Over the years, people have constantly sought out the right beverage to pair with their favorite foods. Whether this be a fine wine with a fine Italian dish, a craft beer with a steak, or the classic Coke with pizza, this is something that is done all the time!
With that being said, there are other types of beverages that can be paired with foods. For spicy foods, you may choose to have milk be paired to cut down on the spicy flavor, or for something incredibly sweet you may drink seltzer water as a complement, and after salty foods champagne is considered perfect by most food connoisseurs.
A new movement with food pairings is to pair different teas with your food. Teas are versatile, relatively inexpensive in most cases, and can be served hot or cold, and at the desired strength. Each type of tea has a specific food type that it is best paired with due to the characteristics of the tea itself.
Black tea generally has the strongest taste out of all the teas, and this tea also contains the most tannins. However, seeing as black tea can be either fruity, smoky, or earthy, knowing when to have a specific type of black tea can be important.
Fruity Black Teas are often considered best served with a light dessert. The fruit flavor prevents the tea from tasting too bitter after a bite of sweet dessert, and the heavy presence of tannins in the black tea will cleanse the palate of the existing flavor, allowing each bits of dessert to taste as good as the first.
Smoky Black Teas are incredibly strong flavored, and some people even consider the taste to be acquired. The reason for the acquired taste is that these are heavy black teas, often smoked over pine needles. Since the flavor of this type of a tea is so strong, it is normally recommended to serve it with equally strong foods such as heavily spiced meat, blackened chicken, or a light chocolate cake.
Finally, earthy black tea is similar to smoky black tea in several ways; you will likely want to pair this type of tea with meat or blackened foods. However, while smoky black tea can be paired well with light chocolate and other light sweets, this is not advised with earthy black tea.
Green tea is far more subtle than black tea in all respects. Green tea is lighter in flavor, and can easily be overpowered by stronger foods. However, the science of taste is just as varied as it is with black tea due to the different ways to prepare green tea. Similar to black tea, there are generally three different varieties of green tea; vegetative, smoky, and fruity. While any green tea is said to go well with rice, the subtle flavor changes allow for green tea to complement other foods in other ways.
Vegetative Green Teas are the characteristic Japanese green teas. These teas are known to be best suited for pairing with seafood or very light vegetables.
Fruity Green Tea is in many ways the exact opposite of fruity black tea; as where fruity black tea is served with dessert, this is strongly advised against when serving fruity green tea. The subtle flavors combined with the fruit makes this tea ideal for light chicken and vegetable dishes as well as lightly flavored baked dishes or whole wheat bread sandwiches.
Smoky Green Teas include most Chinese green tea options. While theses teas are still subtle in flavor, like all green teas, the light smokiness pairs well with fried foods. Frequently this type of a tea is served with pan-fried meat or a stir fry.
Much simpler than both black and green tea, white tea is very light in flavor, and as such should only be paired with the lightest of foods. This is because pairing this beverage with anything other than unflavored and light cooked fish, vegetables, and seafood will offer a mouthfeel that will overpower the white tea, often creating no taste distinction between being tea or water.
Whether you are seeking a plain rooibos like, a flavored option, or a spiced of rooibos chai, you will find similar tastes; regardless of the rooibos, there is a nutty finish that lingers due to the complex nature of the rooibos that this tea is derived from. While this is not often considered the best tea to pair food with, there is evidence that this tea pairs well with blue cheese and with chicken. If you are like many Americans, you immediately think about pairing this tea with your next round of wings!
Oolong teas lie in between green tea and black tea both chemically and by taste, which creates a complex flavor, aroma, and makes pairing a little bit trickier. However, this can be somewhat eased if you break oolong teas into two sub-categories; dark oolong and light oolong.
Light Oolongs are usually quite floral in taste while offering the rich tannin taste of the black teas with the subtle hints of the green tea. While seafood has been mentioned several times here, these mentions have all been in reference to lighter fare. Well, with a light oolong you are best pairing with a rich seafood, such as crab, lobster, or scallops. These teas also go well with lightly salted items such as crackers.
Dark Oolongs, sometimes called “heavy oolongs”, are similar in chemical makeup to the light oolong, but the food pairing options are the exact opposite. Where you would choose to serve the light oolong with a sweeter seafood, dark oolongs are best served with oily fish or grilled foods. Examples include trout, salmon, and grilled meat. In addition, while it is not recommended to serve this tea with eggs for breakfast, serving it with pancakes and real maple syrup is said to be divine.
The fermentation of pu-erh is what offers this tea its unique flavor which pairs well with anything that has a greasy taste to it, such as fried foods. The unique properties of Pu-Erh also make these teas great for settling the stomach after a heavy meal.
The Choice is yours…
While the recommendations made here are what are known to be good selections for pairing, the art of pairing tea with food is still being explored. You are free to try whatever you would like, and you may find a pairing that has not been thought of before. Experiment with what you like, and most of all, have fun with your taste selections!
About the Author
Kevin and Meahgan Borowsky were professionals in New York city who were seeking better health and stumbled upon loose leaf tea. Seeking out tea businesses was a challenge, even in New York City.
Eventually, the idea of forming a business around tea emerged, and the couple, seeking out a less hectic pace of life opened the Whistling Kettle Tea Room and Café in Ballston Spa, NY in 2004 – located minutes from the famous Saratoga Race Track.
The store combined over 100 teas and accessories that could be purchased along with a full service, sit down café that was won numerous awards including ‘best lunch spot’ for the entire Capital Region. The menu, featuring traditional tea sandwich favorites, along with crepes, grilled sandwiches and salads appeals to all appetites. The décor and atmosphere was designed to be friendly to both males and females, with tasteful décor along with jazz and blues music playing in the background. It redefines tea culture from the traditional dainty lace and china of yore.
A second location opened in Troy, NY in 2014 to expand tea culture to a wider audience. The website sells teas all over the world through it’s Online Tea Store and Tea of the Month Clubs.
The Whistling Kettle also is the only tea vendor with a full-color catalog and reference guide – available free at both locations or on-line.