Tea and cheese make ideal partners. To go with a Brie, whether it’s from Melun, Meaux, Nangis or Montereau, I recommend a Bancha Hojicha. The woody, roasted notes of this well-known Japanese toasted tea beautifully complement the flavours of the soft cheese. And if you prefer, you could infuse the tea for an hour in water at room temperature, instead of in hot water.
It’s not easy to find the right pairing. You need to taste lots of different teas, as in this photo, where I’m comparing Pu erh Impérial, Malawi Dark and Bancha Hojicha with three different Bries, after trying many others.
The Japanese city of Fukuoka may not get many Western tourists, but if you go there and you like new gastronomical experiences, you should go to Yorozu. You need to book in advance, you need to speak Japanese, or go with someone who speaks the language, it’s essential, and you need a couple of hours free. Then, let yourself be guided, and Suguru Tokubuchi will introduce you to pairings of food with tea and various alcohols, dishes prepared in front of you in an intimate setting, which makes every sip even more precious, every mouthful chosen to accompany one of the cocktails. It’s a unique experience.
Identifying tea and food pairings is a serious business. By this I mean identifying a tea to accompany a dish so that you create a happy combination for both protagonists. And that’s where it gets difficult. For example, if I pair a Genmaicha with a hazelnut financier, it only works if the tea’s vegetal, toasted notes enhance the cake, and also if, having consumed a morsel of the financier, the Japanese green tea is revealed in a new light, to its advantage. A few weeks ago I spent a solid six hours in the company of chef Michel Lentz, at the Baccarat Crystal Room in Moscow, tasting with him a profusion of bouchées, tartlets, crèmes, madeleines, financiers, meringues, ice creams and sorbets, made by him, accompanied by an equal number of teas, so that together we could find many happy combinations. I would particularly like to mention the crème caramel, with memories of childhood, which we enjoyed with a Dan Cong for the top part, while the liquid at the bottom of the ramekin was the most successful pairing with a Jin Zhen, with warm notes of stewed fruit, wax and honey.
If you love cheese it can be good to have a change. Rather than drinking wine with cheese, how about trying it with tea? Combinations of cheese and tea arouse curiosity, and this week I’m suggesting a new pairing: Thé du Tigre and Roquefort. I’m not a big drinker of smoked tea but it has to be said that with a blue cheese as strong as this, the combination works very well. The warmth of the tea quickly melts the cheese in the mouth, and the woody, animal, smoky and milky notes mingle and complement one another. Try this sensual, creamy pairing and see what you think.
There is nothing I enjoy more than thinking about what tea I will drink next. For me, the pleasure of tea begins as soon as I lift the lids from my canisters, inhale the scent of the leaves and decide which one is best suited to the moment, mood and season.
From time to time, this exercise moves beyond the close confines of the teapot, when considering which tea will go best with a particular food. A few days ago, the journalist Laura Annaert arranged a meeting between the well-known pâtissier Daniel Rebert and myself at the Royal Monceau Hotel in Paris. She wanted to listen to us both as we decided on suitable pairings between Daniel’s creations and my selection of fine teas. Together, we tasted a Butterfly of Taiwan, a Qimen Imperial and a Shiraore Kuki Hojicha at different temperatures. We compared the textures, the toasted and toothsome notes, and the aromas of leather, cocoa and wood, while enjoying delicious millefeuilles, biscuits and chocolates. It was a very fruitful discussion!
(photo: Victoire Avril)
I’ve already written about cheese, when I celebrated the pairing of a fresh goat’s cheese and a Premium Bao Zhong. Today I’m recommending another combination: a Cantal Vieux and a Bourgeon de Pu Er. The tea is infused hot, as usual, but it’s best to then let it cool and drink it at room temperature. This allows you to prepare your tea a few hours before the meal, keeping it in your teapot. To serve, I suggest a small clear carafe and liqueur glasses. Your guests will be amazed! I’m sure they’ll appreciate the richness of this accord, the balance and harmony between the woody, undergrowth and animal notes of the Pu Er and the notes of the Cantal Vieux.
Pairing tea and cheese: the example of goat’s cheese Fresh goat’s cheese is one of my favourite cheeses, and I like going to the farm to choose mine. I prefer to accompany it with tea rather than wine. More precisely, a Premium Bao Zhong served at room temperature. To prepare it, first steep the tea for six minutes, then remove the leaves from the pot and leave it to cool for 30 minutes. Serve in small clear liqueur glasses. It will make an interesting change for your guests, and you will love the pairing: the tea does not overwhelm the subtle flavour of the cheese; on the contrary, it accompanies it, as the tea’s vegetal and floral notes make way for the milky, delicate animal qualities of the cheese. They make a fine match.
Gradually, tea is coming out of its teapot: more and more chefs are using it as an ingredient in their cooking. First there was baking with matcha; now tea is making itself more at home in the kitchen as a flavouring for savoury dishes.
Tea is also served as an accompaniment to food, like here at Yam’Tcha, in Paris, where a pu erh is paired with a chicken dish, poularde de Bresse.
In some countries, people don’t just drink tea, they eat it.
Like here, in Burma, where they ferment tea leaves in bamboo tubes before serving them drizzled with sesame oil. This dish is served as part of a meal, but it can also be offered at the end of some family and religious ceremonies.
In Japan, people sometimes eat green tea leaves. In that case, it’s usually exceptional teas whose leaves have been previously used to prepare tea.
You can see how it is prepaped on the picture: after dropping the wet tea leaves into a container, you add skipjack chips and sprinkle a little bit of soy sauce over the top. It gives you a small tea leaves salad that’s absolutely delicious.
Here, in Asahina (Shizuoka prefecture, Japan), the tea used is a great “Kabuse Cha” or “shade tea” manufactured by Mister Maeshima Tohei, one of the most well-known farmers of the area.