Crushing the myth

30 May 2016
2 min read
Peter Find, executive chef at The Ritz-Carlton, Hong-Kong, and Vivian Mak, pioneering tea expert of MingCha, prove that tea can be paired with food—and not high tea! First, Vivian explains why tea can be paired with dishes from around the world.

What’s your background and how did you first become interested in tea? I am also a design consultant and a fine artist before she engaged in building her tea business.

There is a notion that Chinese tea goes well with Chinese food, like dim sum, but otherwise it should be reserved for afternoon tea and accompanied with sandwiches and cake, as an alternative to coffee. But this is a myth.

When I first discussed a tea pairing with chef Peter Find, of The Ritz-Carlton, Hong Kong, his immediate response was that pu-erh, a black tea from Yunnan, China, would be perfect to degrease the mouth and aid digestion.

Based on modern classification, tea is grouped by different degrees of oxidation into green, white, red, black and oolong. Green tea has been widely marketed as the freshest and healthiest tea, and black tea as a strong tea, marketed as more of an after dinner tea to aid digestion.

Tea was discovered 5,000 years ago by Shennong, the first emperor of China, who was known as the ‘Emperor of the Five Grains’. It has evolved from a bitter concoction used for medicinal purposes, to whipped tea (a process of whisking green tea powder into a foam for competition among the elite of the Song dynasty); to the wonderful spectrum of aromas and tastes derived from the different processing methods of the Ming dynasty.

Thanks to the many different varieties of the species Camellia Sinensis—from plant from which tea is produced—tea is complex and rich. Unless you get to taste the ‘right’ tea, it is impossible to understand the intricate and sophistication of its complexities.

From a gastronomic point of view, tea has aromas and fragrances; bitterness and astringency; sweetness and acidity; fullness and aftertaste. With an understanding of the characters of a tea, one can start to appreciate the true taste of tea and how it can pair well with a dish. I put lots of effort and countless hours into experimenting tea pairing with different gourmet foods from around the world, designing and conducting numerous tea pairing luncheons, dinners and events with different cuisines to explore new flavour combinations and help bring tea to the forefront of culinary pairings.

Fine, handcrafted teas are so rich and dynamic in aroma and taste, they really can pair well with any food. The only limitation is your imagination!

This tea pairing exercise is an illustration of how tea can pair with food, not just for digestion, but to enhance, complement or contrast the food flavours. The teas bring out more layers and dimensions to the eating experience.

Before deciding on the four pairings, I met with Peter and his team to understand his menu and so they could better understand the characters of six teas.

A total of four teas, Jasmine Blossoms (scented green tea), First Flush Longjin (hand-fried green), Phoenix Osmanthus (fruity oolong) and Teguanyin Classic (charcoal-baked robust oolong) were paired with dishes designed by executive chef Peter Find using seasonal ingredients.

Find out more about The Ritz-Carlton Hong Kong here…