For most Chinese tea drinkers, tea is an all-day affair, served alongside meals, but also between them. In the more ceremonial customs of Japan, or even the ritual of afternoon tea developed in England, strong teas are paired with small snacks, which serve to complement flavor while mitigating bitterness and astringency.
Today, with the plethora of teas that are available to taste, those who love tea may find themselves undertaking marathon tasting sessions, which practically require a snack of some sort, if only to calm the effects of excess caffeine. But pairing snacks can go beyond necessity and truly enhance the tasting experience, given a little bit of consideration. Here are a few things to keep in mind when selecting snacks to accompany any tea tasting.
1. Keep it simple.
To maintain the focus on tasting tea, it is helpful to select snacks that aren’t overwhelming in flavor. Mildly flavored cookies like shortbread or cucumber sandwiches are common choices for British tea services, even with strong black teas. The delicate flavor of high quality Chinese green or white teas practically demands such unobtrusive accompaniment in order to shine. While heavily spiced foods might pair well with darker teas at meals, tastings are an ideal time to let the tea take center stage. Instead of looking for particularly strong flavors to accompany bold teas, consider rich textures that will linger on the palate.
2. Look for contrast.
To bring specific flavor profiles into sharp relief and reveal new aspects of familiar teas, choose snacks with contrasting flavors. In this month’s Tea Club video, we chose dried dark cherries to pair with our Monkey Picked Tieguanyin because their tart, sweet flavor brings forth the rich nuttiness of this medium-bodied oolong tea. Matching flavors may seem the more obvious choice for pairing, but is unlikely to reveal anything new in the flavor profile of the selected tea. We find that matching mouth feel but choosing contrasting flavors often provides more interest.
3. Choose high quality.
No matter what snacks you choose, we recommend going to the extra effort to find a selection made with high quality ingredients. Excellent snacks will be more likely to satisfy in small quantities, which will (again) keep your palate focused on the tea. Avoiding preservatives or artificial flavors is our preference for both tea and food, and we find matching standards are more likely to enhance the tasting experience. This doesn’t need to require a splurge, or even much forward planning; fresh, seasonal fruit typically offers many appropriate pairing options.
With these guidelines in mind, exploration is ultimately the best way to find your favorite pairings. Of course, for more specific ideas, it’s easy to choose snacks that come from the same provenance as the teas selected for tasting, but these more general guidelines offer more freedom to discover new and exciting flavor combinations. As food lovers, we find this opportunity priceless!
What are your favorite pairings? Let us know in the comments below!
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