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Tea, Terroir and Tasting: A Guide for the Palate

Tea, Terroir and Tasting: A Guide for the Palate

by Kaishan Mellis January 29, 2019 1 Comment

If you’re the kind of person who salivates during cooking shows, reads menus as literary masterpieces and considers Instagram both a review site and a brag book for meals, then you’re probably familiar with the concept of wine and food pairing: sip the right wine with the right course and the flavour combination can reach new heights!

But what if I told you a cup of tea can add spice to a brisket, buttery notes to a poached salmon or earthiness to a truffle risotto? Tea – it’s not just leaves in hot water. Let your palate explore with our connoisseur’s guide to specialty Chinese tea.

(Oriental Tea Session with Purple Clay Teawares)

Tea is complex

All tea comes from the camellia plant but, as with any fine produce, its flavour is influenced by where and how it is grown, and how it is processed. This makes it a wonderfully complex beverage, and its versatility when accompanying food can improve the eating experience in different ways.

Introducing terroir

Terroir is where the tea is grown. The soil and climate – mainly temperature range, humidity and rainfall – as well as other factors such as altitude, sun exposure and the surrounding biome, will shape how the camellia grows and the balance of nutrients it will contain, which contributes to its flavour profile.

The processing method and the skill of the tea master, the person who supervises the processing of the tea, then influences the rest.

The range and variation of tea production areas in China is significant, so its terroirs produce an astounding spectrum of specialty tea, many of which match well with regional cuisine.

(Yunnan Puerh Tea Plantation)

Why tea?

Specialty tea has the same complexity as fine wine in the variety and subtlety of taste you can discern, but also with regard to the range in mouthfeel and aromas that come from tea of different terroirs, different harvests – from season to season or year to year – and different processing methods.

Tea has a few advantages over wine. For starters, there are a variety of ways to prepare tea to extract different taste and texture elements in both the brew and the paired food. Secondly, tea can be served at a greater range of temperatures, which also encourages diverse food combinations. Additionally, tea is more accessible because it is non-alcoholic. You may abstain from wine
for a number of reasons – whether you’re the designated driver, or have a religious or medical reason to avoid it – or you may simply want to reduce your alcoholic intake. And finally, good quality tea can also undergo many infusions, with each brew yielding a new pastiche of flavours so your palate can take a journey in one sitting.

Meet your parings

YOU enjoy goat’s cheese, shellfish, mushroom risotto
TEA: Silver Brow (Shou mei 寿眉)

White Tea Silver Brow

Come for the delicate sweetness, stay for the smooth and creamy body. Longevity brow is a white tea made from the buds and leaves of the camellia plant. White tea undergoes minimal processing: it is picked and air-dried. Our longevity brow is grown in Fuding, Fujian Province, a lush mountainous region near the coast, which is the birthplace of white tea.
ALSO TRY: Buddha’s Tears for a more floral bouquet

YOU enjoy soft white cheese, chicken dishes, pastry desserts
TEA: Iron Goddess (Tieguanyin 铁观音)

Iron Goddess is an oolong tea made from two or three mature leaves of the camellia plant. Oolong is semi-oxidised, tossed and roasted, which brings out the flavour characteristics of the tea. Our Iron Goddess is a jade style oolong, lightly baked to enhance the floral notes. It is sourced from Anxi, Fujian Province, where this style of tea originated.
ALSO TRY: Jinxuan oolong for a more buttery mouthfeel

YOU enjoy gouda, grilled or barbecue pork, caramel tart
TEA: Scarlet Robe (Da Hong Pao 大红袍)

Scarlet Robe Rock Tea

Scarlet Robe is an oolong from an artisanal subcategory known as rock or cliff tea because it is grown in the craggy Wuyi Mountains of Fujian Province, where it attains its minerality. Although Big Red Robe is traditionally heavily oxidised and roasted, we’ve chosen a lighter style that has a few fruity notes before it becomes mineral in later infusions.
ALSO TRY: Lapsang souchong for a heavier roast

YOU enjoy duck, dark chocolate
TEA: Tangerine Puerh (柑普茶)

Puerh is a fermented tea prized as a living treasure. Different storage conditions bestow upon it new flavour characteristics, which is why few puerhs are alike. Our earthy puerh, grown in the sunny mountainous Menghai region in Yunnan Province, is stored in the skin of a tangerine from the famous Xinhui district of Guangdong Province to give it a citrus lift. It is excellent as a digestif after a meal.
ALSO TRY: Standard ripe puerh, if you prefer the earthiness over the citrus notes

YOU enjoy Asian dumplings, white fish, butter cake
TISANE: Chrysanthemum (菊花茶)

Chrysanthemum is not from the camellia plant and therefore not a true tea, but it is a popular flower used as a tisane in East Asia. Our chrysanthemum tisane is the delicate and sweet white-flowered chrysanthemum from Yellow Mountain in Anhui Province. It can be steeped many times, initially drawing out a fragrant infusion before vegetal notes emerge. 
ALSO TRY: Osmanthus oolong for more vegetal complexity
Want to get daily tea update from Libertea Melbourne, follow our Instagram @libertea_melbourne!

Kaishan Mellis
Kaishan Mellis


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April 28, 2019

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