Tea pairing is an art in itself with people training for years, so that their palette is attuned in order that they can unlock unique new flavour notes in both the tea and the food – a new breed of experts known as tea sommeliers, much like their wine equivalent. Also, a vast amount of knowledge of the different blends and flavours is needed in order to become a tea sommelier.
Tea is now not only being paired with foods but also as an ingredient in curries, desserts and even cocktails, as it grows in popularity.
Still, some of the best pairings have come out of trial and error. Due to its versatility, in its textures, undertones, aromas and flavours, as well as the differences in individual palettes, no pairing is wrong; instead, they may work better for some individuals than for others. Therefore, this is simply a home brew guide and you make the final judgement.
When working with the Camellia sinensis plant you must remember that it creates five different types of tea: white, green, oolong, black and pu’erh. Each is slightly different in the way the tea leaf has been processed.
Black tea can be described as having a full and robust flavour, due to the pronounced tannins. Owing to this pronounced flavour, it pairs best with similar tastes so as to not dominate with one flavour. In general, it is indicated that it pairs well with full-flavoured and hearty rich foods, such as spicy dishes, roast meats or heavy pasta dishes.
Teas like Ceylon and Darjeeling, have a smooth, citrusy flavour giving it a fruity taste that enhances sweet desserts. This is because the high concentration of tannins cleanses the palette to enhance the sweetness. Darjeeling, in particular, pairs wonderfully with creamy desserts.
Earthy black teas found in Yunnan and Africa are a great accompaniment to savoury snacks, bringing out the richness, as well as with blackened meat, jerk chicken, mashed potatoes and gravy. Owing to the earthy taste, they are not the best match for sweet, creamy desserts, but they do work well with pastries.
Teas such as Lapsang Souchong with its incredibly smoky taste are the perfect finishing touch to sweet chocolate cakes, or dark or blackened meats. However, just like the earthy teas from Yunnan and Africa, this tea is not paired well with heavily sweetened desserts.
Oolong tea has a well-rounded flavour, making it an easy all-rounder for food pairing. So, when unsure of what guests will eat, this is a good accompaniment. Whilst the variety is astounding, the majority of oolongs have a smoky complex quality leading it to be a great accompaniment to herb dishes, fruity desserts and smoked cheese or meat.
Lighter oolongs that mainly originate from Indonesia have a fragrant, aromatic and usually floral aroma, so pairs with foods that can bring out these floral notes. Salty snacks give it an enjoyable contrast but also pair wonderfully with scallops, as well as sweet, rich seafood and lobster.
Darker oolong that derives from Taiwan, has a more prominent flavour when compared to its lighter counterpart with a velvety smooth intensity that works well with strong foods such as smoked meats: duck meat; salmon, trout and bass dishes and grilled foods. But it is also an accompaniment to pastries and pancakes.
Green teas have a subtle, earthy, vegetal palette that combines well with mild flavoured dishes such as vegetarian, salads, fish, mild green curries and light chicken dishes. This type of tea has three main flavour profiles that each individually accentuate and unlock the taste of foods in pleasant ways.
Fruity green teas are a representative of Ceylon and Indian green teas; they have a light sweetness that lends itself to chicken, fruit salads and unsweetened pastries, as well as baked meat dishes. Nonetheless, this tea does work well together with deep-fried or greasy meat dishes.
Vegetative, grassy green teas with a fresh flavour, such as those found in Japan, go nicely with seafood dishes.
Most Chinese green teas have a strong, smoky quality to them, and pair well with panfried turkey and chicken, as they cut through the greasy mouth feel of the meat. Alternatively, the green tea can accentuate the flavours of potatoes, light stir-fries and pizza that is made with root vegetables. Be that as it may, this tea does not pair well with sweet foods.
White tea can be described as having a light, silky and subtle flavour, this means if paired with strong flavours the natural sweetness found in the tea will be lost, leaving it tasteless. This restricts its pairings to lightly flavoured foods, like white fish, undressed salads, mild cheeses and desserts.
Darjeeling white teas have a delicate, soft citrus undertone that is ideal for afternoon teas with cucumber sandwiches, so as to keep the snacks light and refreshing. Due to the fact that this tea has such a delicate taste it works incredibly well between meals as a palette cleanser. The addition of the delicate flavours of fireweed honey or wildflower honey to the tea accentuates the subtle notes.
Pu’erh tea is unique with its strong, earthy and distinctive flavour; its digestive health benefits give it an advantage during large meals. This tea couples well with chicken or stir-fry recipes, as it neutralises the oily texture. Despite it being a great choice alongside dark chocolate and rich creamy meals, this tea does not contribute towards desserts.