Musings, Today's Tea, 茶笔 Chá Bǐ - The Tea Pen

Tea Tasting & Pairing, According to Betty Kloster

Betty Koster is a Cheese Connoisseur who has some opinions about how to taste and pair Tea with Food. Here are some of her thoughts on this topic…

It is acknowledged that we have the ability to discern and identify the four tastes of sweet, sour, salt and bitter. We can also taste umami, called the fifth taste. This is the pleasant savoury taste (of glutamate) that is detected because we have receptors for glutamate. In 2015, the sixth taste was announced – oleogustus – described as the taste of fatty acids.

For purposes of tea and food pairings, we note that tea is a versatile beverage, and you can pair it with a wide variety of food. The pairing of tea with particular types of food often adds pleasant dimensions to a dining experience.

WHITE TEA – pure, light, clean
GREEN TEA – vegetal, grassy, hinting of seaweed, smoky, light or heavy, fruity green
OOLONG TEA – light, floral and sweet, dark rich and forward
BLACK TEA – fruity, earthy, malty, smoky, sweet, light, medium, rich etc.

(Here is a) A structured method to pair tea with food:

COMPONENTS – You might pair a sweet dish with a sweetened tea or seek to contrast the sweetness with a tea that has bitter elements.
FLAVOUR – Imagine a fruity tea – that works to contrast and highlight the herbal flavours in a dish.
TEXTURES – What would you pair with a creamy cheese? A tea that has some astringency that will ‘cut through’ and reduce the richness of the cheese, so that you want to take another morsel of the cheese – somewhat like how wine interacts with cheese.
SENSATIONS – If your dish features chilli, perhaps you might opt for a tea that is rich because the tea can handle the piquant sensation and will not be overcome.
TEMPERATURE – You can get playful with temperature contrasts – for example, serve a hot tea with a cold dessert, or serve an ice cold tea with a warm salad and so on.
BODY – Increase or add body to your tea with milk or honey and perhaps it might just stand up to heavy foods such as stews.

Some of the best pairings occur when you have a complement or contrast of 2-3 constituents.

Pairing (complement or contrast) for 1 constituent = acceptable match
Pairing (complement or contrast) for 2 constituents = good match
Pairing (complement or contrast) for 3 constituents = excellent match
Pairing for more than 3 constituents usually = synergistic match… new flavours formed even ….. it’s a marriage made in heaven!

Depending on how food is prepared, you can influence its taste, texture, body and flavour so that you can find a suitable pairing with the tea you have chosen.

Delicate and helps food retain freshness, flavour and texture.
Gentle simmer, for a delicate dish regardless of flavourings.
Does not add flavour but develops food textures.
The delicate and light flavour of food is preserved.
Well executed, the dish will not be oily or soggy but quite light.
The flavours of the food are intensified.
Intense smoky flavours from grilling.
Flavours are intensified, concentrated and slightly caramalised, especially when there is a crusty surface.

(Now, consider) Tea & Cheese
Complex, rich tasting, stronger character tea stands up well to blue veined cheese that has an assertive taste.

Strong dark black tea with malty flavours marries well with creamy cheese since the weight of the tea and the richness of the cheese are matched.

Malty / low grown teas pair well with strong flavoured cheeses – such as smoked cheeses, aged cheeses and the like.

Pepper in cheese renders a spicy note; so the cheese finds a good foil in a fruity tea, sweetened or not.

White and green teas contain less aggressive and less astringent tasting polyphenols, hence they are thought to be more difficult to pair with cheeses. Try green tea. Its vegetal notes mirror some of the grassy nuances in certain cream cheeses.

Green teas & oolong teas take well to herbed cheese and flavoured cream cheeses.

Tea with lemon or herbal teas can be a good match to tangy goat or aged cheeses.

Bettr Closter, Cheese Connoisseur

Some Additional Thoughts

Tea is an incredibly diverse beverage. It has been, “historically” used as a medicine, a food, and more recently as a satiating and stimulating beverage. Today we are starting to explore some of these lost uses via Food and Tea Pairings, Mixology, and TCM concepts such as the Five Elements Theory.

One of the biggest issues I struggle with when pairing tea with food, or using it as an ingredient, or spice, etc., is finding pairings that allow the tea to be the hero. There is no point in pairing Earl Grey Tea, for example, with a rich Beouf Bourguignon if the character of the tea is lost. Nor is there any point in brewing such a tea so strong that only its astringency is expressed, as a means to cut through the fattiness of the dish and say, “Oh! that’s the tea!”

This becomes even more of a whorey old chestnut, for me when it comes to the use of Tea in the brewing of Beer. Suffice to say, there is no point in using a post-production scented tea as a brewing ingredient unless the tea is prominently expressed – the tea! Not the added flavouring or scent. As such there are similar considerations when using tea as a spice or ingredient in making new dishes. If it is only the scent that is being expressed? Then use the scent, don’t waste the tea.

With this in mind and Betty’s advice above, one should consider carefully the advice about the 1-3 General Rule. Considering that many people also consider tea to be a Medicine and should be used, in combination, with the Five Elements precepts, then there is a vast history and plane of expression that can be explored, with out repeating the trial and error mistakes of the past.