Just going with flow as a pourer at local gigs

May 24, 2000|By Rob Kasper

HAVING READ that a worker needs several career skills to make it in the modern world, I recently tried my hand at professional pouring.

First, I worked a gig as a bartender, one of a number of guest mixologists dispensing good cheer and mellowing beverages during a benefit for the Center for Poverty Solutions held at Gertrude's restaurant in the Baltimore Museum of Art.

Then I tried tea pouring, filling porcelain cups and passing cucumber sandwiches during a Flower Mart gathering put on by the Women's Civic League held at the Engineers Club.

To be a good bartender, you are supposed to be attentive to both the drinking and conversational needs of your clientele. I knew this from my experience as a client. Anytime I leave an establishment feeling thirsty or unwelcome, I cross that watering hole off my list.

Yet during my brief tenure behind the bar, I was great with the gab but so-so with dispensing the goods. Whenever friendly sorts would arrive at the bar, I would chat them up, often becoming so engaged in conversation that a crowd of thirsty patrons, their empty glasses in hand, would form around us.

This is exactly the kind of bad bartender behavior I resent when I am a paying customer. But now that I was standing on the other side of the spigot, I was oblivious to the public.

Eventually, when I did wake up and serve the customers, my pouring technique was weak. For this event, the bar was serving only wine and beer. Most of the beer drinkers wanted their brew in the bottle.

So all I had to do was pour either the red wine, a Les Jamelles merlot, or the white, a Les Jamelles chardonnay, in a 6-ounce glass without spilling.

I had the "twist finish" trick working. In this maneuver, you give the bottle a slight twist as you finish pouring wine in the glass. The twist prevents the unsightly dribble of wine sliding down the side of the glass.

I didn't dribble once. But I did have trouble with the initial splash, the first transfer of the wine from the bottle to the glass. Sometimes I had "splash back." The unhappy event occurs when the wine shoots out of the bottle, hits the bottom of the glass and erupts like a geyser, streaming out the top. I also experienced "splash down." This means I missed the glass and the wine splashed down on the bar.

Fortunately for the thirsty masses, there was a professional on the premises.

Asjyln Loder, who works at the restaurant as a bartender, was also there, keeping the customers happy, bailing me out. Loder, who is a recent graduate of the writing program at the Johns Hopkins University and is on her way to graduate school at New York University, said she saw a few parallels between the work of writing and tending bar. Both, she said, require a strong interest in people and a high tolerance of blowhards.

My tryout as a tea pourer didn't generate any calls from would-be employers saying, "Love your work. Pour for us and we'll make it worth your while."

This was despite the fact that before showing up at the Engineers Club for work I gave myself a tea tutorial. I memorized some tea types, Darjeeling, Earl Grey and orange pekoe. I also recalled that, according to John Harney, who along with his sons operates Harney & Sons tea business in Salisbury, Conn., some tea aficionados pronounce pekoe as "peck o" not "peak o."

I even recalled a tip of tea-pouring etiquette. Namely, when pouring several cups from a pot, you pour half a cup in the first cup, fill the other cups, and then go back and top off the first cup. You do this, Harney told me, because the first tea out of the pot sits in the spout and is often weaker than the rest of the liquid in the pot. So by first pouring half a cup, then pouring the other cups, you distribute the flavor.

It turned out I didn't get a chance to employ any of this tea trivia at the Engineers Club. There was a variety of teas to choose from, but they were all in sealed tea bags, and the customers did the choosing. And instead of brewed tea poured from a pot, tea bags were dropped into cups filled with hot water.

All I had to do in my new job was pour hot water from a pitcher into a teacup. It wasn't much of a task, but I must say I did it well.

Unlike my tenure as a bartender, there were no errant streams.

Moreover, I can now add a line to my resume reading, "experienced tea pourer."

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