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Sip and Serve: Tea Pairing for Connoisseurs

You’ve heard of pairing cheese with wine, but what about tea?


The versatile beverage – consumed hot, cold, or even effervescent – can be paired with a surprising breadth of cuisines along the meal spectrum from snacks and appetisers right through to mains and desserts.


It was the work of innovative chef Heston Blumenthal and the way he arrived at weird pairings that first prompted Matthew Tran, co-founder of Tea Angle with his wife Dawn Liang, to look into tea pairing. “He used a chromatograph that broke down what all the molecules are of each food, and so where they have matching molecules you find it's complementary.”


Having grown up in a Cantonese household, Tran was no stranger to drinking tea with a meal. So, it’s no surprise the brand supplies to Jinja, a Cantonese restaurant in Macquarie Park, where the most popular orders are jasmine (“a classic”) and Serenity-aged white tea. But it was a chance meeting with Rhys Little from Simon Johnson Quality Foods that brought the idea of pairing with cheese to life. The aim, says Tran, is to make each ingredient “taste more like itself … whether it enhances the flavour of the cheese or the tea or the other thing that you're pairing”.


The foundation of pairing is to complement, to contrast or to create a third new flavour. If you have specialty products, however, it can be difficult to know where to start. Tran says it’s a matter of coming up with a theory and then experimenting. “You might find that didn't really work but from that experience, you benchmark it and it leads you to think about something else. Well, what if we try the opposite? Surprising results happen. By the second or third time, you usually get something better.”


His go-to teas are Chinese blacks and raw pu’ers (a fermented tea), “which are easy to pair with food, especially rich food”. These both have a long history in different regional cuisines within China, so it’s a good launching point. Tea Angle’s recent collaboration with Little saw five teas from China’s Yunnan province pair with cheeses as far-flung as England, Scotland, France, Italy and Spain.


But even without connoisseur-level experience, don’t be shy about bringing it back to basics before trying spin-offs. A traditional tea pairing, like English breakfast tea with scones, jam and cream, works because the brisk simplicity of the tea cuts through the doughiness of the scone, the sweetness of the jam and the thick texture of the cream. If you add a berry flavour to your black tea to heighten a berry jam, then that element enhances taste complexity. Or why not sip Earl Grey instead, where the citrus note might harmonise with the cream?


Put the kettle on


An English breakfast: a versatile black tea designed for breakfast food, from egg dishes to yoghurt on muesli, or pancakes with syrup and berries. Works with many cakes, too.


Malt teasers: malty Assam or dianhong (Yunnan) black teas are robust enough to match stronger savoury food such as soups and stews, meats and pastries. Also a nice complement to desserts that contain chocolate, where the malty flavour is enhanced.


Big in Japan: sencha green tea’s flavour profile ranges from grassy to marine. Excellent with Japanese food such as sushi and savoury rice dishes, but also matches with tomato, basil and bocconcini and mildly sweetened desserts like mochi, carrot cake or cheesecake.


Floral favourite: the fragrant flavour of jasmine, where the base tea is usually white or green, can enhance more subtle foods, from avocado on toast to brioche or custard tarts.


Local legends: Tea Angle’s Serenity 2017 is a luscious aged white tea with herbal and floral notes, which matches the creamy softness of Vannella’s burrata.


Visit Tea Angle (www.teaangle.com) at 88 Addison Road, Marrickville

Vannella Cheese (www.vannellacheese.com.au) at 27/37 Cadogan St, Marrickville.


By Adeline Teoh

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