Tea and Food Pairing

Micro Salad

Micro Salad (Source)

Last summer, I was lucky enough to meet one of the scientists behind molecular gastronomy, Hervé This. I also attended his session at the Euroscience Open Forum entitled “Science and the future of cuisine” where he (along with Mark Post and Bill Yosses) discussed molecular cuisine and the new trend in scientific cooking called note-by-note cuisine. The session was full of fascinating examples of this new cuisine but also covered the practicalities of sustaining the human race by “creating” vegetables and meat in the lab. It was an unforgettable session and tasting the chocolate mousse that was produced without cream or eggs sealed the deal!

In particular though, it drew my attention to the application of science for understanding taste and flavour so when I attended the World Tea Expo a few weeks ago, I was excited to hear Virginia Utermohlen (Cornell University) and Renée Senne talking about their scientific approach to pairing food with tea. Virginia started with the basics of taste and flavour and discussed how the chemicals in tea bind to receptors in our mouths and nose. The session then focussed on the effect that food has on the taste of tea – how some foods will mute the taste of tea while others will enhance it. I was expecting the session to be based around a molecular matching approach but Virginia’s approach was mostly based on trigeminal receptors (for heat and coolness). Cinnamon and mint were used to illustrate the power of these receptors. We were each given a cinnamon sweet which is considered to be “heat” on a taste/temperature scale so it gives a sense of warmth after binding to its receptors. After the taste had developed we took the sweet out of our mouth and replaced it with a mint. The “coolness” of the mint turns off the heat receptors and gives a sense of cold when it binds to its own receptors so the cinnamon taste was completely replaced with mint. After the mint was removed the heat receptors become active again and the heat of the cinnamon came back as residual cinnamon in the mouth was picked up.

Trigeminal Receptors

Thermal Nociceptors (Source)

From there, we went on to apply the model to Black (hot), Oolong (warm) and Green (cold) tea. The general premise was to use food of similar heat or coolness together to avoid unpleasant tastes and to allow the tea and the food to complement each other and enhance each others flavours. So Oolong (warm) could not be mixed with Cardamom (hot) because the hot spice would mute the taste of the warm drink. Crème fraiche going well with Mexican food is an example where flipping hot and cold can result in a positive effect. It makes sense to some extent but still didn’t clear up some of the well-known anomalies of molecular matching (e.g. strawberries clashing with black tea and sugar clashing with green tea). It is an interesting model to consider alongside other food pairing methods and certainly goes a long way to explaining why I like my chilli-chocolate with black tea.

World Tea Expo 2013 (Recap 2)

Most people seem to get back from the World Tea Expo with new enthusiasm and a general resolve to do more. So it’s a bit of an irony then that I’ve come back determined to write less! It’s not all down to the WTE (this procrastination on other projects has got to stop) but while I was there I got chatting to other people about writing schedules. Apparently varying your writing schedule alters the style and content of articles and more experienced writers suggest experimenting with schedules to see how your writing develops. I like posting several times per week but I’m going to try posting once a week for a little while to see how it feels.

Anyway here is part two of the recap on products that I saw on the exhibition floor (part one is here):

trYeh productstrYeh –  I visited this booth three or four times in an attempt to photograph some of their products without getting in the way, but it was always busy. The tea tumbler with Yixing Clay lining was particularly cool but the glassware and bamboo accessories were all elegant and stylish.




Bkon Tx tea brewerBkon –  The Bkon won best new product at the world tea expo this year so I stopped by for a demo and a chat with company founder, Dean Vastardis. This patented, Swiss-engineered tea brewing machine works by creating a vacuum in the pre-heated glass chamber. The “reverse atmospheric infusion” extracts gases from the tea leaves and allows for a brewing time of 60-90 seconds at a temperature of 85-100 °C. Quality and consistency seem to be the key selling points of this self-cleaning brewer. The Hibiscus infusion that I tasted was full of flavour and I have no doubt that they were using a high quality leaf but normally an infusion time of several minutes would be needed for that level of flavour. With so many coffee machines and so few tea brewers the market potential seems obvious. The Bkon is estimated to cost $9,000 so clearly aimed at the retail and hospitality sector but the idea of a smaller home version doesn’t seem unlikely.



Hoji cha from Mitsu FoodsHoji-cha from Mitsui Foods Inc – Mitsui Foods had matcha, concentrates and extracts but their roasted green tea had an exceptionally deep nutty flavour and taste. I can’t find the tea section of their website but they say that they are one of the largest international trading houses and a leader in the Japan tea industry so maybe this product is new.




Wat-aahWat-aah! – this stood out, not as an exceptional product but as really clever marketing. It is water that is aimed at children. They have variations: Wat-aah! Brain has added electrolytes Wat-aah! Power has added magnesium and Wat-aah! Energy has added oxygen. Essentially, it is pure, still water but the packaging and marketing (including celebrity endorsement) are extremely clever.




Weiyin teaWei Yin had some of the beautiful Oolongs. They also had a strong emphasis on tea culture and tea ceremonies. From their website I see that the company is “a collection of scientific research, cultivation, production, processing, marketing, brand building services, joining operations, as well as promotion of tea culture as an integrated company”.


Zenify  – I don’t know if this works but I like the concept – a natural de-stressing free drink. There are no artificial ingredients but this drink has L-theanine (as found in green tea), GABA (a calming agent), serotonin and dopamine. Combined they intend to promote a sense of well-being and relieve stress. There are sweeteners (stevia leaf and fruit sugar) and natural fruit extracts. This tasted crisp and refreshing in the 40 °C of the Las Vegas sun.


Favor Ceylon Tea

Favor Ceylon Tea This was the first year at the expo for the Katugastotas family business and they brought some earthy Sri Lankan teas in unusual and attractive packaging.



World Tea Expo 2013 (Recap 1)

With over 200 vendors on the exhibition floor and an education programme from 8am to 4pm each day as well as vendor presentations, workshops and tastings, it is impossible to see everything at the World Tea Expo much less write about it all.

My top three of the Las Vegas trip were:

  1. A workshop with Virginia Utermohlen on Tea and Food Pairings
  2. A demonstration by Tang Zhaoxia on Yixing pottery
  3. Watching the Bellagio fountains (not part of World Tea Expo!)

Bellagio Fountains

I’ll probably write a couple of posts about the expo but  to start with here are some of the products on the exhibition floor that caught my attention:

ForLife TeapotForLife Teapot these pretty teapots are cleverly designed. They are stackable due to the flat lid and have a protected spout to avoid chipping. The holder for the basket infuser and lid are joined with a hinge and remove completely from the teapot for easy cleaning but are watertight when in the teapot. It also comes in a teabag version that has a little tray just under the lid so the teabag can be separated from the water without the need to remove completely. This also keeps it warm if you want to add more water. Very clever.



Steep & Go FilterSteep & GoIt seem incredibly high but 80% of all tea that is drunk in the US is iced tea. For this reason there were a lot of products directed at the iced tea market. This is a filter that fits into disposable water bottles and bottles like Sigg. There are leaves designed for cold brews so the idea is to put the tea into your plastic bottle and add water. You leave the leaves in the water and the filter prevents the leaves from coming out as you drink. I have no idea how tea leaves brew in cold water. The sample I got was a Green Tea and Green Rooibos. Will try it out when when (if) the sun starts shining here!



Adventure TeaAdventure tea This company caught my eye with their packaging so I stopped to take some photos. They seem to be a new company but the two herbal teas that I tasted were easily the two best herbal teas that I tasted over the three days.






Tea Nest from Tea TangentTea Nest  from Tea Tangent – Julia Edgerton is the artist behind this product. It is made from solid cherry wood which acts as a natural insulator to keep the tea warm. Among their other products from this beautiful wood are a tea scoop and a honey stick.






Tea JournalTaste Tea from TeaSource – this is the only cupping journal that I saw at the show. It is simple but it really appeals to the neat-freak inside of me. Perfect for putting some order to my tea notes.






Nuwati HerbalsHerbal Bath Bags from Nuwati Herbals – tea bags for the bath! It makes sense considering the dermatological properties of herbs and the ability of our skin to absorb. After soaking, the bath bag can also be used as an exfoliator. I also got a sample of some Cloud Walking Cream to help with my jet lag and it seemed to work.