How Tea and Cheese Go Together

One of the similarities between wine and tea is how well they pair with cheeses. And, just like with wine, how you pair tea and cheese can be a true art. Awhile back, I looked into some pairings tea connoisseurs (also known as sommeliers and aficionados) have done and their recommendations, as well as doing some pairings of my own and presenting the results. I repost them here for your assistance in making that perfect pairing. Who knows, you may be inspired to invite over friends and family for a tea and cheese tasting party!

Arya Estate Darjeeling 2009 Autumn Flush with sharp cheddar – superb!
Arya Estate Darjeeling 2009 Autumn Flush with sharp cheddar – superb!

A Cheesy Tea Time

Something is cheesy at tea time. More and more, people are pairing cheeses with their teas for a truly harmonious taste experience. Time to join in the fun!

Cheese and wine are a well-known combination. In some people’s minds, they are as natural together as apple pie and ice cream, hot dogs and baseball games, or even SUVs and Soccer Moms. Beer is getting more into the act, too, which isn’t surprising with all the microbreweries around. (When I lived in Germany, just about every town there seemed to have one.) Lately, though, cheese is becoming a bigger part of tea time!

Yes, cheese and tea pairings are becoming the rage, with parties devoted to this fine art of selection seeming to be more and more common. Some pros in this area are so adept at successful pairings, they could put the folks at eHarmony.com to shame! (Sorry, cheesy humor there.)

One of these pros was Steven Smith, co-founder of two well-known tea brands (Stash and Tazo) and a specialty tea shop in Portland, Oregon, where he blended teas and served them in his tea room along with cheeses from Rogue Creamery. He paired creamy, rich, sharp cheeses with Yunnan and blue cheeses with Mao Feng Shui, plus many more. (Sadly, Steven Smith died a short time after this article was originally posted.)

You don’t have to travel to Portland, though, to put your own pairings together. There are some basics to keep in mind, and you can do your own experiments.

One of the big factors to consider is cheese firmness (texture). If you prefer spreadable, runny, or soft cheeses, your tea choices are different than with firm-to-hard cheeses. Soft cheeses like Brie and Camembert both go well with Dragonwell, and crumbly yet strong tasting goat cheese goes with Assam.

If your taste goes more to those firm-to-hard cheeses such as cheddar or Edam, then some good tea options are Autumn Darjeeling, Tung Ting Oolong, Keemun, Chun Mee, a black Ceylon, and Pai Mu Tan (White Peony). However, Sencha can mellow out a sharp hunk of Manchego.

Flavor strength is another consideration. Limburger is truly odiferous, so you need a stronger flavored tea to go with it such as the rich smokiness of Lapsang Souchong. Milder cheeses like Asiago need a more delicate tea taste like you get in Kukicha or Sencha.

These are just a few tips to get you started adding a bit of cheese to your tea time. Do your own pairings, lining up your teas, labeled with their names, along one side of the table and your cheeses along the other side, little labels proudly declaring “Stilton,” “Feta,” “Havarti,” “Parmesan,” etc. It’ll look sort of like those high school dances where the guys are on one side of the room and the girls on the other.

Be sure the cheeses are room temperature so their true flavors will come out. The teas should be served at the temperature that is suitable for them. For example, Assams are great piping hot while Oolongs and greens can be more flavorful when they have cooled slightly in the cup.

Feel free to leave a comment here to let me know how it went. You’ll be doing your part for tea and cheese lovers everywhere. Thanks!

More Cheesy Tea Time Pairings – Part I

Featured in a “name that cheese” contest back in November 2010!
Featured in a “name that cheese” contest back in November 2010!

A little over a year ago I took a closer look at the issue of pairing tea and cheese. The topic was hot then and seems to be getting hotter every year. So, it’s time to take a look at more “cheesy” tea time pairings, for tea and cheese go together as naturally as cheese and wine.

One of the amazing things about cheese is that there are hundreds of different ones out there. Just as there are hundreds (and some say thousands) of different teas (we’re talking about true tea from Camellia Sinensis and without flavorings added). You probably know about some of the more readily available cheeses. These include: cheddar, Colby, cottage, brie, parmesan, Swiss, American, mozzarella, Monterey jack, ricotta, and Velveeta. You also probably know about the more common teas, such as: black tea blends (English Breakfast, Irish Breakfast, PG Tips, Barry’s, Typhoo, etc.), generic green teas, and flavored classics like Earl Grey, Jasmine, and teas with cinnamon and spices added (often just called “chai”). There are many others that are not as well-known but that go well with teas.

Here I’m going to take the same tack that I did on tea and chocolate pairings recently, that is, I’m going to consolidate a wealth of suggestions found online. Saves you some time and a sore mouse clicking finger.

There were so many that I split the list into three parts. Let’s start with white, green, and oolong teas, and cheeses to pair with them.

White Teas

  • White Peony (also known as Pai Mu Tan or Baimudan) with Buffalo Mozzarella — A mildly salty cheese and a tea with a delicate nectarine flavor combine to give you a subtle and smooth pairing.
  • White Peony with goat cheese blended with honey — The honey in the goat cheese brought out some really nice honeysuckle nectar-like notes in the White Peony.
  • White Peony with Chevre, Marieke Gouda, Hooks 3-Year Cheddar, Hooks Blue Cheese, Sarvecchio, Carr Valley Mobay — The tea complements the very distinct flavors of these cheeses.

Green Teas

  • Kukicha or Sencha with Asiago Pressata — A very mild cheese to go with green teas with a low amount of tannins.
  • Sencha with Manchego — A delicate green tea that mellows out the sharpness of this hard cheese.
  • Mao Feng Young Tips Green Tea and King Island Triple Cream Brie — This tea has a distinctly creamy aroma followed by a light grassy flavor. The cheese is soft white and creamy, making the pairing quite dramatic.
  • Lung Ching / Longjing / Dragonwell with aged raw milk Gruyère (two-year), Walnut Cheese, EmmenthalThe nutty, sweet tea makes it a good match for Gruyère (fatty, salty), walnut cheese (nutty), and Emmenthal (nutty, salty).
  • Gyokuro with Lost Lake — This spinachy, kelpy, astringent, and vegetal tea cuts through the fat of this goat cheese (from Fifth Town Artisan Dairy, Ontario, Canada).
  • Jasmine Green with Chevre, Marieke Gouda, Hooks 3-Year Cheddar, Hooks Blue Cheese, Sarvecchio, Carr Valley Mobay — Just like White Peony, this tea complements the very distinct flavors of these cheeses.

Oolong Teas

  • Tie Guan Yin with Dutch Goat Cheese or Monte Enebro (Spanish goat cheese) — The tea, a lightly oxidized oolong, has a floral/fruity aroma that sets off the tanginess of both cheeses and brings out the lemony quality of the Monte Enebro while softening its more musty aroma.
  • Milk Oolong with Manchego (Aged) — The tea’s smooth, slightly floral notes contrast with the cheese’s deep, rich pepper quality.
  • Big Red Robe (Da Hong Pao) with Australian Blackjack Vintage Cheddar — The tea, a highly oxidized Wuyi Rock oolong with a flavor that is earthy, rich, malty, and mildly charcoal, goes well with the full flavored vintage cheddar, producing a ‘coconut’ flavor that the tea does not have by itself.

More Cheesy Tea Time Pairings – Part II

Farmhouse Cheese Platter (Blue cheese, Goat cheese, Cow cheese)
Farmhouse Cheese Platter (Blue cheese, Goat cheese, Cow cheese)

More tea and cheese pairings for a “cheesy” tea time (continued from Part I). This time, we’re pairing up Darjeeling teas and black teas with an array of cheeses. (Again, this is a consolidation of the wealth of pairing suggestions available online.)

Darjeeling Teas

  • A First Flush Darjeeling with Délice de Bourgogne — The gentle, fragrant tea bridges the fatty, somewhat savoury finish of this triple cream cheese (butterfat content is 75% minimum), leaving a subtle, delicate balance of soft flavor on the palate.
  • Namring First Flush Darjeeling with Brie, Camembert, and Mountain Harvest Goat Cheese — The tea’s bright and astringent notes balance the richness and fat content of these mild and buttery flavored soft cheeses. For the brie, try including the ‘flurry’ (the waxy rind); it helps bring out the cheese’s flavor.
  • Castleton Estate First Flush Darjeeling with Explorateur — The citrus undertones of this tea are particularly beneficial, with an astringency that helps to cleanse the tongue and prevent the richness of this triple-cream cheese from dulling the palate.
  • Darjeeling with Le Riopelle de L’Isle, Fromagerie de l’Île-aux-Grues — The tea has tannic, floral, and aromatic qualities that pair well with the complex flavors of the cheese.
  • Darjeeling with Lost Lake — Floral notes of the tea blend with those of the goat cheese (with a briny yeasty rind from Fifth Town Artisan Dairy, Ontario, Canada).
  • Darjeeling with Le Silo, Les Dépendances du Manoir — The tea heightens the sweetness of the cheese (a 10-year-old raw cow milk cheddar).
  • Darjeeling with Cream Cheese — The muscatel character of the tea is tempered by the rather bland and slightly tangy flavor of the cream cheese.

Black Teas

  • Keemun Hao Ya with Alex Farm Premium Smooth Cheddar (6-year aged) — The tea is earthy and full-bodied with a fruity, Burgundy-like character. It rounds out the cheddar’s sweet, sharp tang. The tea’s melting warmth is particularly enjoyable with this smooth, dense cheese.
  • Keemun Hao Ya A with McCadam New York Extra-Sharp Cheddar — This tea’s earthy richness and hints of cocoa and spice play off the sharp, rich, nutty tang of well-aged cheddar. Very satisfying, particularly in the finish.
  • Lapsang Souchong with Irish Whiskey Cheddar — The smokiness of this tea really holds up to the bitterness of the cheese.
  • Lapsang Souchong with Valdeon Spanish blue — This tea paired with the pungent Valdeon, a powerful blue, assures that neither gets drowned out by the other.
  • Lapsang Souchong with Stilton — The powerful flavors of this very special blue cheese create an amazing counterpoint to the smokiness of the tea.
  • Lapsang Souchong with Fontina — The cheese has a caramel-like sweetness and stood up nicely to the smokiness of the tea.
  • Lapsang Souchong with Wasik’s Equinox Goat Cheese and Gorgonzola — Strong, musky flavored cheeses like these go very well with the smoky Lapsang Souchong.
  • Russian Caravan with Oka, Agropur Signature —The tea complements the cheese on every level.
  • Assam with Brindisi Fontina — The Brindisi Fontina softens the tannins in the tea.
  • Assam with Wasik’s Equinox Goat Cheese and Gorgonzola — These strong, musky flavored cheeses are a perfect complement to the malty Assam. Try the goat cheese with a dribble of honey to create a great flurry of flavors: malty tea, tart cheese, and sweet honey aftertaste.
  • Classic Earl Grey with French Roquefort — This robust and powerful salty blue cheese is rounded off nicely by the comparatively sweet, citrusy Earl Grey.
  • Golden Yunnan with Chèvre — Some cocoa nibs and honey added to the cheese bring out the sweet caramel notes of the rich black tea.
  • Golden Yunnan with Marieke gouda — A bit of fresh cracked pepper on the cheese brings out really nice spicy and malty notes in the Golden Yunnan.
  • Pu-erh with Gruyère — A salty, earthy cheese that pairs well with the very earthy tea.

More Cheesy Tea Time Pairings – Part III

From someone obsessed by cheese
From someone obsessed by cheese

Still more tea and cheese pairings for a “cheesy” tea time (continued from Part II). In the final installment, we’re some general guidelines for pairing up teas and cheeses. (Again, this is a consolidation of the wealth of pairing suggestions available online.)

Some General Guidelines I’ve Seen:

  • Asiago cheeses pair with: Keemun (a Chinese black tea) and Pai Mu Tan (a nutty white tea also called White Peony or Baimudan).
  • Brie cheeses pair with: Long Ching (a fine Chinese green tea also called Longjing or Dragonwell), Ha Giang, Darjeeling, and Tung Ting Oolong.
  • Blue-Veined cheeses pair with: Teas that are sweet, nutty, and flavored with fruits, almonds, and spices such as ginger. These teas help balance the saltiness of cheeses such as Bleu and Gorgonzola, two well-loved examples that are known for their crumbly texture and distinct flavor.
  • Camembert cheeses pair with: Dragonwell/Long Ching/Lungjing, Chun Mee (a special Chinese green tea), Gunpowder, Ha Giang, First Flush Darjeeling, and Sikkim.
  • Cheddar cheeses pair with: Tung Ting Oolong and Darjeeling.
  • Cream cheese cheeses pair with: Ceylon, Darjeerling, and Cameroon.
  • Edam cheeses pair with: Ceylon, Autumnal Darjeeling, and Buddha’s Finger Oolong.
  • Gorgonzola cheeses pair with: Chun Mee, Ha Giang, Ceylon, and Pouchong.
  • Intense cheeses paired with: A smoky tea. For example, Gorgonzola with Lapsang Souchong.
  • Muenster cheeses pair with: Tung Ting Oolong and Pouchong
  • Nutty cheeses pair with: Nutty and more astringent black teas, plus earthy, bold teas. For example, Comte Cheese with Ceylon tea.
  • Provolone cheeses pair with: Ceylon and Nilgiri.
  • Salty cheeses pair with: Slightly sweeter, floral or fruity teas.
  • Soft/Fresh cheeses paired with: The earthy flavor of green tea.
  • Soft/mild creamy cheeses paired with: Astringent black teas.
  • Soft, creamy cheeses paired with: A mild green tea. For example, Chèvre with Sencha.
  • Try salty cheeses paired with: A sweet tea. For example, Stilton Blue Cheese with Lychee Congou.

There you have it. Lots of tea and cheese pairings to explore. Enjoy!

© 2015 A.C. Cargill photos and text

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