Being the 2nd widely consumed beverage in the world, tea has earned its place in the kitchen. While we enjoy tea on its own, it can also enhance the sensory experience when paired with food. As tea purists, we’re still exploring this art. However, the concept has been evolving, and some guidelines help accentuate the experience by: (1) enhancing, (2) complimenting, or (3) contrasting the flavors together. And as food lovers & home cooks, we’re always game for that!
UAE has a layered personality of Arab cuisines from regional influences from traditional Bedouin to Levantine food. Today, we’ll be pairing interesting teas with some delicious Arabic desserts! Having lived here for over 15 years, we’ve developed a sweet tooth for the occasional Luqaimat عوامة, (crunchy sweet dumpling), Kunafas كنافة & Baklavas بقلاوة to name a few.
The best way to pair tea is to really understand both food and tea flavors and deconstruct them. Baklavas, for example, are popular honey syrup-soaked, flaky, crisp pastry-filled chopped nuts, with variations, using rose water, cinnamon, and a pinch of cloves. (1)To enhance the floral notes & nuttiness of the Baklava, we recommend pairing it with: Long Jing Osmanthus Green Tea 桂花香龙井, Japanese Genmaicha Green Tea for its toastiness. (2) To contrast the sticky sweetness texture, we recommend Turkish Black Tea, Ceylon Tea, or Indian Black teas which have a stronger astringent bite and intensity to break down that sweetness (e.g. hearty Assam or fragrant Nilgiri). (3) However, if you prefer something smooth & aromatic, we love this with Chinese Black, Wu Yi Shan Jin Jun Mei 武夷山金骏眉 with bright, clean malty floral notes of caramel, cocoa, and rose.
Another sweet pairing with tea is the Persian Chickpea Cookies (Nan-e Nokhodchi), made with melt-in-your-mouth chickpea flour, rosewater, cardamom & pistachio. The texture is sweet, buttery, and dry in the mouth. (1) To enhance these flavors, we recommend it with the creamy JinXuan Oolong or Alishan High Mountain Oolong for its white flower & mild herbal aroma, clean finish, or Silver Needle with rose for its delicate aroma. (2) To contrast and balance the flavors, we recommend Sun Moon Lake Tea, also known as Red Jade Ruby tea (Hongyu 日月潭紅玉) for its cinnamon and smooth caramel mouthfeel, giving the pairing such an elevated treat or a Georgian Black Tea for its low tannins and slight citrus clean finish.
If you can’t find some of these teas, you can always pair them with Moroccan Mint Tea (made of Gunpowder Green and fresh mint). They’re fantastic with dried fruits, nuts & sweets.
Whatever you decide, there is never a ‘one correct’ way to pair tea & food. After all, it’s your personal preference and continued tasting that will guide you. So, don’t be chai and taste away!
Yvette Arizala, Special Member for the World Green Tea Association, Japan, Certified Tea Sommelier, Yoga enthusiast & Animal welfare volunteer.