Food Pairing with... Tea!
Yes, you read that right! Tea pairing with food… and we’re not just talking about the traditional finger foods of sandwiches, scones and cakes for afternoon tea. Pairing tea with food is the perfect way to enhance the taste of a dish as well as the drink itself.
For centuries, sommeliers and chefs have paired certain wines with certain foods. Most of us are familiar with the basic rules: Red wines to accompany rich, red meat dishes. White wines to accompany white meats, fish and vegetarian dishes. Dessert wines for… well, dessert!
But over the course of the last decades and centuries, as our cultivation of different grape varieties and farming methods has become ever more sophisticated, so have our palettes and knowledge that these traditional lines can be crossed.
For instance lighter Spanish reds go wonderfully with fish, and heavier Italian and French whites pair marvellously with richer courses and curries.
Many of us are still just beginning to learn of the concept of pairing tea with our food – proper, substantial meals that is. And yet, in the East they have drunk tea with their main dishes for millennia.
The art of tea pairing is still very much evolving in the West… but just as good food augments a good wine, and wine brings out the flavours of your dish, so too with teas.
The right tea can truly enhance the taste of the food on your plate… equally, get the pairing wrong, and the tea can be overwhelmed by the food (or the food drowned by too fulsome a tea).
Get the Right Pairing
Just as with wines, the lines are now being a little blurred – and the overwhelming array of teas can at first seem a little intimidating. So we’re here to help you really impress your guests at dinner parties by pairing up your food with tea!
Rules for Tea Pairing
The general and orthodox rules for tea pairing are fairly straightforward:
- Black teas with their robust flavours pair well with hearty, rich foods such as roast meats like beef, lamb and venison or heavy pasta dishes like lasagna.
- Green teas with their earthy, vegetative palettes combine well with vegetarian dishes, salads, mild green curries and light chicken dishes.
- White teas tend to be very gentle, and if served with too rich a food will seem totally tasteless. Yet it would be a shame to miss their oh-so-subtle aromas. So these are best paired with very light foods such as white fish like sea bass or mild cheeses and desserts.
- Oolong teas tend to vary but are in general quite smoky and complex and therefore pair perfectly with herby dishes, fruity desserts and smoked cheeses and meats.
- Fruit and scented teas are perfect for complex desserts, cakes and dark chocolate! Some even blend wonderfully with spicy meats – like Earl Grey for instance.
- While full bodied Chai teas match exotic Turkish sweet meats and Indian pastries.
Food pairing with tea is evolving rapidly – so much so that there are now tea-sommeliers in the West! To become one, rather like a wine sommelier, involves intense training and a vast amount of knowledge of the different blends and flavours. The ITMA Association has developed aroma wheel for tea, modelled on a wine aroma wheel. It lists aromatics such as spicy, earthy and floral as starting points for evaluating tea.
Not only pairing tea with food, but including it as an ingredient in curries, desserts and even cocktails is becoming increasingly popular.
Leading restaurants all over France, the UK and the USA have started employing tea sommeliers in the way they do wine experts. Just as you discuss your preferred tastes with a wine expert, so too with a tea sommelier. Because it is so new, people often approach tea and food pairing with some scepticism. But if done well, the right tea with the right food can really unlock not only their own flavours to their full potential – but even release a third flavour. For instance a second flush Darjeeling combined with a rich pate such as foie gras creates a heavenly melt in the mouth dream!
Who knew tea could be so multi dimensional? Forget about turning lead into gold, tea food pairing is becoming the new alchemy!
Tea Pairing Guide
Continental breakfast, carrot cake, chocolate, eggs, mushrooms, gingerbread, Mexican food, salmon, strong cheese, red meat
Continental and English breakfast, spicy food, beef, lamb, ham and chicken, lightly salted food, honey sweets, fruits
custard, ice cream, baked goods, rice, oat meal, chocolate, bread
Baked goods, chocolate, dairy, eggs, spices
First Flush Darjeeling
Fresh fruits, strawberries, apples, apricots grapes, lemon, soft cheese, custards, eggs, curries, grilled fish and salmon
Fish, lemon, mint, basil, vinegar, smoked or barbecued meat
Spicy food, spiced white meat, shellfish, vegetables, potato, tarte tartin and carrot cake
Red meat, soft cheese, eggs, vanilla, chocolate, spicy food, continental and English breakfast
Chocolate desserts, eggs, hamburgers
Perfect for brunch, large fish (tuna, cod ) , game, cheese, red meat, pork and lamb, eggs or used as a spice
Vanilla, mushrooms, beef, chocolate, raw vegetables
After meal, eggs, red meat, wild mushrooms, chocolate, soy sauce, poultry
Second flush Darjeeling
Fruit, soft cheese, nutmeg, wild mushrooms
Sushi, shellfish and seafood, rice, vegetables, fresh delicate cheese, egg dishes
Tie Guan Yin
Perfect to be drank between courses, spicy food, lightly salted vegetable dishes, rice, white meat, pork
Continental breakfast, grilled meat, lamb, turkey, beef, almond dessert, milk and white chocolate, fruit compotes, cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper
Jasmine green, white tea, Chinese blacks
Indian black, Pu'erh
Pu'erh, Lapsang Souchong
Chinese greens, white tea, Lapsang Souchong
Chinese greens, jasmine pearls, flower scented teas
Chinese greens, oolong, Indian blacks
Lightly salted food
Chinese greens, oolongs, Indian blacks
Pu'erh, Indian blacks, Sri Lanka blacks
Pasta and bread
Indian blacks, Sri Lanka blacks, oolong, green
Indian blacks, yellow tea
Smoked tea (Lapsang Souchong, Russian Caravan), Chinese blacks, Indian blacks
Indian blacks, oolong
Chinese greens, jasmine greens, oolong
Oolong, Chinese greens
Chinese greens, white tea, yellow tea, Indian blacks