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How to Pair Teas with Food, Scientifically Speaking

Pairing beverages with food should enhance the dining experience, not compete for attention. An even worse crime is to pull the attention away from the center plate item!


This can be hard to accomplish when pairing tea, as the tea can suffer due to its subtle flavors. However, if you understand the science behind how flavors are perceived, you have a better chance of creating a dining experience that your guests will rave about.


Here we review green, oolong, and black tea and demonstrate proper pairing techniques to accommodate any menu item.

green tea growing plantation

PAIRING PRINCIPLES

There are three basic principles of pairing (1):

  1. The overarching principle is that beverages pair well with foods when the two activate the same temperature receptors. When they do, the flavors of both stand out together. If they don’t, one will dominate, and you will lose the flavor of the other, or the flavors may clash.

  2. If a dish has ingredients that activate multiple temperature receptors, your choice of beverage will dictate which flavors in the dish and beverage will stand out.

  3. Because you eat and drink over time, you may experience a succession of pairings; this succession should be considered when composing a dish and a pairing. (1)


GREEN TEA

Your best bet for pairing foods with #greentea is to activate the cool/cold receptors. The more of these receptors you activate, the better the experience for both the food and the beverage. Below is a list of foods that activate the cool/cold receptors. Dishes that have these items in them are better matched with green teas.

  • Vegetables: broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, brussels sprouts, bok choy, cucumbers, celery, bamboo shoots, water chestnuts, onions, leeks, scallions, shallots, garlic, tofu, etc.

  • Fruits: lemon, blueberries, apples, kiwi, etc.

  • Meats: fatty fish, salmon, etc.

  • Herbs: mint, dill, thyme, mustard seed, wasabi, horseradish, capers, ginger, lemon myrtle, etc.


OOLONG TEA

Since oolong tea is the bridge between green and black tea, it should come as no surprise that the less oxidized “greener” oolong teas pair well with the foods listed in the green tea section, and the higher oxidized “darker” oolong teas pair well with the foods listed in the black tea section. However, some of the most popular #oolongteas are in the mid-oxidized realm, which pairs better with foods that activate the warm receptors of sweet and floral.

  • Vegetables: root vegetables, carrots, potatoes, squash, lentils, beans, artichoke, etc.

  • Fruits: tomatoes, strawberries, oranges, apricots, peaches, figs, plums, cherries, etc.

  • Meats: chicken, pork, turkey, sweetbreads, etc.

  • Herbs: basil, fennel, thyme, oregano, rosemary, bay leaf, cumin, vanilla, etc.


BLACK TEA

The final step in black tea manufacturing is firing to stop the oxidation process and kill off the enzymes in the leaf. During this process, a Maillard Reaction (similar to toasting bread) occurs, which gives #blacktea some of its distinguished flavors. Foods that go through this process or caramelization pair well with black teas since they activate the warm and hot receptors.

  • Vegetables: just about any caramelized vegetable (such as onions, mushrooms, carrots, etc.), fries, or other fried potatoes etc.

  • Fruit: raspberries, cranberries, blackberries, caramelized fruits (such as plantains), etc.

  • Meat: beef, wild game meats, etc.

  • Herbs: pepper, chili, ginger, garlic, cinnamon, onion, paprika, cayenne, horseradish, wasabi, mustard seed, etc.


Pairing tea with food is part science and part art. Knowing the science of which food items work well with tea is just the first step. The expertise lies in knowing your teas and how to artfully match them with the ingredients used in the creation of the center plate item. Not every tea within a tea type tastes the same. Each tea has its flavor characteristic. Knowing those taste characteristics will help you understand which teas will go well with your dish. Here’s to a lifetime of eating great food and drinking extraordinary teas!


Thirsty for more?

For more on this subject, please consider purchasing this book by Dr. Virginia Utermohlen Lovelace. Not only is she a scientist and an award-winning educator who has had a life-long fascination with sensory perception, but she's also a TEA-rrific friend!


The #teaexperts at Hula Consulting can help with sourcing white teas, flavorings, and ingredients for your tea line and tea education courses to give you and your team the tools to be better cuppers, blenders, and purchasers of teas and tea ingredients. Email Scott@HulaConsulting.com or call 561.600.7025 to get started today!


(1) “Three Basic Teas & How to Enjoy Them” by Virginia Utermohlen Lovelace (ISBN 9781544112763)



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