Tea and Food: Popular and Proper Pairings

Tea lovers often wonder what foods go best with their favorite drink. Should you serve sweets with white tea? Snack crackers with green? Fruit with black and herbal teas?

For at least a generation, people have been searching for the most appropriate food and tea pairings. As tea eclipses coffee in big city beverage shops, more and more consumers are eating meals with their daily tea fix, especially in the U.S. and Europe. Though some national cultures (the U.K. and India, for example) have for many years made tea an important part of eating, U.S. residents and others are new to the idea.

That’s why a fresh industry has cropped up around the proper food pairings for various kinds of tea. Wine drinkers understand the principles at work here. Those who are adamant about tea realize that serving the right tea with a particular food is a smart, delicious way to eat.

So, what are the best food-tea matchups? We’ll take a look at some of the most delicious and interesting ways to enjoy a meal with your hot or cold tea.

Good stuff

Eating a healthy breakfast is not a new idea, but including tea as an integral part of the morning meal is new to a lot of people, especially coffee drinkers. Even those who consume nutritious foods in the early morning can do themselves and their bodies a favor by coupling the foodstuffs with tea. Because tea has much less caffeine than coffee, that point alone is enough to win a few converts. But there’s more.

The catechins (antioxidants) in tea are a proven immunity booster, and green tea packs the biggest dose of these friendly little nutrients. Besides bolstering the overall physical metabolism, several cups of tea per day can help dieters drop a few pounds.

Basic training

The tea and the food are supposed to work together and enhance each other’s flavors. A general rule for tea-and-food pairing is to match strong with strong and weak with weak. Powerful, very flavorsome food will drown out the taste of weaker, more delicate teas. That’s why it’s always a good idea to use a robust tea with assertive foods.

A good way to start out is to make a mental list of the basic ingredients in your meal before selecting the tea. The “cheat sheet” approach is this: Use a tea’s area of origin to match it with foods that are popular in that same geographic region or culture.

Spicy Indian dishes, for example, usually go well with darker, more robust teas that won’t disappear when teamed with curry or other muscular spices. Likewise, lighter fare like fish and rice, popular in Japan, are ideal complements to any green tea, particularly a ceremony-grade matcha tea.

White, green, black and oolong pairings

Volumes have been written about how to choose the perfect tea for virtually every known food item. Let’s consider the four general types of tea and what goes best with each.

Oolong tea’s flavor profile is somewhere between that of green and black tea. It has a wide range of foods it can be served with. For example, the lighter oolongs are best with seafood and aromatic choices that emphasize the tea’s floral scents. Light snacks, even salty ones are a good match for light oolong.
For the darker, heavier oolong teas, think about serving them alongside grilled meats, salmon, duck, trout and just about any smoked meat. The darker oolongs are also a smart pairing with so-called “heavy” sweets like waffles, pastries, pancakes and tarts.

A key fact to remember about green teas is that they are typically divided into three sub-categories: fruity, smoky and vegetable flavored. The vegetable green teas, which include Japanese matcha tea, are invariably a nice companion for seafood, while the smoky green teas go well with fowl, potatoes, stir-fry and cheesy options. Chinese green teas are the representative member of the smoky tea grouping. The fruity green teas work best with sandwiches, chicken, light salads and fluffy pastries that aren’t too sweet. The Indian green teas are the typical choices in the fruity category. Because green tea, in general, has such an understated vegetable taste, place it with mild foods like salads, fruit dishes, chicken, light fish and similar choices.

If you’re serving a no-frills veggie salad without dressing, white tea is the way to go. This is obviously the most delicate tea on the menu, so we don’t want to drown out its rare, airy flavor with heavy or spicy foods. Stick with very light seafood dishes or non-sweet fruit salads (like cucumbers) when serving white tea. Anything heavier on the food side of the ledger causes white tea to taste like plain water.

These robust teas are at home with spicy meat dishes and anything heavy and flavorsome. It’s the tannins that do the trick. Because black teas contain high amounts of this bitter nutrient, they help to bring out the flavor of stronger food selections. As with green teas, blacks are divided into three subcategories, in this case they are smoky, earthy and fruity.

Anyone who has traveled to India or Sri Lanka already knows what to eat with the fruity black teas. Sweet desserts are actually enhanced by the tannins in fruity black teas. When you are serving the very sweetest foods and desserts, you can’t go wrong with fruity black teas. China’s smoky black choices in the tea department are ideal alongside sweet chocolate, dark meats and even blackened meat dishes. Africa’s earthy black teas team up well with potatoes and gravy, blackened meats and some chicken dishes.

A lot goes into planning a meal, and tea selection is just one of the ways that cooks can enhance the flavor of their chosen dishes. When coffee just won’t do, and when you’re looking for a better way for your guests to enjoy a meal, tea is invariably a better option. It not only tastes great but is a much healthier choice than coffee or soda in any situation. But make sure to use the right tea for whatever you intend to serve. Every meal can be a winner with tea.

Filed under Lifestyle, Tea

Yuki thinks simplicity is the ultimate sophistication. His most significant accomplishment is learning how to sit with a good cup of tea and listen. When not online, Yuki talks with all things wild and free. He is a blogger and a matcha lover.

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