Friday, September 22, 2017

A spectacular tea pairing event at the Mandarin Oriental in Taipei

There's an iron rule in gongfu cha never to eat food while tasting tea. That's because tea has very light aromas that are easily obscured by food. So does that mean that food and tea never mix? This reminds of the joke with 2 priests who meet outside church while smoking a cigarette. The first one says: "Are you allowed to smoke in your monastery? In ours we can't." The second one says: "Sure, we can. How did you ask to be allowed to smoke?" The first priest says: "I asked if I may be able to smoke while I pray. They said no. How did you ask?" The second priest says: "I asked if I could pray while I smoke!"

So, the answer is that it's best not to have food while tasting tea, but you can have tea while eating! After all, tea and gastronomy are intimately related as I've recently shown.
Last Friday, the Chairman of the Mandarin Oriental hotel in Taipei, M. Lin, organized a tea pairing dinner for a group of distinguished guests from Thailand. He asked M. Chi Zongxian (aka Teaparker, my tea master) to pair the Chinese dishes with tea. Teaparker then turned to me to brew these teas with the help of a few more persons. The goal wasn't merely to have tea with the dinner, but to match each dish with a tea in a harmonious and delicious way.

The first course consisted of several appetizers: roasted suckling pig, barbecued pork ribs with longyan (similar to lychee), jelly fish head in chilli sauce, black fungus with aged vinegar, pork knuckle in soy broth, dried tofu in soy broth. What all these dishes have in common is soy sauce and ginger. That's why an organic Concubine Oolong from Shan Lin Xi from 2016 is a great match: the honey scents are powerful enough and the sweet taste adds to the taste of the food. Besides, these appetizers are quite rich and could almost make one feel satisfied, but the tea opens up the appetite. I brewed this tea in my biggest Yixing zhuni teapot and served it in dragon and phoenix gaiwans from the 1970/80s. Thanks to the lid, the tea stayed hot longer in the air-conditioned room. To refill the cups, Teaparker let us use a Qing dynasty Yixing zisha water polished teapot that was made for export to Thailand. This gesture was very appreciated by the Thai guests.

The second course was a double-boiled codyceps in a black bone chicken soup. The paired tea was Wuyi Baijiguan from the Yu tea plantation brewed in a Duanni teapot and served in wine glasses at a cooled down temperature unlike other teas. This dish was also paired with a 1986 chateau Mouton Rothschild. Baijiguan has a moss and mushroom like fragrance with a delicate, sweet taste. The guests drink the tea after drinking half the soup. They notice that the aromas of the soup intensify as they drink the Baijiguan and that the tea echoes the wine in terms of refinement. Fittingly, we refill the cups with a Japanese silver teapot with a spout in the shape of a phoenix head! 

The third course was a braised sea cucumber with spring onion. It was paired with a clone of one of the Wuyi DaHongPao bushes, the Qidang, from this spring. I brewed it in my antique Dehua porcelain teapot. It smelled like a bouquet of roses with a deep taste of rocks.

The fourth course is braised goose feet with abalone in abalone sauce. The same Qidang Yancha is used here. The fine abalone taste complements well the elegant taste of the Qidang. We refill the cups with a big 19th century silver dragon teapot. 

The fifth course is star garoupa fish with spring onions. The sixth course is poached baby cabbage and bamboo pith in superior broth. These 2 dishes have light aromas and are paired with this wild raw spring 2017 puerh tea brewed in my silver dragon and phoenix silver teapot. The fresh spring buds add a fresh feeling to the fish and vegetables. The cups are refilled with a gold teapot and added to the luxury feeling in this 5 stars hotel!

After this dinner, M. Lin gave us his feedback about this tea pairing event. For him, wine is a natural companion for a dinner, because it gives a party feeling. Everybody feels 'high' and easy going thanks to the alcohol. Tea seems to have an opposite effect, making people quiet and zen, but it also provides with interesting new pairing possibilities.

For Teaparker, such a tea pairing event was the first of its kind in Asia. It was a small, but important step to show the pairing potential of tea. This will become a future trend in upscale restaurants and it's going to be an exciting field of exploration and innovation. 

As for me, I think that M. Lin is right to point out the opposite effects of tea and wine. But this doesn't mean that tea and wine should necessarily be opposed to each other. On the contrary, as my cheese, wine and tea pairing event showed, tea and wine can also be complementing each other. Tea helps to delay the point when you feel to inebriated, while wine adds a celebratory mood to the meal. And both can provide good matches for the food. This approach is also probably easier to promote to restaurants where wine is often a cash cow that nobody wants to see replaced.

(This article is based on free translation of Teaparker's recent articles with his kind permission).

1 comment:

Manuel said...

Hi, very interesting. The silver teapots triumphed. Greetings.