Location: Tian Xiang Lo(天香樓) at the Landis Taipei Hotel
PSU Gongfucha tea club students with Teaparker and Stéphane Erler
Date: December 29, 2019
Thank you for helping to arrange yesterday’s lesson with Teaparker. It provided us with a new experience and gave us valuable knowledgeable that we can bring back to our current and future members. As requested, below is my thoughts on yesterday’s lesson and food pairing.
The part of the lesson that stuck with me the most came from the section The Trilogy of Tea, Cuisine, and Wine. When learning about tea and food pairing during the exhibition, I understood it as being similar to wine pairing, expect tea was replacing the wine. This belief was further reinforced by discussions in the Institute/club about tea pairing. Much of it was “these characteristics found in wine go well with these types of food, so these types of tea will also go well.” Because of this, I was surprised by the concept of pairing tea, food and wine. I didn’t realize someone would not only drink tea and wine together, but use their characteristics to pair them together. While I have not been a wine drinker in the past, this is an interesting concept to now test out myself, as I have recently turned 21.
I believed that the oolong tea paired best with the tomatoes. The roast of the tea helped to curb the acidity of the tomatoes and the sweetness of the fruit prevented the roast from coating my tongue. During the lecture Teaparker discussed that we cannot just focus on the type of tea being brewed, but also variations such as strength and temperature of tea. This oolong was a great example of it. When we tried it during the lesson I got tastes of rosewood and cork. I assumed we would have no trouble pairing it during the meal. But when it came, all I could get was a heavy roast. I didn’t find it to pair well with any food, except the one that could overpower it.
Thanks again for the opportunity,
The jassid-bitten oolong that was served first was characteristically sweet, almost like syrup, and had a muted but round dark flavor similar to roasted walnuts. It felt thin like ink and coated the entire mouth. These attributes caused it to pair best, in my opinion, with the eel, fried chicken, and the fried noodle dish we were served last. The honey notes mixed well with the dryness that the food left in the mouth and what spices there were on the food (or sauces in the case of the desert) were not overpowering. I was left with a sensation of clarity and cleanliness in the mouth as well as the echo of the tea’s sweetness. It reminded me of the way after a bell was rung the tone lingers longer than you can properly hear it. This tea also paired well with the vegetable meal because of the sweetness of the oil. It was washed out in the same way as the above fried foods. Foods that did not pair as well were generally too rough in flavor, like the smoked tofu, or the flavors were too persistent or sticky in the case of the fish or bamboo or radish.
The wuyi tea was much smokier than the first oolong and had a bitter aftertaste. It was punchy but not sour and featured the signature heavy minerality. The seven-layer pork belly was spectacular but it did not pair well with the wuyi tea because of the sauce. The sweetness of the sauce was neither complimentary nor congruent to the astringency of the tea – the result was somewhat muddled and not at all harmonious. It really was a food and drink following one another without cohesion. The lamb dish, however, was much better suited for the tea. It was appropriately heavy and the sauce had a comparable rocky taste. The flavors of the food and the tea seemed to share a base element with slightly different accents. A good analogy would be two teapots made of the same type of clay.
The puer we were served last had a nice taste but I believe it was somewhat over-brewed. The end of the mouthfeel specifically hurt the pairing with the red bean squares. The astringency did not interact well with the caramelized sweetness. The puer flavor worked but it was too much for the more delicate sweet. The same can be said for the sesame shrimp. The doughy and soft attributes of the food would have worked best with the tea, but as it was served neither was particularly impressive. I thought the food was well prepared but not well suited for the tea.
Tom (Zhang, Wutong)
I really enjoyed the dinner yesterday. For the first tea Zhuoyan, I think the pairing with the eel was the best. With the tea, the eel became very fresh and as if it was a steamed fish. The texture of the fish became very soft and pleasant. I also really liked the Zhuoyan with the tofu puff thing, the tea made the tofu itself very tasty. For the second tea ShuiXian, I think the tea itself was very pleasant, but the pairings with the dishes were not my favorite. The pairing with the bamboo made the bamboo fresh, but it would have preferred it better by itself with the sauce instead of with the tea. The dongporou was unbelievably juicy but not greasy at all. I did not have the tea with the dongporou but I do believe it would be a good pairing. For the gushu puer and the pairing with the sweets, I personally believe that having the tea apart from the sweets would be better. The sweets and the tea on its own were delicious, but when combined, it was not as pleasing as I would have liked it.
Overall after the dinner, I think I had a lot more understanding about how actual tea pairing would be like and how with different ways of brewing tea and different ways of pairing the tea with the dishes would make dining go above and beyond and make the experience more playful and interesting.
Our tea pairing session began not at the table, but when we first smelled the three teas. When I went to smell the first tea, a jassid bitten oolong, I got savory notes. Usually when presented with a jassid oolong, I get more of the sweeter notes, but I got a smaller bit of sweetness and a larger sense of a kind of light savory taste with this one. After smelling the tea, I thought that it might go well with something else that was savory, but it would have to be light as to not overpower the tea. The second tea, a gushu sheng puer cake from 500 year old trees, smelled like the specific brand of banana peppers that my father always piles on top of his salads. I thought that this would go well with something greasy to cut the grease and provide a contrasting freshness. I also speculated that it could pair well with something that would be sweet and delicate, as to pair well with the sweetness of an old tea tree’s leaves. The third tea I instantly recognized by smell as a wuyi oolong. I instantly thought of a Mexican Mole sauce. Mole is a savory sauce made with chocolate that is often put on meat, and this tea smelled exactly like it with elements of both meatyness and chocolate. I guessed that this would go well with some form of red meat.
Later on, after we had been prepped for tasting with the pairing lecture, we started our pairings with the jassid bitten oolong. We ate a total of eight different foods with this tea. My least favorite pairing was with the fish, as I felt the taste of the sauce totally overpowered the tea. I also did not like the tofu skins with the tea. The taste of the tofu and vegetables inside was good, but it and the taste of the tea passed each other on my tongue and did not interact. My favorite two pairing were with the fried eels and the cube of beans and vegetables. With the cube, the savory taste of the veggies was not overpowering and due to the oolong being similar, that is light yet savory, the two combined beautifully and created a third amazing nutty flavor in my mouth. The eel, despite being fried meat, was also light and when combined with the tea gained a creamy taste.
The second tea to pair was the wuyi oolong. With it we ate the braised pork belly and a dish of chestnuts and lamb. When tasting the dishes apart from the tea, I absolutely loved the pork belly, but with the tea I did not taste much synergy. With the lamb, the taste of the meat and the sauce paired beautifully with the wuyi and it took be back to when I had had that Mole sauce on meats in the past.
The third tea was the sheng puer. With it we had the desserts. Of the three that we tasted, the best pairing was the shrimp balls. The slight sweetness and lightness of the shrimp balls paired excellently with the sweetness of the sheng and together they combined to create a perfect taste. The balls brought out the best in the tea and the tea brought out the best in the balls.
The food itself at the restaurant was exellect, but the tea significantly improved the experience. If I am to imagine the experience without the tea, it would be good, but nowhere as special as it was with the tea. We often use the analogy of 1 + 1 = 3 when discussing tea pairing with specific foods, but it is true as well when we consider the whole meal experience. A meal, paired with proper teas, not only exponentially increases the quality of taste, but the whole experience. This was my key takeaway from this experience.
The entirely of the class as very interesting as it wraps tea around wine and food pairing a subject I know very little about and have never experienced before.
While it was interesting to see so many examples that TeaParker has paired and gave background to what he talked about in April and more imagery. The trilogy of tea, food, and wine that was discussed also made things much more complicated and interesting. I would be interested to hear more theory of why certain things were paired together rather than just it was. I would also be very interested in seeing the process of appeasing different palettes that might prefer different things, something I think I would have more information on if I had a background in wine pairing.
For the three teas we tried I was slightly disappointed in the three brews of the jassid zhouyan oolong we had during dinner, the disappointment came in where we had already tasted the tea during the lesson and I felt that brew had been done quite well but when tasting each brew at the restaurant they only felt more and more over brewed and lost the light sweetness that could have been brought out with that tea.
Some of the food pairings, especially the tomato, that others praised, only accented how over brewed I felt the oolong was. In this way the food pairing worked in reverse where they worked together but only showcased qualities that made me feel as both were worse than they were but not in a way that the pairing was out of place which shows that while a tea pairing might work well it does not always showcase a pleasant flavor.
The WuYi was personally my favorite and it showcased both the lamb and pork amazingly and the pairing of the meat of the Dongpo Pork melted into the wuyi and made both of them so smooth and accents the flavors that is the signature fragrance and taste of slowly cooked layered pork and Wuyi cliff tea that much beloved and creates a harmony on the tongue that is not just the product of a mix of favors but also sensations that brought the dish and tea to a different level with the balance of the two.
While the lamb and chestnut, two of my favorite foods, was cooked so well it brought me to tears, and was accentuated by the WuYi, the meat braised pork belly simply created more harmony with the tea. While the idea of pairing Gushu sheng puerh with pastries has mentioned I did not agree with the pairing after trying it. While both the tea and three kinds of pastries were amazing on their own and their favores shined every way, paired together the favors that were complementary within the pastry and tea individually were weakened.
Firstly, I have never been to a foreign country, a five star hotel, or a Michelin star restaurant, so this experience as a whole is something that takes a long time to process. Furthermore, the robotic movements, the carefully calculated measurements, and the precisely timed precision of the tea brewing is something that I am not used to when it comes to tea. However, I believe that in a restaurant such as that would need to do its best to curate the experience as much as possible, to ensure a consistent, positive experience. Overall, from my limited knowledge on fine dining and tea pairing, I believe that the methods used were the best ways to blend the worlds of cuisine and tea. From what I have read in the first chapter of Teaparker’s book, as well and the things I witnessed today, the practicality, effectiveness, and potential spread was held evident.
When it comes to tea, I found that all three were distinct and they excited parts of the tongue that the savory food we consumed couldn’t reach. The first tea we drank with the meal was jaccid bitten oolong, and I found it was sweet, very floral, and it coated the mouth with a residual taste of fish. When paired with the oily and fried foods, I found that the sweet and coating characteristics of the tea made it so the oil of the cuisine couldn’t overpower the taste buds, resulting in a full-tongue flavor explosion. Two prime examples of this were the pairings of the oolong with the eel and the fried chicken. They were rich and flavorful alone, but the elimination of the oily taste resulted in such a transcendent experience.
The Wuyi tea alone is distinct and layered, and I always considered it a somewhat thick tea that excites this location past the roof of my mouth but before my tonsils. When paired with the hearty, savory lamb and pork dishes, I think it shined best with the lamb especially. The pork alone was incredibly distinct and flavorful, and the amount of flavor present in a single bite of the pork was so powerful, that drinking the wuyi with it put my taste buds in shock. The lamb, which was significantly less dense when it came to its flavor profile, was complemented by the Wuyi well, where it just became more complex with it’s flavor notes rather than stronger. I compare it to dynamite versus firecrackers, where the pork was explosive and damaging when ignited by the Wuyi, where the lamb was elegant and colorful.
Lastly, pairing the Gushu with sweets is something I would not have thought of pairing, but it was something that goes incredibly well together. The subtle smokiness and the signature sheung bite actually made the red bean pastry much more sweet and savory, and the pairing allowed to taste more flavors with each subsequent bite. Before I paired the bean dish with the tea, I tasted the sesame seeds, beans, and the sweetness. After I experienced the pairing, the dish tasted more like a candied bacon, because the tea forced me to notice the umami aspect of it.
Overall, this experience was challenging, jarring to my worldview, and probably the most luxurious experience I have ever had, because of this, I understood the seriousness and brevity of the event, and I thank both you and Teaparker for this enlightening opportunity.
It was a pleasure to join you and TeaParker last night for Sommelier Tea Pairing class as well as dinner held at the Tian Xiang Lo restaurant. In my writing I will discuss my thoughts on the class, the teas, and the pairing of the teas with a variety of different foods.
First, in regards to the class, I was very grateful for the time that you and TeaParker put into preparing and sharing knowledge with us. The first piece of information I took away from the evening was the concept that tea can be paired with any food regardless of if it is Chinese food. The flavors and foods of spicy, sweet, bitter, sour, salmon, beef, etc. were mentioned when framing the pairing discussion. After this, I was able to understand that these are universal flavors among all types of food. In other words, the knowledge I gain from pairing tea with a spicy Chinese meal could be applied to other meals around the world.
The second part of the evening that stood out to me was the water identification game. The game provided me the realization of just how sensitive the pallet can be. It was encouraged after the game that we look at the mineral content of different brands when practicing. This helped communicate just how slight differences can affect not only the water itself, but then the beverage that is made. When TeaParker then explained you must also account for the strength of a brew, I was able to apply the water game to why this is.
Now I will transition into my reflection of the teas we brewed last night as well as my initial suggestions for food pairings. In regards to the jassid bitten oolong, I experienced heavy honey notes and an overall sweet taste. As a result, my initial suggestion for this type of tea was a spicy food. I thought a strong bold flavor would balance out a lighter sweet tea such as the oolong. At the dinner I was given the opportunity to test this with the spicy peppers that were brought out during the first course. I was pleased with pairing while being open to other potential combinations.
The wuyi tea gave me much more bitter notes with a dark chocolate flavor. The richness of this tea led to my suggestion that it would pair well with a heavy meat. Unfortunately, I was not able to test this last night, but would be interesting to know your opinions if you did pair the wuyi with the chicken at last night’s meal.
Finally, the 2017 sheng puerh had notes similar to allspice. As a result, because I am less familiar with this spice, I had the most trouble pairing this tea. My initial guess would be vegetables as I believe them to be a more versatile choice. When I tried the tea with the tomatoes at dinner, I did not enjoy the combination however. I believe that the tomatoes did not have a strong enough flavor resulting in the tea overpowering the taste.
In conclusion, the experience was one of a kind and the process of pairing the teas allowed me to understand the tools required to expand the sensitivity of one’s pallet. Thank you sincerely to both yourself and TeaParker for the entire occasion and I look forward to seeing you both more this trip.
I’d like to thank you and Teaparker again for the incredible class and dinner last night. The meal was a wonderful example of why the tea sommelier training is so important and how tea, food, and wine pairings can enhance a meal. The last time I visited Taiwan, Teaparker introduced us to tea and food pairing by offering us a piece of dark chocolate to pair with a sheng puerh that we were drinking. I remember the flavors complimenting each other perfectly and the puerh melting the chocolate in my mouth. Reflecting on this experience, I was excited to try more pairings. What I did not expect was for the meal itself to be such a harmonious experience because of the tea pairings. While the tofu and garlic root paired with the zhuo yan and the lamb and chestnuts paired with the wuyi yan cha stood out to me as two of my favorite pairings, thinking back it is difficult to identify the individual courses as the tea provided a flow to the evening. I can appreciate the how the flavor combinations added to the experience, however I found the tea to enhance the entire experience of the meal and not just the individual dishes. I am appreciative to have had this experience and to have had my eyes opened to this unexpected benefit of tea and food pairings.
Teaparker discussed how food, tea, and wine should work like a music trio, with the pianist, cellist, and violinist working in harmony to balance each other. In this way, I think the tea paring maintained this same form of balance. Reflecting on our meal last night, the best experiences were not the tea or food in isolation, but instead in integration, combining to create something greater than the sum of its parts.
This seems to be the unique role of the tea sommelier. Teaparker did not select tea nor food whose flavors were unfamiliar so the novelty of the experience would be the paring itself. I think he was extremely successful at this. When we return home next week I suspect our richest memories of our class will not be the flavor of the eel or the Sha Lin Xi Zhou Yan, but instead how they combined to make familiar food and tea something extraordinary.
Although I just graduated, I’m inspired to explore tea pairing on my own outside of Penn State. I really enjoy cooking for my friends and I usually pair a wine with the food I cook. Having learned that tea can stand up to food as well as wine can, perhaps this can be a way to explore tea pairing. I am extremely thankful to both you and Teaparker for giving us this opportunity and I look forward to further exploring tea pairing when I return home.