According to a recent report in the Independent, tea is the new wine in many of the world’s finest restaurants.

Apparently, diners in places like the Hix Oyster and Chop House and the Fat Duck are favouring a cup of tea as an accompaniment to their meal, because its subtlety helps draw out the flavour of what’s on their plate.

The idea of pairing tea with food is nothing new to us here at Cup of Tea. We’ve long enjoyed the complementary tastes of our quality teas and our favourite dishes.

For those of you who aren’t accustomed to drinking tea with your meals, here’s a brief guide to pairings that work especially well together. Think of us as your tea sommeliers, and you’re certain to enjoy a whole new experience next time you sit down to dine.

Black teas

Most of us have tucked into a cream- and jam-laden scone while enjoying a cup of black tea, such as English Breakfast Ceylon. This bold-flavoured tea is the perfect foil for the cloying sweetness of clotted cream, and it works very well with other sticky treats like chocolate sponges or pastries.

What might be more surprising is the idea of pairing a strong black tea with red meat, such as steak or lamb. But these flavours lend themselves perfectly to a dark tea such as Natural Assam organic, whose spicy notes really help bring out the flavours in these rich proteins.

You may also enjoy drinking a cuppa with a few chunks of cheese, and black tea works very well here. We love washing down a potent cheddar with a pot of Darjeeling. For a more delicate flavour, try a milder cheese like Brie or Camembert with a First Flush Darjeeling, where the mellow tastes mingle in exquisite fashion.

Talking of mingling flavours, it’s also worth trying some smoked fish, like salmon, with a cup of Lapsang Souchong. We love the way these strong, woody flavours mesh together – something that’s especially enjoyable if you’re out in the fresh air, huddled around a campfire or chiminea.

Green teas

If black tea works best with bold, meaty flavours, green tea is a natural partner to more delicate foods, like fish or chicken. In many Eastern countries, green tea is always drunk as an accompaniment at mealtimes – giving a good indication of the sorts of dishes with which it works especially effectively.

Gu Zhang Mao Jian Organic, which has a slightly sweet flavour, goes perfectly with a dish like Vietnamese chicken or black bean stir fry.

For something to accompany your dessert, try Jasmine Xian Yu. This award-winning tea has a floral and sweet fragrance that is just perfect with a delicate fruit such as melon. Try it with a fresh-fruit salad, or even a subtly flavoured fruit mousse, and you’re sure to enjoy the interweaving of gentle flavours on your palate.

Oolong teas

As a general rule, Oolongs that are more fermented should be treated as black teas for the purposes of drinking with food, while those at the other end of the spectrum are best dealt with as green teas.

It’s a bit more subtle than this, however, because some Oolongs cry out to be paired with certain dishes.

For example, Milky Oolong works brilliantly with braised or lightly fried white fish, thanks to its hint of creaminess that helps bring out the delicate flavour of the day’s catch. Downy Oolong, meanwhile, is a natural partner for curry dishes like Korma, or Thai curry, where its gentle nuttiness serves to reinforce ingredients like coconut and chicken.

For a sweeter palate, Thai Oolong goes nicely with all kinds of fresh fruit. And for something a bit unusual, try stewing apples or pears in it, then topping with a tasty crumble – it certainly makes for a memorable pud.

Teas to drink solo

No matter the extent of our enthusiasm for drinking tea with meals, there are some teas that are best drunk solo.

Of course, Peppermint tea is worth drinking after a meal, to cleanse the palate and aid digestion. Pu Erh is also known for its properties in this regard, and makes a far more fitting after-dinner drink than the strong black coffee so often offered in restaurants.

There is one type of tea, however, that should always be drunk by itself, and with a completely clean palate.

White teas such as Silver Yunnan and Pai Mu Tan (White Peony) have such light flavours that they are easily overpowered, so drinking them during or after a meal would be a waste. Indeed, the best way to enjoy these particular offerings is in a moment of utter calm, when all your senses can focus on their exquisite floral notes, complemented by the merest hint of spice.

Ultimately, drinking speciality tea is all about enjoying a range of flavours. And when you put it like that, it seems obvious that foodies should be developing a taste for the subtleties that are offered in a decent brew. After all, as many people are discovering, few things enhance the dining experience like a cup of quality tea.

9th April 2013

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