Pairing tea and cheese might sound unconventional at first, but it isn’t really such a new idea. If you’ve ever nibbled a delicate cucumber and cream cheese sandwich alongside a hot cup of black tea, you already know the entrancing potential of this coupling.
Their compatibility makes logical sense too: Like wine, many teas are high in tannins, have varying degrees of astringency, and even have their own terroir. The flavors and aromas of a fine tea depend on the local climate, weather, soil, and the way it is dried and cured.
While a little vino is great with cheese, tea has another extraordinary little quality that makes an exceptionally pleasant pairing with your wedge: the right coupling can unlock a hidden third flavor. The warmth of tea pulls out the earthy, sweet, fruity, and pungent flavors from the cheese that might otherwise fall unnoticed. It’s not just the tea doing the work either: cheese can also calm a tea’s astringency and awaken complex notes of smoke, fruit, and florals that might have otherwise laid dormant.
To embark on your cheese and tea excursion, follow the same steps you might take to any beverage pairing. Treat black teas like dark reds and stouts and green teas like lighter whites and wheat beers. Contrast the salty with the sweet, and match like-cheeses with like-teas. Let’s take a look at some actual pairings to help get you started.
Like bold red wines, black teas have the most tannins of any tea. Soft and creamy Camembert will even out their dark, bold and astringent flavors, while blues like Roquefort or Rogue Creamery’s Caveman Blue can stand up to their strength. For fermented pu-erh, try an aged gouda or Époisses de Bourgogne. With smoky lapsang souchong, opt for firm salty cheese like pecorino. With Earl Grey, pair a lighter blue cheese like Cambozola. When pairing a flavorsome masala chai, pick a milder cheese that won’t overpower the delicate spices. The best options are semi-hard cheeses like cheddar and Gruyère.
We love Minto Island Tea Company’s black tea paired with smoked gouda from Willamette Valley Cheese Company. Both are grown and crafted in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, so their similar growing conditions make them a natural pair.
Green tea is less-oxidized than black tea, so it contains fewer tannins. They’re naturally lighter and more earthy as well and pair well with semi-soft cheeses like Muenster and fontina. Different types of green tea each have different flavor profiles. Sencha, a green tea that is the most popular tea in Japan, has a grassy flavor. Gyokuro tastes similar to Sencha but has a bit more delicate flavor as it is grown in the shade. Both fresh goat cheese and triple creams are a safe bet, but our green pick comes from Willamette Valley’s only tea plantation: Minto Island Tea Company’s green tea alongside a farmstead fontina.
Rooibos tea comes not from the camellia sinensis plant like most teas, but from a bush in Africa. Sometimes referred to as red tea, rooibos actually comes in both a red and a green variety. Both types are naturally caffeine-free. Green rooibos has more antioxidants than red and a more earthy flavor profile that pairs perfectly with Muenster. Red rooibos has more of a sweet, nutty flavor with vanilla notes. Sharp cheddar, like Face Rock Creamery’s Extra Aged, is excellent with red rooibos, as are creamy blue cheeses and the robust and aromatic Petite Camembert from Marin French Cheese.
The extensive options of herbal tea open up a wide variety of pairing possibilities. Herbal teas typically contain little to no tannins and very little astringency, because they are made from fruits, berries, barks, roots, and flowers. Treat these pairings like food and consider their dominant flavor profiles. Consider, for example, our St. Fiacres Farm’s Coastal Cranberry Spice Herbal tea. Made from a base of hibiscus flowers, with fruity notes from Oregon cranberries and light lemony flavors, this tea pairs best with mild, creamy cheese like milky young gouda. The creaminess tames the tart flavor of the hibiscus and cranberries, so you’re left with a new third flavor that adds an unusual and pleasant sweetness. For an east coast option, try Maine’s Highland Organic’s Blue Mellow-Yellow tea with a brie for a perfect dessert pairing.
For a more floral option, try St. Fiacre’s Farm’s Rose City Repose, a blend of organic chamomile, lavender, rose, and citrus, with a fresh goat cheese. The creamy cheese lets the delicate floral flavors blossom and you can even sprinkle the tea itself directly onto the chevre for a beautiful presentation. Herbal mint teas are also delightful with fresh cheeses. Try it a traditional cucumber sandwich with cream cheese or mascarpone, if you’re feeling a little adventurous.
From deep-dark pu-erh to adventurous herbal teas, there are so many options for pairing tea with cheese. The only hard part is deciding on which one!
Photo Credit CeAnne Kosel