I may be rushing the season a bit, but now that Labor Day is behind me, I’ve started thinking about my favorite fall dessert – pie. Rich, crumbly apple pie, hot from the oven, with a scoop of vanilla ice cream on the side. Or sweet, dense pecan pie with bourbon-spiked whipped cream. Or my favorite chocolate pecan pie with a touch of ancho chile pepper to give it a kick. All of them richer, more substantial desserts than the berry pies and cobblers or chiffon pies more common in the summer.
And what’s better with pie than a cup of tea? (There are some who might say “a cup of coffee,” but we’ll ignore them for now!) With my pie, I normally drink a hearty black tea like an Irish Breakfast blend with malty Assam flavors, or even a flavored black tea like a Madagascar Vanilla, but I want to branch out this year and try some different combinations.
Thinking about apple pie, with a buttery crust and the tartness of apples – whether you go for a crumb topping, a traditional two-crust pie, or a Tarte TatinóI – I suggest a fruity second-flush Darjeeling. The winey notes of the tea, along with the currant flavors you sometimes find, would be a good match for the apple pie. Or a Lapsang Souchong might be a good counterpoint, the smokiness of the tea contrasting with the sweetness of the pie, bringing to mind a football bonfire on a crisp fall night.
For a pecan pie, with its almost overwhelming sweetness balanced with the rich nuttiness of the pecans, I’d look for something clean and crisp to contrast. Perhaps a Huang Shan Mao Feng, a green tea from China’s Anhui province with a light, crisp sweetness and mild nutty flavor, or even a Genmaicha with the toasted-rice overtones.
A chocolate pecan pie, on the other hand, requires an entirely different tea flavor profile. I’d need something to stand up to the strong flavor of the dark chocolate and the subtle, smoky bite of the ancho chile pepper. So, I’d lean toward a pu-erh with its earthiness and slightly leathery taste – also a great digestif. However, it might be too much of a good thing in combination with the dark richness of the chocolate. For this pie, I think I might have to go back to my original choice of black tea. But instead of an Assam, try a Yunnan black tea (from which a lot of Pu-erhs are made) to capture the earthiness and chocolate notes, but with a cleaner finish than a Pu-erh.
With all of the varied flavor profiles of tea – not to mention the many types of pie I love to bake – I’m sure I’ll come up with some interesting pairings. My mouth is watering even now, just thinking about them!