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Forget whisky and wine, tea pairings are the latest trend in fine dining! Here’s a beginner’s guide

Tea pairings are the latest trend in fine dining. Picture: Supplied

Tea pairings are the latest trend in fine dining. Picture: Supplied

Published Feb 26, 2022


Sommeliers in restaurants, as we all know, usually recommend the right whisky or wine to drink with a dish.

The right pairing can summon amazing flavours, just as the wrong one can completely knock the taste of everything off track.

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Now there are people who do the same thing for tea.

Yes, tea sommeliers are a thing. Tea has risen to prominence in fine-dining circles, as more restaurants feature tea menus suited for savoury and sweet dishes.

According to experts, the aromas, flavours, and structure of teas can enhance food, much like wine does, and the pairing possibilities are endless.

Tea sommelier, Jessica Bonin, says pairing tea with food allows one to experience enhanced flavours through the complementary elements of various ingredients, and that it presents your palette with a new depth of taste brought about by a specific tea.

“Rooibos, for example, has an incredibly versatile flavour that makes it the perfect base for an array of ingredients.

“Tea enthusiasts can experiment by adding herbs, fruits, flowers and even spices. The flavour cascades are infinite,” Bonin said.

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Pairing tea with food presents your palate with a new depth of taste allowing you to experience enhanced flavours through the complementary elements of various ingredients, says Lindt South Africa.

“The whole idea of pairing tea with food is that you should have a tea that's going to enhance the flavour of the food or vice versa. What you want to happen in your mouth is to feel the different layers of taste and flavours of both tea and food.”

If you would like to revive your afternoon tea by pairing your favourite blend, here are some tasting notes to demonstrate the range and depth of some of our local rooibos infusions that have recently exploded on to the scene.

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Start by matching the weight and intensity of the dish and the tea.

The different types of tea: white, green, black, dark, become more intense as you go down the spectrum with white tea having the most delicate and subtle flavours and mouth-feel, black and dark teas having the deepest flavours.

For example, you could match a green tea with white fish, or black tea with red meat but you wouldn’t pair a white tea with a curry as the tea’s delicate notes would be overpowered by the strong spice flavours.

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Find flavour notes that match

You can enhance flavours by choosing a tea that has the same notes as the pairing you are drinking it with.

Find flavour notes that complement each other – the bergamot flavour of Earl Grey tea with its subtle tones of muscatel is the perfect accompaniment to the citrus flavours of Lindt Excellence Orange Intense.

Balancing the high citrus taste, sliced almonds complement the tea's earthy undertones for a well-rounded flavour.

Chamomile is a caffeine-free herbal tea that is often used to help people sleep well. Its apple-like flavour can be a great pairing with scones and fruity sweets.

Food and Tea

A dish that is rich and oily, such as red meat, works well with Assam black tea which often has a high tannin content.

The resulting astringency acts as a palate-cleanser between each mouthful.

Read IOL Food’s latest digimag here.

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