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Tea & Cheese: The basics of pairing

The trend of pairing tea with food in Scandinavia is relatively contemporary and new, whilst in Asia tea has been a staple beverage with food for hundreds of years. The reason why the concept of tea and food pairing is in its infancy is because it is rather complicated. The tasting experience is not based merely on taste but also aroma, texture and even temperature. Temperature actually modulates flavour. So, for example if you have cold food it modulates and stops you from tasting sweetness as much, which is why if you have ice cream that is melted to room temperature you sense much more sweetness than when it is frozen.

You also have different flavour molecules the bind with different temperature receptors on your tongue. An example of this is chilli. Chilli attaches itself to the hot receptors in your tongue, so you feel heat. Similarly, mint attaches itself to your receptors and is perceived as cooling.

This effects pairing in an immense way because if you are stimulating the hot receptors in your tongue then you will not be able to distinguish the cooler receptors, which makes it difficult to taste more cooling notes such as mint or lemon. Alternatively, if you have a very astringent tea you can modulate and suppress the bitterness by adding a bit of salt to your tongue. This is why very tannic wines go very well with saltier dishes.

So, when pairing the least you want to achieve is that the food and the beverage do not clash. You either want the beverage to enhance your dish by “matched pairings” (combining flavours very similar to each other) or distinct the flavours by “contrast pairings” where you try to attain something that you call the “third flavour” which is a flavour that you only can reach by combining the specific tastes.

Together with our staff we tried to find the perfect combination of matched pairings or contrast pairings with different cheeses. Our results were fascinating and we believe that the following pairings can heighten your experience with the versatility of these teas.

During your pairing, it is essential to note that the temperature of the tea makes a significant difference in your experience. In order to let the flavours of the cheese and the tea modulate one another and marry well they should be similar in temperature. Otherwise the hot tea risks overpowering the characters of the cheese. So, after brewing let the tea cool for a bit prior to serving.

Goats cheese

For this type of cheese, we found that a green tea with more vegetal, grassy notes paired very well with the fresh creamy notes of a decent goat’s cheese. In our tasting, we paired this with our very vegetal Yame-cha. A Sencha from the city of Yame in Fukuoka prefecture full of savoury umami-notes to it. Additionally, this would work very well with other grassier teas as listed below:

Comte

A lovely rich comte cheese with its characteristic sweet nutty, slightly caramel and sharp notes we found paired favourably with our Golden Monkey. This rich tea from Yunnan province in China has rich notes of roasted fruits, earthy tones and slight woodiness to it, with a very light pepper note to it. This experience added a third flavour to the experience contrasting each other very well.
Additionally, a comte would work very well with other teas such as:

Gorgonzola

We definitely had to find a pairing with a gorgonzola. A creamy, quite salty cheese with deeper savoury notes. For this we suggest a contrasting tea heavy in astringency, freshly cut grass and floral notes. For this we chose our Darjeeling First Flush Turzum 2018. We found that the saltiness in the cheese really softened the bitterness in the tea and left a nice creamy and floral finish to the experience. A more recent Darjeeling First Flush would also work very well with this cheese. Additionally, a gorgonzola would work very well with other teas such as:

Cheddar

For this classical vintage cheddar with its characteristic sharp acidity, salty and savoury (umami) taste. We wanted to contrast it with a roasted, nuttier tea such as our Taiwanese Da Hong Pao Oolong. This combination exceeded our expectations. The interplay of the acidity and saltiness of the cheese matched deliciously with the warm roasted and malty notes in the tea and is what gives this pairing that desirable “third flavour”. That journey that one wants in a contrast pairing. Additionally, a cheddar would also work very well with other teas such as: