Your Guide to Great Tea Pairings

Question: what has myriads of flavor profiles, brings out the best in food, but has no alcohol? Answer: loose-leaf tea!

 

That’s right: the aroma, taste and body of loose-leaf, single-estate teas are influenced by varietal, terroir, processing technique, storage and much more. Through careful pairings of teas and courses, surprising flavors and textures are unlocked, making for an experience that is so much greater than the sum of its parts.

 

In the occasion of our upcoming tea pairing dinner (in partnership with T Shop in NYC – check it out here), we put in writing a few of the principles behind great tea pairings.

 

  1. Seek out similarities

Foods and teas with similar flavors create harmonious experiences, and allow your palate to explore different notes and nuances around a unified theme. Think, for instance, of a Charcoal-Roasted Cui Feng Oolong paired with Roasted Chestnut Brown Rice and Miso Soup.

 Chestnut Brown Rice with Charcoal Roasted Cui Feng Oolong

  1. Contrast = mutual enhancement

    Sharp contrasts make the flavors of individual courses and beverages stand out while at the same time creating balance. A classic combination in this respect is that of fatty courses with high-tannin beverages, which ‘cut’ the richness. We applied this principle with this soymilk-based nabemono hotpot, paired with a Bulang Mountain Sheng Pu’erh.

Soy milk Nabemono Hot Pot with Sheng Pu'erh

  1. Play with textures

    Creamy courses call for beverages that produce the same mouth-coating experience. That’s exactly why we chose to pair this oboro-dofu (freshly curdled tofu) with a buttery Shan Lin Xi Oolong.

 

Freshly curdled tofu with Shan Lin Xi Oolong

 

  1. Think of the body 

    Dense, ‘heavy’ courses go great with full-bodied teas. This 2002 Shou Pu’er, for instance, feels like a natural extension of the rich and earthy Mushroom Chawanmushi (steamed custard).

Mushroom Custard with Shou Pu'erh

 

  1. Get touchy-feely

Tea is about much more than flavor. For centuries, it has been praised for its ability to keep us alert (thanks to its caffeine content) while helping us stay calm and focused (because of another amino-acid, theanine). That’s not all: different teas have different effects on our mood. Earthy, full bodied teas feel grounding; grassy, fresh green teas are stimulating; sweet oolong teas can be comforting like a dessert.

Select teas that reinforce the feeling you want to convey with each course: an appetizer might go well with a green or white tea that will make your guests hungry for more; a winter soup with mushrooms or root vegetables might go well with aged pu’erh teas – all of which convey a grounding feeling; desserts might benefit from sweet, fruity and floral oolongs that reinforce a feeling of lusciousness.

 

Cabbage Roll with Moonlight White Pu'erh