No food can claim to be more basic to civilization than bread. Bread features prominently in almost all cultures across the world. So does tea. So naturally they go together in metaphor as well as in spirit. The two are most often paired together at tea-time and at breakfast, both meals that can be a delectable feast with just the right cup and a simple slice of the right stuff… As the late James Beard said, “Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of all feasts.” (We tea lovers would contend, with the right cuppa!) Although pairing bread and tea isn’t a concept most of us contemplate in great detail, we know better than to have a corned-beef-and-white-bread sandwich or peanut butter and jelly on rye. Some foods taste better with some breads, and the same rings true for tea and breads. Put them together, give it a little thought and experimentation, and the results could amaze you!
Artisan breads can make a modern tea-time party a snap by pairing them with the right tea and serving them up with some butter or jam. Unlike uniform, rectangular breads with soft crumbs and crust, artisan breads are made by hand, in small batches. Artisan breads also can contain whole grains, fresh herbs, fruits, nuts, and honey. With the wide range of breads and loose-leaf teas available to us today, the variations and combinations can be overwhelming. What are the main characteristics we’re aware of when we taste a new bread? Flavor, of course, but grain and texture are also key. I found these two elements to play more strongly with various tea types than one might guess. In particular, one of the most subtle aspects of a tea’s profile, the mouth coat, is significant when looking at the finer points of a tea-and-bread pairing.
Pairing Tea and Bread
The suggestions below are a summary of what we’ve found for savory breads. I almost feel apologetic for seemingly plugging our own teas in many of these pairings, but I hope readers can understand that working for a tea company makes those teas the most accessible… Next month’s post will involve some well-planned tastings of what Europeans refer to as “gastronomic” breads, tea cakes, and breakfast pastries…hmm, this might require a quick trip to Europe.
Classic French Baguette – Pretty classic on the tea side – a nice long-leaf Ceylon will pair well. I also loved it with our Earl of Grey and Mango Tango, whose bergamot and tropical overtones worked well with the crunchy crust.
Sourdough – Try it with mate! I was inspired by our Mate Limon Chai from a flavor perspective, and it worked great, but aside from the citrus bite in the spices in this tea, the mate itself pairs superbly well.
Challah – Loved this bread with Keemun. Both were really round and happy together on the mouth coat.
Unleavened breads (chapatti, roti, pita) – Perhaps it was a cultural choice, or perhaps that’s why it’s no accident, but these breads pair very well with black teas Assam and Yunnan as well as our Green Roasted Mint. I’m sure they’d do equally well with a Moroccan Mint green tea blend.
Honey Wheat – Paired so smoothly and beautifully with an organic Nilgiri, such as Blue Mountain Nilgiri.
Pumpernickel Rye – Initially problematic! But found its match with a smoky breakfast blend with Lapsang Souchong.
Olive – Best with Boulder Blues, a green tea blend of Sencha and Dragonwell with subtle strawberry and rhubarb flavorings.
Walnut – This bread needed a flavored, non-smoky black – our Earl of Grey was heavenly here.
Pretzel (bread) – Loved it with Pu-erh.
Grisini (bread sticks) – Also a natural with Pu-erh!