Although many people see tea as an alternative to coffee (in part because it is often served hot and it contains caffeine), the breadth of tea’s aromas and flavors is far more comparable to wine.
In a recent chat, Samovar’s founder Jesse Jacobs said, “Part of the joy of being a human being in flesh and blood is experiencing physical sensations. In terms of palate, tea’s an incredibly sensory, sensual way to connect with your own being human.”
He said the recent availability of high-end teas means that tea is just as capable of providing these experiences as wine. He added, “Tea is such an amazing way to trigger all your senses. You get a robust experience for very little time and money.”
Below are Jesse’s tea-tasting suggestions for oenephiles. These are not intended to replicate individual wines’ tastes, but to serve as a guide for affinities – the overall profile, the particular aromas, the intended use, and the goals of the drinker.
For the white wine drinker:
If drink dry white wines, try Bai Mu Dan (a full-bodied, dry white tea) or Nishi (a more delicate first flush sencha). If you like them light and citrusy, look for Lobocha (Samovar’s deep-steamed sencha) or Four Season’s Oolong (which has a very green flavor profile). Fans of sweeter whites will enjoy Hika Sencha, Japanese Kukicha, and Downy Sprout White.
For red wine aficionados:
If you love the striking profile of Beaujolais, check out Wuyi Oolong . If you lean toward a middle-to-light bodied, clean red, you’ll likely prefer the smoky-yet-light taste of Houjicha. If Pinot Noir’s rich body and aroma, sweet taste, light astringency, and lingering aftertaste get you going, then Phoenix Oolong is your best bet.
For pair-happy foodies:
Just like wine, tea makes an exceptional food pairing. Jesse said, “You can enjoy enhanced flavors, comparisons and contrasts through pairing it appropriately.” Although it’s a matter of trial and error (and personal taste), he suggested one rule of thumb: Don’t drown out the subtle flavors of either the tea or the food with its match. You can pair within cultures – Gyokuro has a great umami (savory astringency) for uni (sea urchin) – or cross cultures for innovative pairings, like Japanese tea with Peruvian food, or a strong Chinese tea like Lapsang Souchong with rich, creamy Italian sauces.
For the after-dinner imbiber:
If you want the richness and sweet notes of port, try Palace Pu-erh. Lychee Black is dark and fruity like a Cherry Lambic. If you prefer the sweet, aromatic qualities of the rare Hungarian Tokaji (also spelled “Tokay”), check out Osmanthus Silver Needle and Jasmine Pearl. Other “dessert teas” include Blood Orange Pu-erh, Russian Blend, and Moorish Mint.
For serious wine connoisseurs:
If you’re looking for complexity and variety in your quaffs, tea supplies it. For a particularly complex flavor profile, Jesse suggested oolongs, particularly Mu Za Tie Quan Yin , or Phoenix Oolong if you prefer more roastiness. If you’re a wine collector and love the process of aging (and adding value to) wine, look into pu-erh collecting. You can age it for many years, reroasting it to modify and enrich its flavor profile.
There are abundant parallels between wine and tea. Does your favorite white wine have the same brilliant color as a particular green tea? Do you love pairing the same meal with, say, a special red wine or black tea? Does the aroma of a certain oolong remind you of your last wine-fueled trip to Europe? Which other wines and teas have you noticed similarities between?
-Lindsey for Samovarlife.com
Lindsey “Vee” Goodwin is a professional tea writer and consultant. She founded Vee Tea, is a contributing editor to World Tea News, writes for non-industry publications about tea and writes web copy/press releases for tea companies. She is also a consultant to several tea companies and teaches about tea through staff training and individual/small group classes and tastings. Click here to reach her by email.