Tea has a universal appeal. A social drink at most occasions, tea is definitely a conversation starter. And if you can pair the tea with biscuits, cookies or pakoras, the conversations get deeper and longer! However, there are other interesting tea pairings. Ahead of International Tea Day (December 15), we find out more about the perfect matches.
Helen Zonunmawii, tea sommelier at The Ritz Carlton Tea Lounge, explains that the aim of pairing tea with food is to achieve balance and find a match that enhances the flavour of the dish and the tea. “Tea has a diverse and interesting flavour profile — one that is as complex, if not more, as wine and in the same way that you can pair wine with food, you can also pair tea. The six types of tea include white, green, yellow, Oolong, black and dark. Generally (but not always), dark tea is more intense as you go down the spectrum and white tea being the most delicate has subtle flavours. Black and dark teas have the deepest flavours and black tea has the highest tannin content/ astringency,” the tea sommelier explains.
Praneta Mehta, co-founder, The Kettlery, says, “All teas are unique and have distinct flavours that reflect their origin, vintage and artisanal method of manufacture and just like wine, tea and food have been enjoyed together for centuries,” says Mehta. Compatible coupling enhances both the taste of the tea and the flavour of the food.
Suggesting a few basic guidelines, Mehta says that white teas have a very delicate flavour and aroma which can easily be overwhelmed by strongly flavoured food. Therefore, they should be paired only with plain, undressed vegetable salads and are best enjoyed alone, between or after meals. “Whereas green teas usually go well with foods that are paired with white wines and have three main flavour profiles — vegetal, fruity, and smoky. The tea has a fresh grassy flavour that complements seafood and rice dishes,” adds Mehta.
Talking about Oolong teas, Mehta explains that it has two flavour profiles — light and dark, the light ones are sweet and floral in flavour, and the dark ones are smoky and toasty. “Light Oolongs complement lightly spiced or curried foods, buttery desserts and fresh fruits, and are also considered to be a fine accompaniment to lightly salted snacks like crackers, baked chips etc” she says. Dark Oolongs complement grilled foods, fish, meat-based appetisers, sweet pastries, white chocolate and pancakes.
Zonunmawii, points out that black teas pair well with hearty, rich foods such as roast meats like beef, lamb and venison or heavy pasta dishes like lasagna. White teas tend to be very gentle, so can be paired with light foods such as white fish like sea bass or mild cheeses and desserts.
She points out that when you have a dish in mind that you want to match a tea with, consider the weight of the dish and what type of tea has a similar intensity. “For example, you could match a green tea with white fish, or a black tea with red meat but you wouldn’t pair a white tea with a curry as the tea’s delicate notes would be overpowered by the strong spice flavours,” explains Zonunmawii.
The Best Pairs
Zonunmawii says that experimentation is the best way to find out what works best for you. The suggestions below will act as a guide but sometimes you will find that an unexpected combination works beautifully. When in doubt though, black tea goes with everything!
- White tea and panna cotta
- Light oolong and a fruit salad
- Dark oolong and pancakes with maple syrup
- Black tea and chocolate, pastries, rich deserts
- Darjeeling and creamy desserts
- Lapsang Souchong and lemony desserts
- Assam and chocolate, custard or lemon desserts
- Jasmine Green Tea and dark chocolate with nice floral notes
Tea surprisingly goes well even with alcohol. Zonunmawii suggests that the easiest way to tastefully incorporate alcohol into your favourite tea is by slightly altering the classic Hot Toddy recipe. Here are some creative tea-tails:
Black Tea + Rum: Rum’s natural sweetness rounds off black tea’s bitter edge, while other spirits like whiskey can sometimes accentuate that astringency.
Green Tea + Whisky: The tea adds a savoury, grassy quality to the whisky that makes it ideal for pairing with food or sipping solo.
Mint Tea + Rum: Mint is a fresh, versatile flavour in cocktails for an extra-minty kick. Top 2 oz of rum with mint tea and some demerara sugar (or honey, if you prefer).
Chamomile Tea + Gin: A lovely and calming tea, chamomile gets its charm from its herbaceousness just like gin, making the two perfect partners.