Many of us love to start our day with tea. Just tea! The variety of choices here is as wide as the world of tea… many people like to start their day with a green or an Oolong tea, but there are others of us who prefer to hit the morning hours with a nice strong pot of Pu’erh, Assam, or Breakfast Blend. Some of this choice has to do with flavor preferences, but it also has to do with just how much astringency we can deal with first thing. As many times as I’ve tried to kick off my early morning yoga with a green tea ritual, it’s just not something my stomach is prepared to do before having something to eat.Pu’erh, on the other hand, feels like a warm velvet blanket to me.
The traditional breakfast teas and blends are made of black teas. With pronounced tannins and a strong finish, they’re excellent with full-flavored traditional breakfast foods. And of course, getting one’s mind kick-started with a nice black tea is often helpful…
With lighter breakfast foods, such as a continental breakfast of rolls, fruit, cereal and toast, the standards are Assam, Ceylon, Darjeeling, Kenyan and Nilgiri black teas. For a more robust breakfast that might include eggs, meats and cheese, you can pair easily with the above-mentioned favorites. Or, you can choose to go with even stronger or scented teas as well – Scottish or Irish Breakfast Blends, Earl Grey, and Pu-erh can all stand their own to even the strongest tasting cheeses. My personal favorite with bacon and eggs is a Green Pu-erh…. In fact, I’ll drink this tea just to remind me of eggs and bacon when I can’t have those.
And lastly, we would be remiss if we failed to mention one of Pu‘erh’s better-known features, as an excellent hangover cure, making it the beverage of choice for an otherwise painfully slow morning! Pu’erh is very smooth in taste, and even darker than black tea. It has been shown to cut through grease (and cholesterol), help digestion, warm you, help produce saliva and shake thirst, dispel the effects of alcohol, and refresh your mind. For those reasons, when we developed our own “Bolder Breakfast” blend, Pu’erh tea was chosen as the central ingredient.
Pairing tea with food is an adventure in flavors. It is also a great way to get to know the variety in the world of tea. Tea provides an extensive range of tastes, similar to that of wine, but without the associated alcohol.
Tea drinking practices are analogous to wine drinking practices, in that we change drinks at a non-alcohol meal (such as breakfast) in the same way we switch between an aperitif and white or red wine at a meal later on in the day. Many people start their mornings with a glass of juice or lemon water, and then switch to coffee or tea. Today’s tea drinkers are getting so sophisticated that many drink more than one type of tea during the day. This is, of course, in part because there are so many different varieties of tea available. The most discerning tea drinkers sometimes ask for two or three different teas at one meal.
People have discovered that a stronger, smokier tea is better with cheese or eggs, whereas a lighter or green or white tea is usually superior with pastries. It’s exactly like learning that red or white wine goes better with some foods than others. For instance, last weekend, we served iced oolong (re-steeped after infusing the rice) with a hand-rolled sushi dinner. It was exquisite… after years of serving only Japanese green teas with sushi, it was a delightful accidental discovery –the oolong was able to accent up and complement the wide diversity of flavors far better than a straight green tea does. Also, serving an iced beverage at this summer evening party was definitely the way to go!
Even though we don’t often give it much consideration, we pair tea with food every day. Some people may start the day timidly, with a weak cup of black tea and dry toast, and others might start the day boldly with a strong mug of black tea and a well-buttered roll. Tea has evolved for thousands of years along with regional cuisine to be the drink that goes along with meals. It is no surprise, therefore that it pairs well with foods! Like a small mid-course or palate cleanser, tea also works as a flavor bridge from one course to the next. As more people adopt tea into their daily ritual, they discover that by pairing certain teas with specific foods, not only is the flavor of the food enhanced, but the quality of the tea is highlighted. Experiment and enjoy – you’ll find that when paired with the appropriate dish, tea helps to complete the flavor journey of that dish!