Tea, as in wine, is a delightful way to compliment a meal. Not only do teas help digest foods more efficiently, they also can enhance the natural flavors of food just as wines do. In fact, wine and tea have much in common in this respect. For instance, robust foods are better paired with robust wines and teas, while lighter foods are more appropriate with lighter wines and teas.
Where do I begin?
Naturally, the flavors of regional teas evolved with local cuisine just like wine. A good way to think about natural pairings is to look at the cuisine from the tea regions. Ever wonder why they serve Sencha or other Japanese Greens at your favorite sushi bar? Or that hot creamy aromatic cup of chai masala with your favorite Indian curries?
When should I serve the tea?
When it comes to serving tea there are no set rules- Some will serve it with the meal (which I like to do), and some will serve it before or after a meal as a digestive. Others still will serve tea between courses as a palate cleanser – In other words, just do what is comfortable.
When pairing food with tea, the most important variable to consider is oxidation level. A good way to determine the oxidation is to evaluate how dark is the tea. A good rule of thumb to follow is – the darker the tea, the higher the oxidation.
Why are oxidation levels important when pairing?
Darker teas generally are more robust in profile, and as in wine, will generally have higher tannin levels. The degree of tannin is important when trying to determine if a particular tea is well suited for a dish – just as in wine, tannin levels can extenuate the negatives in foods. For instance, paring highly tannic black tea such as an Assam with a highly tannic food such as walnuts can make the dish quite bitter and astringent. Additionally, tannic teas have the capacity to make seafood dishes taste like metal. – Tannic teas can be your quintessential breakfast types such as Assam, Irish and English breakfast, Chinese blacks etc. They tend to be bolder, richer, and more acidic which make them well suited for stronger tasting foods. Try pairing dark teas with curries, game meats, smoked and savory foods, and egg dishes.
Lighter teas will exhibit less oxidation and intensity and do not have the same degree of tannins as dark teas. As a result they tend to be more floral, sweet, can be citrusy, and times even oceanic in profile – White, green and lighter oolongs are especially well suited for fish , salad dishes, Asian cuisine and your less sweet desserts.
All in all just use common sense!
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