Tea & Food & Culture

A recent tea tasting experience made very apparent to me the importance of pairing food and tea, and how those two things tie in with culture. Trying a tea from a different culture could be a shock for your tastebuds. Many tea experts agree that teas are often developed to go with the local cuisine. Makes sense because people grow up finding the taste of those cuisines to be, well, “normal.”

Delicious Seaweed!

The teas in this case were Japanese greens: Kabuse Sencha and Houjicha. One taste and I could tell why these were popular teas in Japan. They both had a strong spinachy/seaweedy (kelp) taste, with the Houjicha (a roasted green tea) also having a mild smokiness (not nearly as strong as Lapsang Souchong). They also both are great with a typical Japanese diet that includes lots of sticky rice and raw or slightly cooked seafood.

Let me digress for a moment. There are a couple of things that you need to know about me before reading on: 1) I love learning about and experiencing other cultures, and 2) I love spinach and seaweed. Phew! That should avoid any misconceptions. Now, back to my point.

The teas are rather tasty, but I can tell you very definitely that neither goes well with our “American cuisine.” This could be quite an issue when the company tries to break into the tea market here.

What foods are in “American cuisine”? Well, actually, I’m just referring to foods that are fairly mainstream and popular in the U.S. The ones that immediately come to mind are: hot dogs, burgers, ribs, fried chicken, pizza, and lots of Mexican dishes. Of course, Italian foods are also extremely popular, especially pastas, meatballs and spaghetti with tomato-based sauce, and Italian sausage. We also tend to eat quite a bit of spinach, raw and cooked, either as a side dish or in a Florentine-style Italian dish. You’d think that a tea that tasted like a cross between spinach and seaweed would go great with these. Yeah, right.

¡Pozole con Aguacate!

Maybe it’s the seaweed taste element.

In a country where we don’t have a steady diet of things like raw or barely cooked seafood and lots of sticky rice, it might be a bit hard to market a tea that seems to be designed to complement such flavors. But then, maybe it’s just a matter of showing what foods we tend to enjoy in this country that would go well with such teas. A few I found in my research were: milk chocolate (goes with anything), white chocolate, carrot cake, cheesecake, foods containing garlic (shrimp scampi comes to mind — yum!), avocados, corn, macaroni & cheese, egg dishes like quiche, and raw vegetables.

Of course, you might like seaweed-tasting tea with your tacos or big, sloppy cheeseburger. It’s definitely not my (pardon the pun) “cup of tea.” (Previously, I voiced an opinion on what food would go well with a particular tea and received feedback that others had very opposite views. That’s tastebuds for ya.)

The Kabuse Sencha leaves are edible after steeping, assuming you like boiled greens, since they are rather thin. (The tea bushes are covered to block out about 85% of the sunlight, forcing the plants to produce thin leaves that contain extra chlorophyll.) I ate them as part of my lunch (which included a generous portion of rice) and must confess that the taste experience was like a connection to that other culture half a world away.

Gee, sounds like a really good reason to go have another cuppa this tea and maybe some sticky rice. Enjoy!

Don’t forget to check out A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!

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