Is Lukewarm Tea The New Wine?
Left: Mr Raphaël Rodriguez. Right: the Fera dining room. Photographs courtesy of Claridge’s
How to pair your brew with your food for the ultimate fine-dining experience (we’re not talking about builder’s here, mind).
Despite being UK’s most popular hot beverage, when it comes to pairing tea with food we rarely think beyond a mug of PG Tips with maybe a nice bit of shortbread (which isn’t height challenged bread, but actually, a lovely biscuit). And apart from high tea in a grand hotel, we certainly don’t think of it much in a fine-dining context.
Enter Mr Raphaël Rodriguez, restaurant director of Fera at Claridge’s, who in partnership with, Mr Tim D’Offay of Postcard Teas, have set out to, “Westernise the Eastern tradition of tea” – by blending the millennia-old tea traditions of the Far East with modern European fine dining. The result is Fera’s patented ambient brew teas, which are served at room temperature, in wine glasses.
The Far East, and in particular, China and Japan, is where tea is cultivated and enjoyed in its most rarefied and refined context: “There are lots of parallels between the wine world and the tea world,” says Mr Rodriguez. “They’re both agricultural products where you have this sense of location. You get different flavour expressions depending on country, altitude, and soil, even the age of the individual tree. These are complex, amazing, terroir-driven products which come out of centuries of the finest Asian culture.” (Something to think about when enjoying a glass of £18 Hijiri Black Sun.)
Mr Rodriguez is keen to emphasise that this is not a cynical move to placate (and make money from) teetotallers: “We did not do this to please Middle Eastern guests, pregnant women, businesspeople, or whoever doesn’t drink alcohol for lunch. In fact, we often serve wine and tea at different stages of the same meal. For instance, we might pour tea towards the end before dessert, to cleanse the palate and re-energize before the sweet side of the meal.”
All of which sounds utterly intriguing and, not least of all, totally delicious (it is – we’ve tried it). So here is Mr Rodriguez’s expert guide as to why fine tea and fine food are a perfect match:
“Most non-alcoholic drinks are single note experiences. This means with drinks like orange juice or peppermint tea, you can only taste one flavour. Tea shares the same magical properties with wine in that many different flavours and aromas can be discerned in a single sip. Tea’s complexity is the result of over 2,000 years’ work to produce aromatic and textured flavours. Often it comes down to a single tree cultivated by one master grower, just like with wine.”
It complements food
“You can pair tea with food according to the same principles as wine. It’s a matter of structure, tannins, mouthfeel, sweetness, and umami. The High Mountain Oolong is green and pure, almost seaweedy, and so will match with a subtle elegant fish, like halibut. You can choose teas to complement flavours or use them to highlight a flavour, just as you would with wine. In fact, tea may even be a better match than many wines for some notoriously difficult food pairings like asparagus, artichokes, chocolate, spicy foods and sushi.”
You can drink it cold too
Unlike traditional hot brews (a few minutes at temperatures above 65ºC) or cold brews (many hours at temperatures between 1ºC and 5ºC), ambient brewing is done with still or sparkling water for less than an hour at cool ambient temperatures between 10ºC and 15ºC, and served within those temperatures. This results in more flavour than a cold brew while avoiding the astringency that can sometimes occur from a hot brew. “It is so simple to do at home and also an amazing sensorial experience. It takes 45 minutes to one hour. You just need to buy a decanter (a wine decanter) and a strainer. Depending on the tea, I might rinse it first with some hot water just to open it up. Some teas you don’t need to, but there will be specific instructions. Otherwise, you just pour in mineral water with the tea, and let it brew at room temperature until it tastes perfect to you. And remember to serve it in a clear glass, just as you would with wine.”