Pairing wine and cheese is a centuries-old tradition that originated in Italy and France, and slowly spread across the globe as British wine merchants traveled selling their wares.
But did you know that you can also pair tea with cheese?
Surprisingly, tea actually shares many similarities with wine. Both beverages can have varying levels of tannins and astringency, and are highly dependent on their terroir. Topography, climate, weather, soil, and post-harvest processing all have a significant impact on the final flavor of both wine and tea.
Here is a little-known secret: the warmth of hot tea can even unlock underlying flavors in the cheese…including ones you may not find while sipping wine. Without this added heat, those very subtle aromas of fruit, flowers, earth, or smoke may be completely imperceptible.
Likewise, the creamy, fatty flavor of cheese may balance out the astringency of the tea, while deepening the cup’s faint or complex notes. So next time you’re in the mood for a cheese tasting, why not ditch the wine and steep a pot of tea instead?
Guidelines for Pairing Tea and Cheese
Matching “like with like” is a common principle when it comes to pairing wine and cheese, and pairing tea with cheese is no different.
If you are serving a heavy, pungent cheese, this principle dictates that you should choose an equally heavy wine to ensure the weights of the food and beverage are balanced. If you select a more delicate wine, the heavy flavors and textures of the cheese may overpower it.
This same logic applies when pairing tea and cheese. Robust teas should be matched with strongly-flavored cheeses, while delicate teas are best suited to lighter, smoother cheeses.
Another guideline to keep in mind is that sweeter teas (like those with fruity or floral notes) tend to complement saltier cheeses, and teas that are high in tannins pair well with creamy cheeses. In these scenarios, the key is ensuring that the flavor profiles are balanced.
Tea and Cheese Pairing Recommendations
- Black Tea: Much like a heavy red wine, black teas are high in tannins and tend to have the boldest, most robust flavors of any tea varietal. Opt for a rich and creamy camembert, smoked gouda, or mild blue cheese to balance out the tea’s astringency. Darjeeling tea – often called the Champagne of tea – pairs especially well with creamy cow’s milk cheeses.
- Green Tea: Because it far less oxidized than black tea, green tea contains fewer tannins and has a lighter flavor profile. The clean, mildly-grassy flavor of green tea nicely complements fresh goat cheeses, brie, and semi-soft cheeses like muenster.
- White Tea: Minimally processed white teas are most akin to light white wines such as Sauvignon Blanc. As a general rule, cheeses that complement white wines will also pair nicely with white tea. Alpine-style cheeses like fontina and gruyere are well-suited to pairing with white tea.
- Pu-erh Tea: This fermented tea has a highly distinct flavor that usually includes aromas of smoke, leather, or earth. Aged goudas and soft, pungent cheeses are able to hold their own against flavorful pu-erh tea.
- Herbal Tea: Due to the incredible flavor diversity of herbal teas, selecting complementary cheeses may involve some trial and error. However, paying attention to the individual flavors of the tea ingredients (which may include fruits, flowers, leaves, barks, and roots) will lead you to success. Tart, fruity herbal teas will pair well with mild creamy cheeses, while floral or mint teas will complement fresh soft cheeses.
While there are many guidelines and tips for pairing tea with cheese, there is truly no wrong way to go about it. Approach your tea and cheese pairing with a sense of adventure, and don’t be afraid to experiment with unique blends and bold flavors.
For a full tasting experience, we recommend steeping one tea varietal at a time, then tasting each cheese (from mild to strong) between sips. Take notes on the pairings you like best, as well as any unique hidden aromas that you may discover.
Interested in learning more about the nuances of tasting tea? Read our guide on How to Taste Tea the Right Way next.