Inspired by the bounty of fresh, beautiful herbs available at our summer Farmer’s Markets, this is the first of a two-part series on tea and herb pairings. Next month I’ll present some tea rubs developed by our own Tea Spot Chef, Karen Harbour. This post begins with the basics and explores pairing teas with fresh herbs and spices.
We tend to think of certain herb personalities as being especially well fitted to a particular primary ingredient – such as basil with tomatoes, rosemary with lamb, oregano with anything Italian, or chives with eggs or potatoes. But the interesting conversations at a breakfast meeting I attended this morning got me thinking way outside the box. So in this light, I stopped by Whole Foods Market on my way home, and bought some fresh herbs and spices to experiment pairing with my teas at home. I strongly encourage you to check out some of these winning combinations. (There were some serious losers that came out of this experiment as well, but for now I won’t dwell on the negative!)
Fresh Basil: Our Boulder Blues blend of green teas, wild strawberry, and rhubarb makes this herb sing! Try open-faced sandwiches of Italian bread spread with goat cheese, tomato, and basil with an iced Boulder Blues on the side and you’re set for the perfect gourmet summer lunch or snack. Best of all, you can cold-brew the Boulder Blues tea. Cold brewing instructions can be found here.
Fresh Mint: The connection here seems far-fetched, but because of chocolate’s affinity to Darjeeling, and the heaps of chocolate mint I have growing in my yard, I was led to trying this combination – and what a win it is! Perhaps my favorite discovery of this project. So please do try a nice pot of Darjeeling accompanied by anything made with fresh mint, like tabouli, stuffed zucchini, roasted potatoes tossed with garlic and mint leaves, or even fresh strawberries tossed with mint and honey. There’s something about the slight astringency in the tea with the refreshing juice of the herb that makes this a perfect match!
Chives: This one had me stumped for a while. But two great pairings for dishes made with fresh chives (like omelets, savory herb custards, or quiche) are Japanese Sencha (green tea) and Genmaicha (another typical Japanese green tea blended with roasted rice).
Cumin: Apricot chutney with iced Gunpowder Green tea. In fact, the chutney used as a glaze for pork or poultry with this tea is quite yummy. Or, crackers with mascarpone cheese and apricot chutney with the Gunpowder Green on the side…fantastic!
Cloves: Try a dusting of freshly ground cloves on green apple slices with a pot of pu-erh on the side – just heavenly!
Gourmet Sea Salt: Lapsang Souchong is a perfect complement. The strong salt bite of a gourmet sea salt in a dish of your choice balances the intense flavor of smoked tea, making this a great pairing.
Ginger: Love it with Oolong, especially a darker roasted oolong. Think Asian veggie stir-fries made with fresh ginger and garlic, a spinach salad tossed with a ginger-peanut dressing, or even ginger-snap cookies if you’re in the mood for sweets.
Chiles: A must-try with Keemun. I tried a lot of black teas for this pairing, including Yunnan (which was my first instinct), Assam, and even white teas…but the Keemun did the trick. It’s all about the balance of Keemun’s natural malty sweetness and chile pepper’s fiery kick-in-the-pants in two of my favorite dishes made with fresh chiles – a red thai curry and a colorful veggie stir-fry.
Food pairing really is all about balance…and the willingness to try new things and spit some of them out along the way! But an effort that’s well worth it, and I hope you’ll agree, was well worth sharing in the end.