Pairing food with tea is increasingly becoming a trend, akin to the way people have long paired their favorite wines with particular foods. Some take a geographical approach, pairing teas that come from a particular region with foods from the same region. An example of this would be drinking matcha green tea while eating Japanese food. These pairings work well, but they’re certainly not the only way to approach pairing tea with meals.
Which meal complements which drink is a matter of taste; what appeals to one person might be unpleasant to another. Consider these as suggestions and feel free to drink whatever you like with whatever meal you choose.
White tea is made from the youngest, more mildly flavored leaves of the plant. Its flavor is subtle, and white tea pairs best with mildly flavored foods. Here are some foods for pairing well with white teas:
• Basmati rice
• Lightly-seasoned fish
• Peaches and peach-based desserts
• Plain salads without dressing
• Vegetables with light flavors
• White chocolate
To enhance the subtle, slightly sweet flavor of a white tea, try adding a little bit of honey.
Green tea has many variations, some which have a somewhat grassy/vegetable flavor but all of which are subtle. Here are some foods that pair well with green teas:
• Asian food
• Buttered popcorn
• Chicken dishes
• Middle Eastern foods
• Milk chocolate
• Raw vegetables
• Salads – salads with raspberry vinaigrette pair especially nicely with fruity green teas
• White chocolate
Sencha green, which has one of the most vegetable-like profiles of the green teas, pairs well with steamed vegetable dishes, avocados, and arugula salads. Green teas that have a little bit of added sweetness or a fruit flavor can be paired with chicken sandwiches, fruit salads, pastries, and other fairly light foods that have a little bit of sweetness themselves. Sencha can also be used as a palette-cleanser after eating something with a high sodium content such as pretzels or another salty snack.
Jasmine green teas, which have a very strong aroma and a relatively delicate flavor, can be paired with mild fish and chicken dishes as well as foods with berry flavors. Melon and other fresh fruits also pair well with jasmine green teas. Anything with a delicate flavor can be complemented by a flowery jasmine tea.
Gunpowder green teas have a smoky flavor to them. These pair well with grilled chicken and grilled seafood dishes such as shrimp skewers.
Combining the flavors of green and black teas, oolong tea has a complex flavor profile. Purists may prefer to drink oolong teas by themselves, but when pairing these teas with meals, here are some options:
• Bread with jam
• Buttered bread
• Fruit mousses
• Goat cheeses
• Grilled vegetables
• Pancakes with maple syrup
• Roasted or grilled poultry
• Roasted vegetables – try a smoky oolong tea with roasted root vegetables
• Shellfish, especially crab, scallops, and lobster
• Wheat bread
A simple dish of crackers is sometimes the ideal complement to a light, slightly sweet, complex cup of oolong.
Served hot or cold, black tea has a strong flavor due to the high levels of tannins they contain. For this reason, some people consider black teas to be the “red wine” of teas, i.e. if you would serve a food with red wine, you can serve it with black tea.
The hot variations of black teas take cream and sugar well, which makes them a good complement to certain sweet foods. Here are some foods that pair well with black teas:
• Breakfast foods
• Game dishes
• Egg dishes
• Honey-based desserts
• Indian foods
• Italian foods
• Mexican foods
• Spicy foods/highly seasoned foods
Lapsang souchong is a black variety with a smoky flavor profile. It can be paired with smoky cheeses, blue cheese, barbecue dishes, bacon, smoked lunch meats, and smoked salmon as well as chicken dishes, bitter dark chocolates, and tart lemon desserts.
• Black teas with fruit-flavored notes pair well with sweet desserts.
• Fresh fruit goes nicely with iced black teas.
• Pu-erh teas, which are partially fermented and can be black or green teas, are often served after meals to help with digestion, particularly after rich meals.
Fruit-Flavored Herbal Teas
Herbal teas have no caffeine and don’t actually contain the Camellia sinensis plant. Favorite fruity herbal tea flavors include hibiscus, orange spice, cranberry apple, ginger, and some rooibos teas. Below are pairings for these herbal teas.
• Angel food cake
• Cinnamon bread
• French toast
• Grilled tofu
• Lentil stew
• Pureed carrots
The slightly nutty flavor of roobios allows it to pair well with chicken and blue cheese. It makes an interesting complement to a plate of Buffalo chicken wings with blue cheese dressing!
Fall is just around the corner, so here are some special pairings to consider!
• Apple pie and other apple desserts pair well with sweet, milky black tea such as Darjeeling.
• Dishes with a prominent cinnamon flavor pair well with oolong or black teas. If the predominant flavor is nutmeg, black teas are a good choice.
• Pecan pie can be matched with oolong or a strong black tea such as Ceylon.
• Pomegranates taste great with Darjeeling.
• Pumpkin pie can be paired with a strong black tea such as masala chai.
• Squash-based dished pair well with oolong.
• The earthy flavors of carrot cake allow it to pair well with sencha green.
Have fun experimenting with different combinations. As long as you enjoy it, the combination is just right.