It seems that almost any restaurant you walk into these days has a wine-pairing guide. The reason why restaurants do this is because they know that a good beverage can enhance the entire dining experience significantly. Think of oysters and Champagne or a robust Cabernet with a fine steak. You especially know it is a good pairing when you are not sure if the food makes the beverage taste better or if the beverage makes the food taste better.
This is all great when it comes to wine, but what about tea?
Tea has been paired with foods for centuries in Asia. It is also paired almost every day here in the West as well. A traditional English Breakfast includes eggs, bacon and sausage. As a pairing, the British often serve a strong Black Tea that is often called English Breakfast Tea. Coincidence? I don’t think so.
How to pair food with tea
There are a few basic rules when pairing food and tea, which are as follows:
This one is the easiest. Since tea can be grown and developed into many different flavors and styles, a lot of times cultures intuitively process their teas to match their local cuisines. A prime example of this is Japanese Tea with Sushi. Since the Japanese prize nori (the seaweed wrappers on sushi rolls) so much, it is no surprise that a lot of Senchas have an assertive nori flavor in them. So, when you drink Japanese Tea with Sushi, the flavors reinforce each other to create a delightful experience. This is why some people love Sencha when it is served in Japanese restaurants, but dislike it when they try it at home. Some other classic regional pairings are Jasmine Tea with light Chinese food and Chai with Indian food.
Tannins and Fats
Tannins are the part of tea that gives it astringency. Astringency is great because it helps to cut through the heavy flavor of the fat. Whole milk and cream are examples of fatty foods that are added to tea every day.
Big breakfasts and Black Tea are a prime example that I mentioned before. The rule is the greasier the breakfast the more astringent the tea. So, if you are eating a super rich breakfast, you will want a 2nd Flush Darjeeling since it has such as high level of tannins. As far as Green Tea goes, Bi Lo Chun is fantastic with salmon as the astringency helps complement the silky fattiness of the fish.
Sweet and Salty
This most common version of this pairing is the Southern staple of fried chicken and sweet tea. Now, I am not a big fan of sweet tea, so you can do a subtler pairing by combining a naturally sweet tea with a moderately salty food. One pairing I love is White Tea with pistachio nuts. The sweetness of the White Tea really comes out when paired with the salty, but simple, flavor of pistachios. This is one snack that is not only delicious, but quite healthy.
This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to food and tea parings. But, if you follow these three simple rules, you will not only enhance your tea experience, but your dining experience as well!