As a massive sherry fan I confess that I find it hard to envisage any other drink with tapas but when you’re invited to experience an off-the-wall pairing you go - or at least I do.
The hosts were Lalani & Co, a boutique tea company that deals with small artisanal, often organic growers. I’d come across them at the RAW wine fair earlier this year where I discovered that tea was the perfect antidote to a long afternoon’s wine tasting. And the venue, El Pirata Detapas, a modern tapas bar and restaurant in Westbourne Grove.
The dishes they produced were certainly quite unusual. Tapa-sized portions, not typically Spanish in style, apart from some ham croquetas with which I felt a white wine or sherry would have been preferable.
On the other hand Lalani’s LaKyrsiew Garden Spring Reserve 2011, a strong, dark, fruity black tea was great with a dish of seared tuna, ajo blanco and another of roasted figs with cheese foam and crispy ham (right) - though less successful with a more delicate dish of prawn tartare with egg yolk citrus sauce.
I wasn’t mad about the deliciously fragrant Silverleaf green tea (16th November 2011) from the same grower either with one of the next pair of dishes - fresh cod with a creamy pil pil sauce but it was great with seared scallops, cauliflower purée and grilled mandarins, suggesting umami-rich preparations and fruit work well with tea - and that perhaps creamy sauces don't so well.
And the other top pairing for me was the strong, savoury 1st Flush Jade Oolong from Jun Chiyabari Garden in Nepal with a langoustine and cep risotto with Idiaza cheese emulsion so maybe cheese is a promising avenue to pursue too . . .
The most enjoyable part of the evening though was tasting the different teas and learning more about how to serve them from importer Nadeem Lalani. They were poured from a rather beautiful single serve teapot designed for the company by ceramicist Billy Lloyd into Riedel ‘O’ Pinot Noir Glasses which enabled you to appreciate the colour of each tea and were served warm rather than hot as we’re used to having tea in the UK. “If tea is too hot to hold it’s too hot to drink” said Nadeem firmly.
So inspired have I been by the flavours you can get if you make tea at exactly the right temperature that I’ve invested in an electronic kettle so I can choose the temperature for each tea I brew. Experiments begin this weekend . . .
And even though I wasn’t totally convinced by the pairings the tasting did again show there’s far more potential to tea as a partner to food than just biscuits and cake or even Chinese food. Tea has a genuinely refreshing acidity, particularly at cooler temperatures and in some cases a useful level of tannin which helps carry strong flavours.
"Tea is the perfect drink to open a meal” said Nadeem. “You come in off the pollution of the street and it calms you down, settles your palate and awakens the senses.” As a tea merchant, obviously he would say that but it's hard not to agree.
You can experience the pairings for yourself this month at El Pirata Detapas. Lalani also works with other London restaurants including Gauthier Soho, Hibiscus, Zuma, Nobu, and Browns Hotel in which it has has introduced a Tea Library.
I attended the tasting as a guest of Lalani tea.