Saturday, August 30, 2014

3 ways to combine tea with a meal

Seafood and white wine
Tea and wine share many similarities. The pairing of food and tea follows the same functions as with wine has. It's in Chaozhou, the place where gongfu cha originated, that the Chinese have pushed the interactions between fine tea and food the furthest. In traditional Teochew restaurants (= serving Chaozhou/Chaoshan cuisine), a strongly roasted Oolong is served when guests arrive.

1. Tea as appetizer

This strong Oolong used to be a Yan Cha for the best restaurants or a roasted Tie Guan Yin. The function of this tea is like a Champagne during an aperitif. It's goal is to make you feel hungry. That's why one or two cups are sufficient -we don't want to feel full with tea-. But it should be very strong, stronger than when we brew the tea for its own sake. This means using more leaves than usual.
Wuyi Yan Cha
 2. Tea as flavor enhancer

The second possible function for tea is to enhance the flavors of the food. This is the result of good pairing of tea and food. In this case, the tea acts a little bit like a sauce that brings new flavors, or helps underline those present in the food.

For instance, the Yan Cha we had as appetizer also underlined the salty sea freshness of the tapenade. And with the hummus, it's the spiciness of the garlic that came alive in the mouth! With a good pairing, 1 +1 = 3 or more!

Which teas pair which food the best is still very new field of trial and research. On that subject, Teaparker has written 3 books (puerh, Oolong and red tea) in Chinese. And in France, Lydia Gautier has also written 'Thés et Mets: subtiles alliances'. There are no rules like for wine (white for seafood and red for meat), but the principle guiding the pairing is similar: the strength of the tea should match the strength of the taste of the food.
Duck liver
Very powerful food like duck liver is still better matched with a sweet, late harvest (vendanges tardives) white wine like a Sauternes or Tokaji.

However, a lighter fish can nicely paired with a nice Oriental Beauty Oolong. The lightness of Oolong underlines the finesse of the fish. And at the same time, the wonderful flavors of the Oriental Beauty add more flavors to the many spices/vegetables that were used to prepare this fish's sauce (saffron, dates, mushrooms, ginger, carrots...)
 3. Tea as digestive drink

At the end of a bigger/better than usual meal, you realize that you had a spoon or a fork too much. This was the case for the nice lunch we had last Sunday! (I didn't mention the 4 or 5 desserts we had...) At this point, you need to gather some energy to get up, and you wish to do so feeling fresh, with a clean taste in the mouth. So, for the ending, our hostess brewed a Hungshui Oolong from Yong Lung.
This tea's function is similar to that of a brandy at the end of a meal. It brings a last touch of sweetness and richness, but at the same time it cleanses the mouth and the throat. The whole body receives a natural energy that helps the digestion. In the case of tea (vs a liquor) you will even have a clearer mind!
Bon appétit!


Unknown said...

whenever I have Chinese food I have to drink milk because it's so spicy!! the tea they serve is a super-weak Shui Xian teabag anyways, so I'm not really missing out. I really like the Sencha that the local sushi bar serves though!

TeaMasters said...

Thanks for your comment, Jake.
Nowadays, Chinese restaurants often serve tea as they try to connect to this Chaozhou tradition. However, because they don't charge for it, it's very cheap and roasted Oolong. What you can try is to bring your own roasted Oolong to that restaurant and ask for boiling water in the teapot they use for their tea.