Coupling Teas With Treats
“Pairing tea with food and pastries is a matter of taste,” says Mary Elizabeth Evans, owner of Teascompany (www.teascompany.net) and editor of the Tea Break News. “Generally, the tea should complement or marry with the food being served. For example, Earl Grey is wonderful with chocolate. Most pastries that include chocolate go well with this particular tea. Green teas may be somewhat bitter, and a sweet, delicate sugar cookie would be a suggestion. If you’re serving a fruit loaf, such as cranberry-orange, then a black tea with orange and spicy flavors would be great.”
According to Nancy Reppert, culinary artist of “The Rosemary House” in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania and co-coordinator with the Mid-Atlantic Tea Business Association, “Combining tea with pastries, or with any other foods for that matter, is really not based upon science. Basically, it comes down to what you find enjoyable to your palate.”
Janet Young, tea consultant and owner of “Over the Teacup,” in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, shares her experiences with tea coupling. She says, “The secret to [coupling] tea with pastry is to match the tea with the key ingredient of that product. There are two ways to marry tea with pastry. First, match the tea flavor with the key ingredient of the pastry. For example, a strawberry pastry may be served with a strawberry kiwi coconut flavored tea. You can also choose to find a complimentary tea. If the key ingredient is apple, then look for a cinnamon spice tea to enhance the apple pastry product.” She also adds that vanilla flavored teas round out the assorted teatime desserts.
Evans also suggests testing your taste buds with different types of teas, as well as allowing your guests to try various blends too. “One should experiment with a variety of teas and tisanes. When having an afternoon tea, offer your guests at least two to three varieties of tea.” Reppert concurs, “By process of tasting and sampling, you will discover what works, and which teas combine nicely with each pastry. Until you experience that ‘ah ha’ moment, it is certainly a matter of trial and error.”
Reppert notes that there are two websites — Serendipitea (www.serendipitea.com/articles_5.aspx) and Tea Time World Wide (www.teatimeworldwide.com/Entertaining/planning_the_menu.html) — that can provide you with ideas of which food goes well with particular teas. She also commented on the latest, stating “the newest thing seems to be tea and chocolate pairings.” Evans suggests a “good, quality black Assam with sandwiches, a fruity, herbal tisane, such as strawberry to complement pastries, such as jam tarts, scones with strawberry preserves and cream, or small butter, rich cakes.” When it comes to the champagne of teas, Darjeeling, pair it with light cookies. She explains, “Darjeeling…can be sipped with a dainty, light biscuit [cookie].”
If your tea parlor serves a full lunch, that includes meat and vegetables, a deep, black tea, like a Kenyan, would match well with your lunch specials. Save your lighter teas to be served with desserts. As she states, “Deep, rich-tasting tea is perfect with meat, fish and stir-fries. Lighter teas go well with sweet pastries, meringues, éclairs and cheesecake.”
Without doubt, the appearance of your food and tea trays must be appealing. Young says, “After your menu has been planned and prepared, the next focus should be on presentation. Presentation is important because we eat with our eyes. Therefore, a good first impression is vital.” Reppert agrees, “We feast with our eyes first — hungering to taste that first, flavorful bite of whatever pastry has been presented before us.” She also utilizes themes for marrying food with tea. Young states, “St. Patty’s Day Tea — Shamrock cookies, potato candy, and an Irish Breakfast tea. How about a Lavender Tea Party — where the décor is lavender? You can serve lavender cookies or a lavender pound cake with a chocolate lavender sauce and a lavender tea.”
The Use of Herbs and Other Flavors in Pastries
“Adding culinary grade lavender, rosemary, or any flavorful herbs to your pastries, provides another opportunity for experimentation,” says Reppert. She adds that lavender and rosemary blends add to the flavor of citrus desserts. “Pairing a lavender-scented black tea with lemon tartlets would be a perfect ending to an afternoon tea. Both lavender and rosemary are strong flavors, so avoiding a heavy hand, when adding them to your pastries, is recommended.”
Mary Elizabeth agrees that lavender is a versatile herb, which she states can be used as flavoring in tea and pastries. “The flavor of lavender is very strong and distinct — a little goes a long way.” She advises to be aware that the brand you are buying for is for cooking and baking. “Make sure it’s the edible kind of lavender — free of pesticides. The lavender flowers are often ground to a fine powder for cooking purposes. The lavender flowers are used in teas [too].” She additionally recommends, “when using herbs and spices, you want to add taste to otherwise bland dishes—and remember a little spice goes a long way.”
It also best to stay away from processed foods, because according to Evans, who uses herbs and flowers from her garden, fresh and unprocessed foods shows authenticity to the teatime table. She says, “All the ingredients that I use are fresh, never frozen and never from a box. Fresh fruit makes a wonderful centerpiece, and I often use edible flowers to enhance my pastry displays. I use fresh herbs, such as mint, parsley, rosemary, and basil during the season, when I grow these in my garden. I also have pesticide-free lavender and rose bushes, which I harvest and dry for displays.”
Young adds another twist to complementing foods and teas. “Fresh herbs and edible flowers are an excellent embellishment to bring to the tea tray,” she says. “But something as simple as a sprinkling of confectioners sugar or cocoa power can add a noble touch as well.” However, Young does agree with Evans, in that pesticide-free herbs are the best — including the ones that are grown in your garden. She also advises to “garnish sparingly and select a garnish that ties in with the pastry.”
Reppert suggests using fresh and/or organic produce, which she considers are the best. If you can procure regional produce, it is all the better. “It’s important to know your purveyors - the use of quality ingredients results in a quality product.”
Mouth feel, like feasting with your eyes and using herbs sparely, is another important component when considering your tea tray. Too much lemon will dry out your customers’ mouths and too much fat will “take away the flavor of the food you are eating. Drier pastries would be small cakes (like the British rock cake) and little mounds of currant-filled cakes. Moister pastries would be éclairs, cream-filled puff pastry squares, and in-between mini-cheesecakes, and the inevitable brownie! A British afternoon tea consists of dainty sandwiches, often egg salad and cucumber; scones; strawberry preserves and clotted cream; a large sponge cake, such as a Victoria Sandwich; small fruit cakes, like the rock cake; and traditional shortbread fingers.”
Traditional Tea Time Favorites and Holiday Pairings
“I love seasonal and holiday teas — especially fall and winter holidays. I serve a wonderful, traditional English tea with the works: sandwiches, sausage rolls, mincemeat pies, English trifle, and of course, a wonderful, iced Christmas fruitcake. I had reservations [for the holidays] six months ahead of time,” Mary Elizabeth says.
Young suggests the following tea combinations for the fall season: gingerbread, pumpkin spice, cranberry-orange and apple-pear teas. For winter, she recommends spice, and cinnamon spice. Young says that rose, lavender and strawberry-kiwi teas will have your customers thinking spring. In summer, blueberry-vanilla, peach and cherry-pomegranate are great tea blends.
Young also likes to work with themes, as mentioned before. When she hosts holiday, bridal and baby showers at her tea parlor, she always works with a theme. “That is the basis for our teas. [I] plan a theme and develop a menu around that; something so simple as planning around a color and developing a menu. Lavender is an example I used before. Based upon the menu, you may want to go one step further and garnish [your trays and plates] with sprigs of lavender. Or if you have lavender [dinnerware], serve your food on those. A lavender doily on a white plate would work nicely as well.”
For Young, her Valentine Day tea varies, but she says, “It is a ‘Death by Chocolate’ theme. We serve all things chocolate from chocolate bread to chocolate teas, and all things in between.” She suggests making your presentations colorful and mixing up textures and flavors, such as using edible flowers on a dessert tray.
Cooking With Tea
“Using tea as an ingredient in any recipe is becoming an excellent opportunity to experiment with new flavors. Making your tea cupboard an extension of your herb and spice cabinet is a great way to introduce unique and flavorful combinations to your afternoon tea menu,” Reppert says. She suggests starting with cookies and sorbet as easy avenues to learn how to bake and cook with teas. Reppert also recommends using Earl Grey tea, “the dried, crushed leaves” in your cookie dough due to its “bold, flavorful tea.”
As for the bakers and cooks new to using tea in recipes, Reppert advices reading the book, Eat Tea by Joanna Pruess and John Harney, since it introduces the reader to cooking with tea, as well as the proper care and use of tea.
Evans, on the other hand, recommends that you remember that tea is used for taste rather than its nutritional value when cooking and baking. She also suggests a variety of teas, such as the blacks, the greens, and the oolongs. “Usually the amount of tea used in a recipe is small. However, if there are concerns regarding caffeine, a decaf version may be substituted.”
“The variety of cooking and baking that may contain tea is endless,” Mary Elizabeth continues. “From soups, stews, salad dressings, marinades, dry rubs, pasta sauces to shortbread cookies and candy truffles.” Also, she advises that the amount of tea used in a recipe should be subtle, “so that the tea enhances the dishes you create.”
Education in Tea Cuisine
Finally, continuing education is another consideration when pairing teas with pastries, as well as using teas when cooking and baking.” Young recommends staying aware of upcoming food trends. She advises, “Always put your own spin on your product — that makes it your brand. After all, isn’t that what the greatest pastry chefs do?”
About the Author: Wendy Komancheck freelances from her home in PA. She writes about small business, agriculture and tea. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.