Beyond tea and biscuits
Most people wouldn’t think in terms of combining tea and food beyond the classic pairings of Indian teas with a traditional afternoon scone or sponge, or jasmine tea with Chinese food but there are many other possibilities to explore, says Signe Johansen.
There are certainly parallels between tea tasting and wine tasting. Alex Probyn, Master Tea Blender and owner of bespoke tea blending business Blends for Friends told me that similar guidelines for wine and food matching apply to tea and food matching: white wine and white/green teas match with fish and lighter meats and foods that require some astringency to cut through their richness. Red (and to some extent ros) wine and black/oolong tea have higher tannins, thus match well with protein-rich meats and cheeses, and clash with oily fish.
At TeaSmith, an excellent match is a savoury, umami-rich walnut and miso biscuit (above) that accompanies acidic green teas particularly well.
Yauatcha’s Dim Sum can be paired with jasmine tea, but I’d encourage you to be more adventurous and try their fine range of oolongs, green and white teas with their authentic food. The staff is trained to deal with tea and food matching requests.
Genmaicha (a Japanese green tea with roasted rice) makes a wonderful match with sushi – the rice flavour complementing the delicate sushi rice and green tea’s astringency cutting through the fattier fish such as salmon or tuna.
Staying with the Japanese theme, at Roka I sampled a Himalayan tea with their robata-grilled sea bream. The distinctive fennel character of the tea worked really well with fish.
One intriguing match is Stilton, particularly the well-aged, pungent crumbly variety, with smoky Lapsang. A powerful combination that may not be to everyone’s taste, but well worth a try!
A classic roast beef and horseradish sandwich is well served by a cup of straight Kenyan or even Assam – the high tannins in these teas are softened by the rareness of the beef.
One of my personal favourites is a smoked salmon salad, with beetroot, onion and horseradish and a cup of astringent green tea.
Notoriously difficult to match with wine, chocolate is generally paired with coffee – an effective match, but I’m a sceptic. The coffee, depending on its strength, often overwhelms the aromatic qualities of chocolate.
Try dark chocolate with green tea – the tea enhances the robust flavour of chocolate in a surprising way, and is a much more complementary match than coffee and chocolate. Contentious, I know, but it works for me! Chocolate cake also goes spectacularly well with Assam
At TeaSmith their jasmine truffles are perfect with a cup of floral Oolong
Afternoon tea, such as that offered at The English Tea Room at Brown’s Hotel, is the perfect occasion for matching traditional black teas such as Darjeeling, Assam, or Ceylon with expertly made scones, slathered in fruit jam. There’s no explanation for it, but I can’t bring myself to have green, white, oolong or herbal tea with scones - or Victoria sponge for that matter!
Matcha (a vivid, chlorophyll-rich Japanese green tea) is used in Japan for flavouring and colouring pastries, ice cream and making frothy green tea-based cappuccinos. Obviously matcha-flavoured pastries work well with green teas, but at TeaSmith their matcha sponge worked with Oolong, highlighting the texture of the tea and accentuating its floral character.
Will Cartwright-Hignett of First Class Teas (now Iford Manor Teas) suggested his spicy Chai tea to complement my own Blueberry and Oat Muffins (to which I add a dash of cinnamon) and the spice of tea and muffin was a fine match. Chai is also a good foil for the pronounced cinnamon character of carrot cake.
Aside from complementing food, tea can also be used as a base for sweet puddings and cakes. I remember one of my classmates at Leiths made a Chai Tea Créme Brulee for one of our creative cooking classes (it beat my coconut-raspberry créme brulee hands down!). Indeed, Earl Grey Ice Cream is often on the menu in Japan, whereas that classic bergamot-flavoured tea is used here as an ingredient in fruit loaf.
Finally, on a more virtuous, healthy note may I suggest you try sipping a cup of green tea with porridge? I pile my bowl with almonds, cranberries, an orange and often some coconut shreddings and it makes a perfect start to the day!
Signe Johansen is a food anthropologist and cookery writer with her own blog Scandilicious. This article was first published in 2007
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