I have been thinking lately just how diverse tea is – once you start digging around you realise that there is a seemingly infinite spectrum of flavours that can be produced by infusing the leaves of the camellia sinensis plant, depending on the natural environmental conditions under which it is grown (the terroir), its subvariety or cultivar, seasonal variations, the processing style, and the influence of the individual tea maker.
But how to showcase this diversity? How to spread the word that tea is actually much more like wine, than it is the dust filling those copiously consumed teabags?
Tea and Cheese tasting!
After quickly scouring the internet for hints, clutching at my scant knowledge of wine and food pairing principles, I picked up my green bag and headed off to Preston Market to pick up a soft cheese, a nutty cheese, a goats cheese, a cheddar and a blue cheese. Some friends who had mentioned they would be popping in for a coffee after lunch would later become the unsuspecting guinea pigs in this culinary experiment!
Despite the impromptu nature of the event, the results were very good. Here were the matches and the observations.
King Island Triple Cream Brie and Mao Feng Young Tips Green Tea
This Mao Feng green tea, recently passed to me by my good tea friend and fabulous artist Anne Norman, has a distinctly creamy aroma followed by a light grassy flavour.
As you would assume, the King Island is a soft white cheese, which as its name suggests, is very creamy. So, together they created a somewhat dramatic fusion of 'creaminess'. The freshness of the green tea gave a nice finish – no glugginess at the end.
Walnut Cheese and Dragonwell (Long Jing)
Dragonwell is roasted green tea, with a nutty aroma and soft, toasty flavour. So, pairing with the Walnut Cheese was basically putting like flavours together.
It was agreed that this did work quite well, although received the least participant remarks and gasps of amazement of any combinations sampled.
Tie Guan Yin and Dutch Goat Cheese
Tie Guan Yin, named after the Buddhist Iron Goddess of Mercy, is a lightly oxidised oolong, from the Anxi region in China's Fujian Province.
The Tie Guan Yin I used has a particularly floral and fruity aroma, which set off the tanginess of the goat's cheese quite dramatically.
Big Red Robe (Da Hong Pao) and Australian Blackjack Vintage Cheddar
Big Red Robe is a highly oxidised Wuyi Rock oolong, and is one of the famous Chinese Rock teas. Rock teas are named thus because their flavour is influenced by the thin soil and rocky earth in which they grow. Unsurprisingly, the flavour is earthy, rich and malty, with a mild a hint of charcoal.
The Big Red Robe and the full flavoured vintage cheddar was also a very good match. Together this tea and cheese produced a 'coconut' flavour! We were later to discover this taste occurred when consuming the Big Red Robe with any of the other cheeses being sampled – which is interesting because alone it has no suggestion of coconut to speak of.
French Roquefort (blue) and Classic Earl Grey
This was a wonderful combination to finish with. The Roquefort is a robust and powerful salty blue cheese, which was rounded off nicely by the comparatively sweet, citrusy Earl Grey.
At the end of the formal matching session, participants were encouraged to experiment with different combinations of the teas and cheeses. While there were some further neat discoveries during this 'break-out session', no notes were taken and the afternoon ended with us happily devouring the remaining cheese on hand.
One observation was that because the teas are served hot, they have the effect of melting the cheese once it's in your mouth, which added another dimension to the flavours of the cheeses.
I kept the teas on tea warmers until we'd tasted each one with its allotted cheese. After that they were allowed to cool. This is another great thing about tea – the flavour profile changes as its temperature drops, so you get a host of different flavours emerging with the passing of time.
With so many other cheeses and so many other teas to experiment with, the options for this activity appear to be almost endless. I look forward to conducting more of these sessions soon (and definitely ditching the paper cups for wine glasses)! I will keep you posted on where and when.