If you’re the kind of person who salivates during cooking shows, reads menus as literary masterpieces and considers Instagram both a review site and a brag book for meals, then you’re probably familiar with the concept of wine and food pairing: sip the right wine with the right course and the flavour combination can reach new heights!
But what if I told you a cup of tea can add spice to a brisket, buttery notes to a poached salmon or earthiness to a truffle risotto? Tea – it’s not just leaves in hot water. Let your palate explore with our connoisseur’s guide to specialty Chinese tea.
All tea comes from the camellia plant but, as with any fine produce, its flavour is influenced by where and how it is grown, and how it is processed. This makes it a wonderfully complex beverage, and its versatility when accompanying food can improve the eating experience in different ways.
Terroir is where the tea is grown. The soil and climate – mainly temperature range, humidity and rainfall – as well as other factors such as altitude, sun exposure and the surrounding biome, will shape how the camellia grows and the balance of nutrients it will contain, which contributes to its flavour profile.
The processing method and the skill of the tea master, the person who supervises the processing of the tea, then influences the rest.
The range and variation of tea production areas in China is significant, so its terroirs produce an astounding spectrum of specialty tea, many of which match well with regional cuisine.
（Yunnan Puerh Tea Plantation)
Specialty tea has the same complexity as fine wine in the variety and subtlety of taste you can discern, but also with regard to the range in mouthfeel and aromas that come from tea of different terroirs, different harvests – from season to season or year to year – and different processing methods.
Tea has a few advantages over wine. For starters, there are a variety of ways to prepare tea to extract different taste and texture elements in both the brew and the paired food. Secondly, tea can be served at a greater range of temperatures, which also encourages diverse food combinations. Additionally, tea is more accessible because it is non-alcoholic. You may abstain from wine
for a number of reasons – whether you’re the designated driver, or have a religious or medical reason to avoid it – or you may simply want to reduce your alcoholic intake. And finally, good quality tea can also undergo many infusions, with each brew yielding a new pastiche of flavours so your palate can take a journey in one sitting.
YOU enjoy goat’s cheese, shellfish, mushroom risotto
TEA: Silver Brow (Shou mei 寿眉)
Come for the delicate sweetness, stay for the smooth and creamy body. Longevity brow is a white tea made from the buds and leaves of the camellia plant. White tea undergoes minimal processing: it is picked and air-dried. Our longevity brow is grown in Fuding, Fujian Province, a lush mountainous region near the coast, which is the birthplace of white tea.
ALSO TRY: Buddha’s Tears for a more floral bouquet
YOU enjoy soft white cheese, chicken dishes, pastry desserts
TEA: Iron Goddess (Tieguanyin 铁观音)
Iron Goddess is an oolong tea made from two or three mature leaves of the camellia plant. Oolong is semi-oxidised, tossed and roasted, which brings out the flavour characteristics of the tea. Our Iron Goddess is a jade style oolong, lightly baked to enhance the floral notes. It is sourced from Anxi, Fujian Province, where this style of tea originated.
ALSO TRY: Jinxuan oolong for a more buttery mouthfeel
YOU enjoy gouda, grilled or barbecue pork, caramel tart
TEA: Scarlet Robe (Da Hong Pao 大红袍)
Scarlet Robe is an oolong from an artisanal subcategory known as rock or cliff tea because it is grown in the craggy Wuyi Mountains of Fujian Province, where it attains its minerality. Although Big Red Robe is traditionally heavily oxidised and roasted, we’ve chosen a lighter style that has a few fruity notes before it becomes mineral in later infusions.
ALSO TRY: Lapsang souchong for a heavier roast