Three tea friends, three white teas, three wedges of cheese equals three hours of non-stop eating and drinking. Sara, Georgia, and I are all taking the Tea Sommelier online course at the International Tea Education Institute (ITEI), a tea school based in Canada. In the course, we not only learn about various teas and steeping techniques but also delve into pairing tea and food so we thought it would be a great idea to extend what we’ve learned into tea pairing sessions of our own.
Our first session was with white tea and we paired them with decadent cheese from France. (We got to hang out at the French Cheese Board in Soho for this pairing.)
White tea is the least processed with almost no to little rolling and the leaves are frequently left out to air-dry. Because of this, white teas are lighter in color and taste than green or black tea. There are two types of white tea, one that consists only of the buds of the plant, and the other which is a mix of buds and leaves. The white tea leaves are harvested before they fully open and if you look at the buds, you’ll see tiny white hairs, making the tea leaves look white, hence the name.
For our tea tasting and pairings, I put together an assessment form, a simpler, modified version of what we use in the ITEI course. We started off with the lightest white tea, a Silver Needle from (ahem, of course) Silver Needle Tea Co. This tea from China is all bud, no leaves so it’s rather delicate.
We used three professional tasting cup sets for each tea so that we all had our own cups to drink from. (See Georgia in the photo above steeping the Silver Needle teas, making sure to get every last drop and using the proper technique of making sure to grip the knob on the lid while tilting to pour.)
Once the liquid was emptied into the cup, tea is displayed in the inverted lid, so that we could examine the wet leaves. During each step of the cupping process, we made sure to note things like appearance and aroma.
Now onto the cheese! (The French Cheese Board has every cheese I love, none of which I can pronounce correctly.)
We selected two mild cheeses and one wild card (a blue goat cheese) to see which ones would go best. Generally, milder, younger cheese works best with white tea since they won’t fight with the delicate flavors. We would take a sip of the tea, take a bite of cheese, and repeat. For me, the Silver Needle paired best with the Beaufort.
Next up, a Nepal White from Royal Tea New York, which steeped a lovely light golden color.
This tea had notes of melon and had a nice sweetness. We had melons so that of course went nicely, but for this one, I liked both Beaufort and the wild card, the Bleu de Chèvre. The tea really brought out the flavors of the blue goat cheese and made it much more intense than when just eating the cheese alone. Once I had the blue goat cheese though, I couldn’t taste the Beaufort at all since it overpowered it.
The last white was Midnight White by In Pursuit of Tea, a much darker tea as you can see in the photo. With heavy notes of honey, the Midnight White paired best with the Brillat-Savarin, a buttery, triple-cream cheese. The mildest of the cheese on the table, Beaufort, matched well with all the white tea, including this Midnight White.
Brewing the teas properly (weighing the tea, using correct water temperature, etc.) and taking the time to evaluate and make notes add so much to the tea experience for me. I had no idea before taking the course how big and involved the world of tea was — there’s so much more to learn.
Our white tea session was wonderful and I can’t wait till we get together for the green tea pairing!