Should You Really Pair Food with Tea?

Pairing food with tea is a hot topic these days, with special tastings and tons of recipes using tea in food preparation. Cheese events pair a host of cheeses (and not stuff like American cheese or that stuff in a can) with various teas. Here are some results of those efforts. Chocolates are another focus, with tasting events being held that result in some interesting pairings like those I wrote about here. Even nuts have been paired with teas, as I wrote about here. Some tea vendors give suggestions of what foods to serve with which teas so that they complement each other. All well and good, but, just as with all those flavored teas with their bits of fruit, flower petals, and various spices smothering the tea taste, are you losing out on the whole tea flavor experience when you enjoy tea with food?

Margaret’s Hope Estate Darjeeling
Margaret’s Hope Estate Darjeeling

Some teas are so delicate and special that their flavor is lost when drunk with foods, even ones that are supposed to go well with those foods. Here are a few examples:

  • Margaret’s Hope Estate Darjeeling — Named for the youngest daughter of the owner, Mr. Bagdon, after she died on the ocean voyage back to England. She had hoped to visit the tea garden again. The bushes at Margaret’s Hope are almost entirely the Chinese Jat (genus), having a green leafed tippy appearance in the manufactured leaf and a superb fragrance. The bushes grow more slowly at their high altitudes and relatively cool weather, limiting production. The old tea bushes produce teas with that muscatel characteristic so identified with Darjeelings of high quality. The tea has a distinctive “Muscatel”, with a hint of currant and an almost wine-like taste. The fragrance and taste is a complex bouquet that some describe as nutty while others say it reminds them of black currants. Most often it is described as similar to the taste and fragrance of Muscat grapes. Enjoying this tea by itself instead of with food assures that you enjoy those characteristics to their fullest.
  • Adams Peak White Tea — This silver tip white tea from the Nuwara Eliya region of Sri Lanka (Ceylon) is grown at 7800-8200 feet above sea level and is rolled by hand. It steeps up a delicate, light copper color liquid with a taste of pine and honey. The subtle taste may only be appreciated with an experienced palate and one free of culinary influences (that is, without food).
  • Earl Grey — Yes, I am including what is technically a flavored tea here. The reason is simple: this is a tea best enjoyed, in my humble opinion, by itself instead of with food. Sure, you may enjoy this tea with traditional tea time treats such as scones, cakes, and even buttered toast. But give it a try by itself. You could discover dimensions to the tea’s flavors that you had previously not noticed. This blend is Indian and Ceylon teas naturally flavored with oil of Bergamot, a small acidic orange (a cross between the sweet or pear lemon and the Seville or sour orange native to southern Vietnam).

Go back and revisit some of the teas you have traditionally enjoyed with foods and try them on their own. You may find the experience very different, even mind altering. Enjoy!

See more of A.C. Cargill’s articles here.

© Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog, 2009-2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this article’s author and/or the blog’s owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Online Stores, Inc., and The English Tea Store Blog with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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