Most people understand that wine enhances taste of food, and that different wines go better with different cuisine. There are some people who treat wine pairing like an unbreakable fiat, but that isn’t the point: you can drink whatever you want with whatever you eat, but get the right food with the right wine and you’ll have the flavors of food simply exploding in your mouth.
There are those who believe in beer pairing, as well, but since this is my tea blog … well, you can see where this is going right?
Just like wine, the flavor of a tea is dependent on where it is grown and how it is processed. All types of tea come from the same basic plant (Camellia Sinensis) but the most common tea served in the U.S., black tea, is allowed to ferment before being it is dried. This process results in a strong, oxidized product with a tannic taste. Certain other types of tea are only lightly oxidized, and some have no oxidation at all. This in part accounts for the variety of flavors, and can alter how teas interact with foods.
Artfully pairing tea with food can bring a completely new aspect to both the food being served and the tea itself. So what goes with what? At one time, you could simply ask your barista, but since more traditional shops ” … are being quickly replaced by a fast-growing internet marketplace,” you might find that difficult. Luckily, I’m here to help.
There are too many different combinations to pack into one post, but I thought I’d go over some basics.
Green Teas: Overall, most green teas tend to be subtle, with flavor and aroma that are more vegetative than anything else. That makes them well-suited to mild dishes like seafood, rice, salads, or chicken. Keep in mind that highly spicy foods can easily overwhelm the understated flavor of green teas.
Black Tea: As we’ve already mentioned, black teas typically offer heartier flavors and aromas, as well as the most pronounced tannins. That stronger presence is why black teas pair best with robust foods such as beef and other meats, as well as spicy dishes.
White Tea: Unblended white tea has such a mild presence that it can be overwhelmed by anything save the lightest flavors. A white tea could accentuate basic undressed salad, for example, but the natural
Oolong Tea: Typically, the flavor of oolong (wulong) teas is less robust than blacks and more subtle than greens. At the same time, it can offer fragrant tones that are at once recognizable yet exotic. Lighter oolongs work well as a snack accompaniment, adding a sweet accent to salted crackers or baked chips. Darker oolongs go nicely with smoked meats, lightly cooked meats and meat-based appetizers; it also pairs well with seafood and even some desserts.
Pu-erh Tea: Strong with a smooth yet deep and rich flavor, Pu-erh teas are known for their digestive benefits. That makes them perfect to pair with red meats, stir-fry and oily foods … but with the holidays coming up, it’s also good to know they’ll help settle your stomach after large, multi-course meals.
Obviously, this is a very basic guide, offering broad guidelines based on the typical flavor and strength of the tea versus that of foods. Which tea matches which meal becomes more and more of a personal choice as you experiment and become more familiar with specific teas. The only real rule is that one element should accentuate the other: as with wine, the perfect pairing makes both the food and the tea taste better.