As the times roll, more and more are becoming curious about how to assimilate tea into food culture; and it is indeed slowly turning into a regularized practice. Not only are teas fairly cheap and versatile, but they can also be served at different temperatures and intensities. That being said, here we'll have a broad look at how to think about pairing the 5 major tea groups with food, and the reasons behind it.
White tea is full of very subtle flavors and doesn't pair well with strong foods. Doing so will result in a mouthfeel dominated by the intricacies of the cuisine only, causing the tea to go completely unnoticed. That being said, pair white tea with salads and light seafood. Also goes well with floral flavors of honey.
Green tea can generally be classified into three categories: vegetal, smoky, sweet. The grassy greens mostly represent Japanese green tea and taste great with steamed vegetables and rice. The smoky greens include most Chinese green teas and go well with light stir-frys, starch, and chicken. The faintly sweet variety can lend a hand to unsweetened pastries and fruit salads.
Oolongs have very strong aromas, are in between green and black tea, and can be placed into the categories of light and dark or "heavy". The light variety earns tannins from its black side and subtle textures from its green side. It pairs well with stronger flavored seafood, shellfish, and also lightly salted foods. Also goes well with foods that help explicate its floral nature.
The dark variety is more prominent and therefore can handle heavier foods. Often congruently used with oily or well-cooked seafood, and has a reputation for being a great match to maple syrup.
Tea can also be utilized in place of an alcoholic beverage as an aperitif to stimulate the appetite either before a meal or in between courses.
Black teas are full-bodied, vigorous flavored teas with the most pronounced tannins, and of three varieties. Fruity blacks work well with sweet desserts as the high concentration of tannins refreshes the palette to enhance sweetness. Smoky blacks, said to be an acquired taste, pair well with intense flavors, spicy food, and dark meats. They can also be taken with chocolate or light sweets. Earthy black teas are similar to its smoky counterpart minus its compatibility with chocolate.
Finally, thanks to their digestive benefits, pu-erh are preferred for after a large meal. Optimize its effect by enjoying after oily and greasy meals.
Pairing tea with food also means using tea or tea leaves inside a dish. Dried oolong leaves sprinkled atop as a garnish or the brew of a grassy green used in place of rice watermarks a splendid way to taste the flavors of tea inside food and vice-versa.
And so, the art of pairing tea is continuously being explored and rediscovered. Leave room for experimentation. Try new combinations with more or less complex flavors. Have a look at cuisine from tea producing regions to gain further insight on the pairing. Understand the value of each tea variety, and master its qualities. And most of all, enjoy the experience.