From light and crisp teas to rich and full-bodied teas, the right tea can complement a wide range of dishes and elevate the flavors of your meal. In this post, we’ll explore the art of tea and food pairing and provide some tips for selecting the perfect tea to pair with your meal.
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Why should you drink tea with food?
The goal of tea and food pairing is to create a harmonious balance between the flavor and aroma of the tea and the food, by selecting a specific tea to complement a particular food, resulting in a more enjoyable and satisfying culinary experience.
Pairing tea with different foods brings many benefits to the table, from flavor enhancement to improved digestion.
The caffeine found in tea can even help to stimulate the metabolism after a large meal.
We surely can’t argue with that perk!
Understanding the flavors of tea
The first step in pairing tea with food is understanding the flavors of tea.
Different teas have unique flavor profiles, ranging from light and floral to bold and spicy.
Take the time to understand the flavors of different teas and how they can complement different foods.
Flavors of Black Tea
Known for its strong, robust flavor, Black tea is typically rich and malty, with hints of smokiness or fruit, and a slightly bitter finish. Some varieties even have floral notes.
Flavors of White Tea
The least processed of all the teas, White tea has a light, delicate flavor. It is known for its smooth, fruity, slightly sweet flavor with a subtle hint of floral notes.
Flavors of Green Tea
A staple in many Asian cultures, Green tea is known for its delicate, grassy flavor. While some green teas can be smoky or sweet, most have a slightly astringent taste, with nutty, floral, or vegetal notes.
Flavors of Oolong Tea
Oolong is a semi-oxidized tea known for its sweet, floral, fruity taste that lacks the bitterness found in other tea varieties.
Pairing Tea with Savory Foods
Tea is often associated with sweet treats and delicate pastries, but it can also be an excellent complement to savory dishes.
The right tea can enhance the flavors of a dish, cut through rich or heavy foods, and provide a refreshing balance to spicy or bold flavors.
Keep reading for some tips and tricks for successful tea and food pairings that will impress your taste buds and your dinner guests.
What teas pair well with red meat?
When it comes to pairing tea with red meat, the key is to choose a tea that can stand up to the rich, hearty flavors of the meat.
If you are making a red meat dish such as roast beef, lamb, or venison, try pairing it with a strong black tea such as Assam, Ceylon, or Keemun.
If you’re making a hearty red meat dish, try pairing it with one of these strong black teas:
What teas pair well with white meat?
White meats such as chicken, turkey, and pork tend to have milder flavors compared to red meats, which means that you can choose teas with more delicate flavors to complement them.
A light Japanese green tea such as Sencha or Gyokuro will bring a slightly sweet and vegetal flavor to complement the flavor of white meat.
Another great option would be a delicate white tea. Its subtle floral and fruity flavors can enhance the taste of white meat without overpowering it.
If you’re making a white meat dish, try pairing it with one of these delicate, light tea options:
What teas pair well with white fish?
White fish like cod, haddock, and tilapia have a mild and delicate flavor that can pair well with a range of teas.
Japanese green teas like Sencha, Gyokuro, or Genmaicha can all be great choices, as they have slightly sweet and vegetal flavors that can enhance the natural flavors of the fish.
The light a sweet flavors of white tea can also pair well with the mild flavors of white fish.
For a more unexpected pairing, try a citrus tea, such as lemon or orange to bring a bright and refreshing flavor to the fish.
If you’re making a delicate white fish, try pairing it with one of these light teas:
What teas pair well with salmon?
Salmon is a rich and flavorful fish that is beautifully balanced by a black tea such as Assam or Darjeeling. Both options have a slightly astringent flavor that can cut through the richness of the fish.
If you’re making salmon, balance its richness by pairing it with one of these black teas:
What teas pair well with shellfish?
Shellfish such as shrimp, crab, and lobster have a sweet and delicate flavor.
The subtle floral and fruity flavors of white tea make a great pairing, bringing out the natural sweetness of the shellfish.
Green teas such as Sencha have a sweet and vegetal flavor that can enhance the flavor of shellfish, making it another good pairing option.
A more unexacting pairing is an herbal tea, such as chamomile or lemon verbena. Both have light refreshing flavors that can complement the delicate flavors of shellfish without overpowering them.
If you’re making shellfish, try pairing it with one of these teas:
What teas pair well with sushi?
Green tea is a classic pairing for sushi.
Sushi made with fatty fish like salmon or tuna is paired well with Sencha or Gyokuro, as the slightly astringent flavor balances the richness of the fish.
If you want a nutty, toasty flavor to complement the flavors of sushi, try a cup of Genmaicha.
If you’re having sushi, try pairing it with one of these green teas:
What teas pair well with vegetarian dishes?
Vegetarian dishes can have a wide range of flavors and textures, making tea a great way to enhance the overall dining experience.
Some great pairing options include white tea, oolong tea, or green tea such as Gyokuro or Sencha.
If you’re making a vegetarian dish, try pairing it with one of these teas:
What teas pair well with pasta dishes?
Pasta dishes can have a range of flavors depending on the type of sauce used.
A pasta dish with a tomato-based sauce will pair well with a black tea such as Assam, Ceylon or Darjeeling.
A creamy pasta sauce is best complemented by the complex flavors of oolong tea.
A light sauce with vegetables is enhanced by the delicate and sweet flavors of white tea or an herbal tea such as chamomile.
If you’re making a pasta dish, try pairing it with one of these teas, depending on what type of sauce you are making:
What teas pair well with mushroom dishes?
If you’re making a mushroom dish, try pairing it with one of these Indian black teas:
What teas pair well with spicy dishes?
Spicy food can have a range of flavors and heat levels, depending on the particular dish.
Dishes with a bold and intense spice factor can be well-balanced by a robust black tea such as Assam or Ceylon.
Alternatively, if the dish has a more subtle and delicate spice level, a green tea can bring a light and refreshing flavor to the meal.
Another option is an oolong tea, which provides a light, fruity contrast to heat and spice.
If you’re serving spicy food, try one of these tea options, depending on the spice level:
What teas pair well with Mexican cuisine?
Mexican food is known for its bold and spicy flavors.
An equally bold black tea, such as Assam can be a great match, as its slightly astringent flavor can balance the spiciness of the dish.
If you’re serving a Mexican dish, try pairing it with one of these Assam teas:
What teas pair well with Chinese cuisine?
Chinese cuisine is diverse and offers a range of flavors, from savory to sweet, and mild to spicy.
Chinese dishes with subtle flavors can be well complemented by the fresh and delicate taste of green tea.
On the other hand, rich and savory Chinese meals are a great match for an oolong tea.
If you’re having Chinese food, try pairing it with a delicate green or oolong tea:
What teas pair well with smoky dishes or smoked meats?
Smoky dishes or smoked meats have a strong and intense flavor that requires a tea with enough body and depth to stand up to it.
Oolong tea can have its own complex smoky flavor, making it a great pair with smoked meats.
Keemun is a black tea known for its smoky yet slightly fruity flavor. Its mild smokiness makes it a good choice to pair with dishes that have a lighter smoky flavor.
Assam is a bold and malty black tea that can hold up to the strong flavors of smoked meats. Its undeniable flavor can complement the smoky taste of these dishes.
Finally, Sencha is a Japanese green tea that has a vegetal flavor with a slightly smoky undertone. Its light and refreshing taste can be a good contrast to the richness of smoky dishes.
If you’re making a smoky dish, try pairing it with one of these teas:
What teas pair well with herby dishes?
Herby dishes are typically light and fresh, and take on the flavors of the herbs used.
You will find that the complex and smoky flavors of oolong teas pair well with herby dishes.
Mint tea has a refreshing taste that can complement dishes with herbs like basil, parsley, or cilantro.
Earl Grey, a black tea flavored with bergamot oil, has a citrusy floral flavor that is a great complement to dishes using lavender or rosemary.
If you’re making an herby dish, try pairing it with one of these teas:
What teas pair well with salads?
Salads can be light and refreshing with a variety of textures and flavors, which can sometimes make it challenging to find the perfect tea pairing.
A salad using greens such as spinach or arugula can be well complemented by a green tea with a fresh and mildly vegetal flavor, such as Sencha.
White tea has a delicate and subtle flavor that can enhance the natural flavors of both fruits and vegetables used in salads. Its fruity and floral notes also make it a good pairing for lighter dressings such as vinaigrettes.
If you’re serving salad, try pairing it with one of these teas:
What teas pair well with mild cheeses?
Mild cheeses can have subtle flavors and creamy textures that can be enhanced by just the right tea pairing.
The delicate floral and fruity taste of white tea will not only enhance the natural flavors of a mild cheese, but also help balance the creaminess.
Darjeeling tea also has a light fruity flavor with just a hint of astringency that pairs beautifully with mild cheeses such as brie or camembert.
If you’re serving a mild cheese, try pairing it with one of these teas:
What teas pair well with smoky cheeses?
Smoky cheeses often have bold and distinctive flavors with a range of intensity.
A bold and robust black tea such as Assam or Ceylon can pair well with the creamy texture and rich, smoky flavor of a smoked Gouda.
The deep, earthy flavor of Puerh tea pairs well with the sharp, tangy, and smoky flavors of a smoked Cheddar.
The complex flavor profile of Oolong tea creates a great pairing with a mild and lightly sweet flavor of smoked Mozzarella.
Smoked Provolone has a smoky yet lightly sweet flavor that pairs well the light and floral contrast of a Darjeeling tea.
If you’re serving smoky cheese, try pairing it with one of these teas:
Pairing Tea with Sweet Foods
When it comes to pairing tea with sweet dishes, the possibilities are endless. From classic pairings like tea and scones to more adventurous combinations, the right tea can elevate the flavors of a sweet treat, provide a refreshing contrast, and even aid in digestion.
What teas pair well with fruit?
Teas with fruity or floral notes can complement the natural sweetness of different fruits.
Some great options to pair with your next fruit salad or fruity dessert include green tea, oolong tea, white tea, or Darjeeling tea.
If you’re serving fruit, try pairing it with one of these teas:
What teas pair well with most desserts?
When it comes to pairing tea with most desserts, a great no-fail option is the light, floral, and fruity flavors of white tea.
Earl Grey tea is another great option for desserts that have citrus or chocolate flavors.
Most desserts you serve will pair well with one of these teas:
What teas pair well with rich desserts?
When pairing tea with rich desserts, the best matches are ones that can cut through the richness of the dessert and cleanse the palate.
Darjeeling tea pairs wonderfully with rich and creamy desserts such as creme brûlée, tiramisu, or cheesecake.
The floral and fruity flavors of Oolong tea complement desserts such as custard or pudding.
If you’re serving a rich dessert, try pairing it with one of these teas:
What teas pair well with pastries?
If you’re serving pastries, try pairing it with one of these teas:
What teas pair well with chocolate?
Chocolate is a complex flavor with many varieties. There are a few tea options that could pair well with the different types of chocolate.
Most chocolates are well paired with the bright citrusy flavor of Earl Grey tea, or the cool and refreshing flavors of Peppermint tea.
The sweet creaminess of white chocolate is complemented by the delicate sweetness and floral notes of white tea.
Finally, Darjeeling tea is a great match for the rich intensity of dark chocolate.
If you’re serving chocolate, try pairing it with one of these teas:
How to Host a Tea and Food Pairing Party
Hosting a tea and food pairing event can be a fun way to entertain friends or family while learning about flavors of tea together. Here are a few tips to help you plan a food and tea pairing party:
Choose the format of the party:
There are a couple of ways that you can structure your tea and food pairing party.
One way is to set everything up buffet-style, setting out the different food options with the corresponding tea pairings right next to them for guests to try them together. Guests will be able to mingle in a laid-back atmosphere and serve themselves whichever available options they choose.
Another way to structure the party is with a multi-course plated meal, with each course paired with a specific tea. This can be an impressive way to showcase a variety of tea and food pairing, but it can also be time consuming and even overwhelming to prepare. If you are looking to take this on, you may want to ask for help setting up all of the arrangements.
Choose tea and foods to serve:
Select a variety of teas and foods that complement each other in flavor and aroma.
Consider the intensity of the flavors and how they will balance each other out.
You can use our suggestions above to experiment with different combinations of tea and food to find the perfect pairing.
Choose some lighter options, perhaps a “heavier” main course dish, and some dessert.
Set the mood:
A tea and food pairing event is all about creating a relaxing and sophisticated atmosphere.
Consider setting a beautiful table with elegant china and linen napkins.
Use candles and flowers to add ambiance, and play soft, soothing music to set the tone.
Serve your pairings:
Present each tea and food pairing to your guests with a brief explanation of the flavors and how they complement each other.
Encourage your guests to share their thoughts on the flavors and aromas.