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Pair Tea With Cheese to Unlock the Elusive "Third Flavor"

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Tips for introducing tea to cheese.

Kathy YL Chan

Pairing tea with cheese isn't as popular as matching wine and cheese, but it's a coupling that's on the rise as better quality teas hit the mainstream market. And, believe it or not, tea and cheese work together just as well as wine and cheese. The flavor profiles of both beverages run a similar threadthink tannins, age, astringency, and sweetness. For example, a cheese that pairs with a wine high in tannins, would also match a tea high in tannins. Same applies for astringent wine and teas. Salty cheeses go with sweet wines the same way they work with a sweeter tea like Dong Ding or Dong Pian (a late winter harvest of oolong that is especially sweet). People often link tea and coffee, but tea is, in fact, more closely related to wine with regard to tasting profiles.

"The best tea and cheese pairings not only enhance both the tea and the cheese ... but also bring out a new, third flavor that wasn’t present before." - Ashley Bryant, Murray's Cheese

Understanding general tea and cheese pairings, and why certain flavors jive, can open up a completely new world of tea. As Ashley Bryant, an education associate at Murray's Cheese who is currently developing a new tea and cheese course at the flagship New York shop put it, "The best tea and cheese pairings not only enhance both the tea and the cheese ... but also bring out a new, third flavor that wasn’t present before." Be it a whisper of honey that becomes present from pairing the right oolong and aged gouda, or the haunting notes of roasted chestnuts that linger long after sipping darjeeling with Comté. Look out for that elusive "third flavor" when properly pairing tea and cheese.

Suggested Tea and Cheese pairings

White Tea + Ricotta 

White teas such as Silver Needle and White Peony are usually delicate in flavor, sweet and lighter in taste (though don’t mistake that for being low in caffeine). White teas should be paired with fresh cheeses that are light both in texture and on the tongue. Think burrata, mozzarella, and especially ricotta. Pictured is a classic match of White Peony with fresh ricotta. This combination works both sweet with a drizzle of honey or savory with a pinch of Maldon. The ricotta enhances the subtle sweetness of the White Peony, while the tea’s fresh, grassy flavors round out the cheese.

Green Tea + Flory's Truckle Cheddar

Green tea takes well to fresh cheeses the same way white teas do. Think Sencha with brie, Gyokuro with chèvre. But those are easy pairings. It’s the unexpected unions that make lasting impressions. Take Longjing (Dragon Well), a classic Chinese green tea loved for its simultaneously buttery and vegetal notes and drink it alongside Flory's Truckle, a clothbound cheddar with a marvelous, crumbly texture. Grassy elements in both tea and cheese play up one another, while peppery notes from the cheddar serve as the ideal backdrop for buttery elements of the tea.

Oolong + Ewephoria Sheep Milk Gouda and Fromager d'Affinois

Oolongs run the gamut from very light and flowery, to super nutty and roasted. For an ideal light oolong combo pair a Taiwanese Jin Xuan (Milk Oolong) with shavings of Ewephoria, a sheep milk gouda. Let the butterscotch notes of the cheese melt away on the tongue before taking another sip of Jin Xuan, most memorable for its natural milky sweetness. On the dark end, take a dark roast Tieguanyin and pair it with a creamy, rich cheese. Think Fromager d'Affinois, like an intense, brie on steroids. The bold, creamy texture stands up to the darker, nuttier elements of Tieguanyin, a luxurious combination with depth.

Black Tea + Chiriboga Blue

Black teas are especially fun to pair because they work with a variety of cheeses. Match a first flush Darjeeling with an oozy triple cream for a bite of heaven. An earthy Keemun with a salty, firm cheese. Or perhaps a Ceylon with something nutty. But the one combination that stands out is Jin Jun Mei (which also goes by the English name of Golden Beautiful Eyebrowso named for the thin, slightly curved shape of the rolled tea leaf) and Chiriboga Blue, a creamy, lovable cow’s milk blue that spreads like butter. Think afternoon snack, the blue cheese smothered over a warm baguette, and that slightly smoky black tea, equally smooth and elegant.

Pu'erh + Aged Goat Gouda

A dark and malty pu’erh can be life changing. Pair that with the right cheese and you’ll never look at tea the same way again. Start with a good, approachable pu’erh Yunnan, perhaps one that’s been aged a few years. It doesn’t have to be fancy or particularly expensive, but look for one with heady, richer notes. Brew a serving and sip it alongside hunks of an aged goat gouda. Aged tea plus aged cheese make sense. A goat gouda with seductive crystallized bits enhances the pairing, mainly because of rougher texture and toffee note that are particularly prominent in the gouda. Think earthy tea, and toffee (almost caramel-like) edges on the cheese. Don’t forget break out the cigars.

Matcha + Tomme Crayeuse

Matcha isn’t the first tea that comes to mind when putting together pairing profiles, but this is an especially fun tea to pair because of the bold, umami-rich flavors. As it’s a tea that has to be prepared on the spot and immediately consumed, matcha demands attention and focus. It goes especially well with Tomme Crayeuse, a raw cow's milk cheese. The many rich, earthy, mushroom-esque notes from the cheese play in harmony with the grassy, green flavors of matcha, both building one another up and making each component taste better than it would alone. For those who like to start the day with a cup of matcha, consider pairing it with wedge of Tomme Crayeuse on the side. Breakfast of champions.