Pairing Tea with Food – an Introduction

Picnic with teaPairing tea with food is an adventure in flavors. It is also a great way to get to know the variety in the world of tea. Tea provides an extensive range of tastes, similar to that of wine, but without the associated alcohol.

Tea drinking practices are analogous to wine drinking practices, in that we change drinks at a non-alcohol meal (such as breakfast) in the same way we switch between an aperitif and white or red wine at a meal later on in the day. Many people start their mornings with a glass of juice or lemon water, and then switch to coffee or tea. Today’s tea drinkers are getting so sophisticated that many drink more than one type of tea during the day. This is, of course, in part because there are so many different varieties of tea available. The most discerning tea drinkers sometimes ask for two or three different teas at one meal.

People have discovered that a stronger, smokier tea is better with cheese or eggs, whereas a lighter or green or white tea is usually superior with pastries. It’s exactly like learning that red or white wine goes better with some foods than others. For instance, last weekend, we served iced oolong (re-steeped after infusing the rice) with a hand-rolled sushi dinner. It was exquisite… after years of serving only Japanese green teas with sushi, it was a delightful accidental discovery –the oolong was able to accent up and complement the wide diversity of flavors far better than a straight green tea does. Also, serving an iced beverage at this summer evening party was definitely the way to go!

Even though we don’t often give it much consideration, we pair tea with food every day. Some people may start the day timidly, with a weak cup of black tea and dry toast, and others might start the day boldly with a strong mug of black tea and a well-buttered roll. Tea has evolved for thousands of years along with regional cuisine to be the drink that goes along with meals. It is no surprise, therefore that it pairs well with foods! Like a small mid-course or palate cleanser, tea also works as a flavor bridge from one course to the next. As more people adopt tea into their daily ritual, they discover that by pairing certain teas with specific foods, not only is the flavor of the food enhanced, but the quality of the tea is highlighted. Experiment and enjoy – you’ll find that when paired with the appropriate dish, tea helps to complete the flavor journey of that dish!

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