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Tea and Food Pairing: which tea to pair with your food?
In many societies, particularly in Asia, tea is consumed with meals and a wide variety of food whereas in Britain we tend to limit our culinary horizons, as far as tea is concerned, to scones, hot buttered toast and crumpets and all manner of cakes, pastries, biscuits and sandwiches. No wonder some people do not drink as much tea as they used to – these foods are hardly what our badly punished bodies have been asking for. So, what of tea and food pairing once we apply a little imagination?
Just as for centuries considerable care has been taken to choose wines well-matched to the foods being consumed I am therefore considering what other foods you might choose to have with your favourite teas – or teas you might have with your favourite foods. As a tea merchant we won’t be proud on which is your prime motivator – your tea or your food!
Carefully choosing teas can either balance the aroma and character of the food being consumed or it can complement it but in the former scenario no great contrasts should be attempted otherwise the true nature of the teas will not be appreciated, especially where they are light and delicate with subtle aromas. Well-judged pairings can enhance the taste and aroma of the tea and the food.
Of course tea can also be used as an ingredient – think of Welsh brack or Bara Brith but there all manner of pork dishes marinated in black tea or fish dishes poached in green tea. Earl Grey, having the addition of a citrus oil, bergamot, makes it well suited to light yet rich creamy foods such as those typically consumed at afternoon tea. Drink a lighter China based blend without milk.
In general, when pairing teas with food choose light to medium bodied black teas, oolongs or green teas. Being fresh and fragrant green teas are particularly well-suited to fish and chicken and to stir-fries where there are plenty of fresh, crisp vegetables. China green teas tend to be fresher tasting and more herbaceous than the grassy character of Japanese greens so consider the latter best suited to grilled meats and shellfish.
Oolong teas are well suited to a whole variety of savoury or sweet dishes. Being semi-fermented, that is between a green tea and a black, they have distinctive complexity and greater body compared with green teas making them ideal accompaniments to food, especially where many black teas would be too robust.
Smoked foods such as kippers and salmon are ideal with Lapsang Souchong teas which are themselves smoked over pinewood fires. They are appreciated for cutting through the greasiness of pan-fried dishes and fatty foods.
In the same way spiced masala chai is perfect with spiced foods whether sweet or savoury. Drink infused, not boiled. Spiced orange is another refreshing alternative.
Rich, full bodied black teas such as our English Breakfast, our Good Morning! blend or pure, large leaf Kenyan teas taken with milk, are excellent with heavy, fatty foods such as a traditional English breakfast. Malty Assam teas are good with roast and casseroled meats such as beef.
Light, muscatel Darjeeling teas are well suited to egg dishes and sweet, creamy dishes as well as a tea-time Victoria sponge cake filled with fruit and fresh whipped cream!
Light, fragrant black Ceylon teas are well suited to accompanying savoury or fruit flans.
Refreshing and light white teas are best with very light foods such as delicate rice dishes.
The Tea Association of Canada has produced an interesting table of teas to pair with the various courses you could offer at dinner. In fact it starts with recommendations for cocktails through to which teas to have with your cheese and, ultimately, chocolates. See their tea-pairing table.
I hope I have demonstrated that tea is a versatile accompaniment to so many foods. Many wonderful opportunities are presented to discover how to enhance both your favourite teas and your favourite foods by identifying the best combinations. Have fun experimenting and let us know of your greatest success stories.