Tea has been a drink enjoyed by many for centuries. A hot beverage that is refreshing and able to calm the nerves sounds rather strange when you pair it with various types of foods. As it is with wine, food pairings with tea depend on the palate of the individual. “In the end, goodness is for the mouth to decide”, wrote the famous Chinese tea philosopher, Lu Yu, in his journal where he recorded various grades of tea.
To be able to enhance the food and emphasise the flavors of a given tea is mutually rewarding. Here’s how you can decide what tea would go well with which food.
Take a moment to sip the tea and contemplate on its aroma, texture and taste. Take, for example, Japanese Sencha or green tea. The aroma is earthy and grassy, the texture and taste are subtle and not over powering, which makes it perfect for seafood, fresh salads, rice-based dishes and mildly sweet desserts, all of which are characteristics of Japanese cuisine.
The purpose of pairing tea with food is to enhance the taste of the dish and the beverage. So you know you’ve found the best combination when the flavor and strength of the chosen recipe is nicely complemented and accentuated by the aroma of the picked tea, and vice versa. If you go for a strongly flavored recipe, you should opt for a more robust tea flavor, as otherwise the beverage’s taste will be harder to distinguish.
1. White Tea
White tea is more subtle and delicate than green tea, so when it is paired with stronger flavours like a roast chicken dish or a sweet mousse, it gives the impression that you’re just drinking plain water.
Probably the best option for pairing with white tea is a fresh vegetable salad of cucumbers and greens that has no dressing or seasoning. White tea is best drunk by itself as well as with some honey added into it.
2. Black Tea
It has the most robust flavour due to higher tannin content and goes exceedingly well with foods that have a stronger flavour such as meats, spicy dishes and desserts with a higher intensity of sweetness.
a. Indian Black teas like Assamese, Darjeeling and teas from Sri Lanka are fragrant and have a fruity flavour which make them excellent matches with sweet desserts as they cleanse the palate of any residual flavours. This is why Indians like to add sugar and milk to their tea.
Desserts with vanilla, fruit, chocolate, coffee and mocha as part of the main ingredients are a few examples that are best paired with Ceylon, Darjeeling, Assamese and Nilgiri tea.
b. Smoky black teas that come from China like Keemun, Lapsang Souchong and Yunnan tea complement intensely flavoured foods like grilled, barbequed and gravy meats, Indian food, dark chocolate, smoked salmon, Chinese cuisine, and citrus desserts like lemon tarts. Desserts that are heavily sweetened may not be the best match.
c. Black teas with earthy flavours such as Kenyan and other African varieties go well with roasted chicken, cured meats, seasoned mashed potatoes and vegetarian gravies. Creamy desserts do not go well with this variety of black tea.
3. Green Tea
Green tea has a subtle vegetative flavour so it goes well with foods that are mildly flavoured such as seafood, salads, mildly flavoured fruits and pan seared white meat. Green tea has three flavour profiles namely vegetal, smoky and fruity. Each of these accentuate the taste of different kinds of foods.
a. Vegetal green teas such as Japanese Sencha and Genmaicha have earthy and fresh grassy flavours that go very well with rice, seafood and vegetables, all of which make up the diet of the Japanese people.
b. Smoky green teas are the varieties that come from China and Taiwan namely Xi Hu Longjing, Dragonwell and Green Gunpowder which taste absolutely great with pan fried white meats (chicken and turkey), stir fried Chinese food and dishes that make use of a lot of root vegetables. This type of tea is not suitable for desserts.
c. Fruity green teas that are mainly cultivated in the Indian subcontinent have a light and refreshing sweet taste and go well with light foods like fruit salads, meat pies, chicken sandwiches and lightly sweetened pastries.
4. Oolong Tea
Oolong Teas in terms of flavour are midway between green and black teas, giving it versatility with a wider range of foods.
a. Lighter Oolong (Jade Oolong) teas go best with scallops and shellfish like crab, lobster and prawns. This type of tea has a floral aroma which is best brought out by the combination of sweet and salty flavours.
b. Dark Oolong (Ti Kuan Yin) teas work better with foods that have a more prominent flavour. The interesting feature about this kind of tea is that it goes equally well with desserts and meals. So if you have dessert planned after a meal of grilled eel, salmon, chicken or smoked meat, your’re in luck.
5. Pu-erh Tea
These teas have a strong earthy flavour and have several digestive benefits. It is recommended after a heavy meal or foods such as red meat, stir fries, deep fries and other types of oily and greasy food.
These food and tea pairings can vary depending on individual taste so please don’t take this as gospel truth. Feel free to experiment with different teas and do comment on what you like eating with the types of teas you prefer.