along with the food and drink being served at Departure and some of his other projects he is working on. A few ideas surface about other ways to utilize our newly-created tea, which we are both excited to explore further.
Signing just a few labels
Dan brings us a sample of the first batch and we cup it in the lab. We taste it a few times before confirming the current blend is perfect and that we are ready to proceed in packing. Dan hands over the blend to Joe to get started.
The visually stunning final blend
One of Smith Teamaker’s strongest attributes is our team- the experience we have on staff is world class. Joe is one of the best FUSO (the machine that creates are unique sachet) technicians in North America. Joe dials in the machine and starts packing our blend to the specifications, continually tweaking and monitoring the variables to ensure each sachet is perfect. Custom blends of materials with wide ranges of densities and particle sizes require special attention- as does most of the Smith Teamaker line. Our products are designed to deliver in flavor, aroma and color, NOT optimal production.
Gregory getting involved with production
The sachets roll off our line and our talented crew hand place each one in our signed boxes and finish each package with love and care. The sachets are visually striking, perhaps the most beautiful blend we have created to date.
We named this blend Phuket Fire. We were inspired by the flavors of Thailand and the adventurous and beautiful land in Phuket felt fitting as we tasted the product. It has a beautiful red color and is full bodied, juicy, sweet and tart with tropical and floral notes to go with a lingering heat that warms the body from the inside out. It is a fireplace for your mouth. Perfect for cold weather, for pairing with sweets and holiday delights as well as mixing with liquors for a stronger holiday treat.
The finished product and finished pose
Gregory and I are both very proud of the flavor we created together. It was a fun experience and a perfect reflection of what the maker’s series is about. Getting together with like-minded folks of various disciplines to create something special, to inspire and learn from one another and to have fun. We hope you have a wonderful holiday season and enjoy our blend with friends and loved ones.