Millennia old savoir-faire, terroirs, cepages... Chinese tea and French wine have a lot in common. Most importantly, both can be used for food pairing or for accompanying a meal, from the appetizers all the way to the desserts. My personal favourite for food pairing are oolong teas thanks to their sweet taste and very present umami notes.
In this article, I will explain:
- what are oolong teas
- what are the rules of tea and food pairing
- how to use oolong teas for tea and food pairing
What is oolong tea
It may come as a surprise to hear that all the teas come from the same plant, the tea plant Camellia Sinensis, a distant cousin of the decorative plant Camellia Japonica. White, green, oolong and black teas are all made from the leaves of Camellia Sinensis and differ only in processing techniques.
White tea is the least processed - the leaves are simply left to dry in the sun. To make green tea, the leaves are left to dry in the sun and are then heated and formed into their final shape. To make black tea, the leaves are not heated until they aren't fully oxidized - they are left in a humid environment until they turn completely black. Oolong tea is between green and black - the leaves are allowed to oxidize a bit and then the oxidation is interrupted by heating.
Tea and food pairing
Wine and food pairing has a long tradition and resulted in a creation of a separate career path, a sommelier. The role of the sommelier is to choose a wine which will enhance the taste of your meal and at the same time be enhanced by it. There are a few general rules of food and wine pairing: you can choose the wine from the same region as the dish that you eat (i.e. a Burgundy red wine with boeuf bourgignon), you can choose a wine that resembles the food (a delicate wine with a delicate dish) or the one that is on the opposite spectrum (try a sweet wine with spicy Asian food). There is, finally the colour matching - light white wines with seafood and white fish, red wines with red meat.
Much as I love wine, it is well known that its excessive consumption can lead to health issues such as cardiovascular diseases and addiction. This is not the case of tea which can be considered as not only a healthy beverage but almost as a natural medicine. That's why I try to increasingly swap wine for tea and indulge in tea and food pairings.
Here are some general ideas for tea and food pairing:
- the right pairing is the one that you enjoy! this is the predominant rule - taste as many combinations as you can, even the surprising ones - if you like them, it means they are worth noting down and sharing
- follow the colors - try to replace red wine with dark tea (black, pu-erh, heavily oxidized oolong tea) and white wine with light tea (white, green, lightly oxidized oolong tea)
- try to form pairs which resemble each other - a strong pu-erh tea might take all the taste away from a light dessert. On the contrary, the taste of a delicate white tea will disappear when paired with a spicy or fat meal
The most commonly found pairings are the following:
- sushi and Japanese green teas. If you prefer Chinese green teas, Tai Ping Hou Kui and Longjing are closed in taste to the Japanese sencha tea
- fat meals (meat, cheese) and pu erh tea
- Chinese food and Chinese green tea or pu erh tea
- chocolate desserts and black tea
Oolong tea and food pairing
Oolong teas are the most diverse family of teas. The lightly oxidized oolong teas resemble green teas while the more heavily oxidized oolong teas are closer to black or pu erh tea.
That's why you can accompany an entire meal, from appetizers to the dessert with the different oolong tea varieties.
- appetizers - these are traditionally accompanied by a glass of champagne or sparkling wine. Try to replace them with a lightly oxidized oolong, for example Pouchong Oolong
- fish and seafood - generally served with dry white wine will be just as delicious with a mild oolong tea for example Ti Kuan Yin oolong
- meat - read meat which we are used to seeing with red wine will benefit from pairing with Da Hong Pao oolong
- dessert - chocolate desserts will be at their advantage with a Da Hong Pao oolong tea while light desserts (for example panna cotta) will benefit from pairing with a Milky Oolong