We all know there’s nothing better than a lovely cup of tea and a large slab of cake, but have you ever thought about pairing your tea with other foods? Tea, like wine, pairs perfectly with food and won’t leave you with such a roaring headache. In this new blog series, we’re going to explore some of our lesser known teas, and try pairing them with something a little different. So, here’s the first…
We’re starting with something a little unusual, but bear with me! Most people have never tried a brilliant Darjeeling – they can be quite expensive and difficult to come by, especially Darjeelings from a single estate, rather than a blended Darjeeling. Darjeelings are often known as the ‘champagne of teas’ – both due to the luxurious nature for the leaves, but also in that Darjeeling has a particularly distinctive taste resulting from the terroir (earth and environment) in which it is grown, much as Champagne is different to other sparkling wine, or Cremant grown in France. Because of this specific terroir, Darjeeling, like Champagne, has achieved ‘Geographical Indication’ – protecting the name for teas only grown in the Darjeeling region of India.
Anyway, enough about the facts of Darjeeling, and more about the taste. Camellia sinensis bushes often have three to four harvests, or flushes, and it is the first and second of these flushes that are deemed to be the most special. The first flush of Darjeeling, harvested in the spring has a very light taste, with a mild sweetness that becomes more pronounced, almost honey-like in the second flush. Good Darjeelings are known for their muscatel flavour, like a good sweet wine. In turn, these sweet flavours become more like caramel into the fall and monsoon flushes of autumn.
Before we get onto what to eat with your Darjeeling, perhaps we should investigate how we should brew it. If brewed poorly Darjeeling can have the tendency to become very bitter, as the tannins in the tea are extenuated, which can put people off. Using one 1sp, about 3g of tea per person, Darjeeling should be brewed in freshly boiled, filtered water, which has been left to cool slightly. This is important so that the delicate leaves, and therefore the flavours, are not scalded. It’s also best to use a teapot to brew the tea if possible, as this give the leaves room to unfurl. Brew the leaves for about three minutes for your first brew, and enjoy without milk and sugar. If you would prefer a slightly stronger flavour then you can brew for 30-45 seconds more, but any longer and the tea will start to become bitter. Experiment with the brewing to find your perfect flavour – remember, it’s only leaves and water, there’s not too much that can go wrong!
If we’re starting simple, a fresh 1st flush Darjeeling pairs beautifully with scones, full fat cream and lashings of Raspberry Jam for a truly luxurious afternoon tea, or with a bowl of fresh summer fruits if you fancy something healthier. 1st flush Darjeeling also pairs well with soft, creamy cheeses and salmon; perhaps try a creamy salmon carbonara if you want to really explore the possibilities of 1st flush pairing.
As the flavours of the Darjeeling develop through the flushes, so do the pairing opportunities – a 2nd flush Darjeeling will pair well again with fresh fruits, but its enhanced muscatel flavours match beautifully with the nuttiness of wild mushrooms or morels. Again, perhaps try 2nd flush Darjeeling alongside a wild mushroom risotto, although don’t use a strong parmesan in your recipe as this could hamper the Darjeeling flavour. You could even try using Darjeeling in the risotto in the place of some your stock, wine or other liquid.
An Autumnal flush Darjeeling with its further pronounced muscatel flavours will pair well with a gouda or an edam, a custard or milk chocolate based dessert, or even sweet autumnal root vegetables like carrots and sweet potatoes. Par-boiling your veg in a Darjeeling liquour might be an interesting place to start, or even steaming the veg with some dry leaves in the steamer - although I’ve yet to try this myself so can’t tell you whether it’ll be any good!
So, what do you think? Has tea pairing tempted you or have you struggled to get past the slab of cake in the first sentence?