Ambivalence is the pull of multiple forces tugging you in different directions. Good tea deserves to be appreciated for its own sake. On the other hand, is there a meal that could not be enhanced with a fine tea? In the spirit of Louis Jordan reconciling beans and cornbread, I guess tea and good food can go hand-in-hand as well.
I recall my own experiments with Skittles and a medium-roasted tie guan yin. Then I became tickled at the puckery bite of kiwi with lapsang souchong. For each of us, there will be a similar delight in discovery.
The successful pairing of food and tea is based on factors like:
1. Complements. Complements can come in terms of taste, aroma, and texture. A classic example can be found in the marine flavors of some Japanese green teas when paired with sushi.
2. Contrasts. Sometimes it is the opposites of two things that help them go together. The delightful play between green tea and chocolate is the conflict of astringency and creamy smoothness.
Keep in mind that any one tea or food can combination of flavors and textures, so pairing a tea and food based on one element of each may not yield the expected results. While green tea and chocolate have contrasting textures, they can both have buttery notes of flavor. In cases like this, factors of contrast and complement work together.
Below are a few guidelines for choosing a successful tea and food pairing.
Beef dishes: Seek black teas and heavily-fired oolongs. An earthy pu’er would do well with beef served with potato, carrot, or mushrooms.
Pork: If its light on sauces, a lighter oolong should fit the bill. Think Huang Jin Gui or Dong Ding here. If the little piggy is fried or in a thick sauce, Assams, Keemuns, and Kenyan blacks will add briskness while cutting the coating on your throat.
Chicken: Chinese green teas often have nut, rice, or vegetal flavors that pair well with poultry. Mao jian, or dragonwell should do nicely. You could even try a white tea like bai mu dan (white peony).
Seafood: Steamed fish, crab, or lobster almost call out for Japanese greens. Think of sencha or gyokuro with their lemony and/or marine aromas.
Dessert: Overly sweet desserts can be cut with dark-roasted oolongs. Da hong pao can have a tangy aftertaste that balances with creamy sweets. I’m also keen to try a pu’er ice cream float I read about here.
Green Vegetables: cooked vegetables can often be paired with Chinese greens. This will depend on the vegetable, but Chinese green teas can have similar flavors. You can detect green bean, asparagus, and even soybean in some teas.
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