Thoughts on Tea and Food Pairing
Why pair tea with food? Pairing tea with food is an adventure in flavors. It is also a good way to get to know the variety in the world of tea. Tea provides an extensive range of tastes, similar to that of wine but without alcohol.
What Can Tea Accomplish?
Tea has evolved for thousands of years along with regional cuisine to be the drink that goes along with meals. It is no surprise that it goes well with food. Like a small, midcourse amuse bouche or palate cleanser, tea is in one sense a great flavor bridge from one course to the next. More importantly it can also be paired with a specific dish -- to help complete the flavor journey of that dish.
The flavors of regional teas evolved with local cuisine, just like wine evolved with its local cuisine. So a good way to think about natural pairings is to look at the cuisine from the tea regions. For instance nothing could go with seafood better than Japanese green teas - such as sencha, bancha, or genmaicha. To take this a step further green teas in general (including many of those from China, Korea, and Vietnam) are superb with seafood. Rice and green tea is also a natural fit. In many traditional Japanese meals the course before dessert is often ochazuke -- rice made with green tea and often topped with savories like salmon or sour plum.
Lightly Oxidized Oolongs
Greenish oolongs are the best oolongs for pairing. Green oolongs can be made stronger and still remain smoother than any green tea. These teas have more sweetness because of the heavier body of the tea. They go very well with scallops, lobster, and other sweet rich seafood.
Full and Medium Oxidized Oolongs
The toastiness of these teas is the most prominent flavor characteristic, except in Oriental Beauty oolongs (which are purely sweet). Stronger flavors like grilled foods match well the darker oolongs. Duck with sweet Oriental Beauty is wonderful.
With pronounced tannins and a corresponding strong finish, black teas are excellent with very full-flavored foods like meats, curries, pastries, etc.
Since they come from the inland province of Yunnan in China, these go well with chicken and meats, stir-fried foods, and anything with lots of animal fat or other oils.