This summer, chef and restaurant consultant Sharon Hage cooked for the Dallas Morning News Wine Panel and joined us in finding pairings for her dishes.
But we didn’t sip a drop of wine with her Green Tomato-Melon Salad, nor with her Dark Berry Cobbler.
Instead, we turned to some of Hage’s favorite beverages: fine teas. Like wine, the aromas, flavors and structure of teas can enhance foods, and the pairing possibilities are endless.
Hage is a legend in Dallas fine-dining circles. During the decade she owned York Street, she earned five James Beard Award nominations for best chef in the Southwest. Relatively few diners knew of her gift for tea pairings, though.
Collaborating with Dallas tea educator and purveyor Kyle Stewart of The Cultured Cup, she drew a cult following for special tea lunches and dinners at her restaurant. Attendees included chefs (among them, Stephan Pyles), sommeliers (James Tidwell was a fan-turned-collaborator in tea pairings) and York Street regulars more accustomed to enjoying food with fine wines, but eager to try tea pairings.
In the years since Hage began experimenting with tea menus, tea has risen to prominence in fine-dining circles. Now, more Dallas restaurants — Flora Street, Bullion, Fine China and Gung Ho, to name a few — feature tea menus suited for savory and sweet dishes. Some New York restaurants even boast tea sommeliers. Several years ago, Tidwell, a master sommelier who sits on our wine panel, earned the Specialty Tea Institute’s Certified Tea Specialistcertification.
No one missed the wine
Hage remains passionate about food and tea pairings, so we asked her to share two easy recipes that would marry well with certain tea styles. With green tea in mind, she created Green Tomato-Melon Salad, a bright medley of green tomatoes, honeydew melon, Persian cucumbers and watercress sparked with fresh herbs and a lime vinaigrette. As predicted, it matched beautifully with several green teas, but an elegant white tea also proved a good match.
For dessert, Hage prepared a simple cobbler made with blueberries, blackberries and a cornmeal crust. The panel accurately predicted that it would pair perfectly with a classic Darjeeling tea. We tried a few other teas with it and found two more great matches.
Stewart of The Cultured Cup and Brandon Friedman of Rakkasan Tea Company in Dallas selected the ten teas we sampled and joined us for the tasting. We found four tea matches for the salad and three for the dessert. No one missed the wine.
As for prices, the per-ounce cost of fine teas may sound high, but 1 ounce of tea can yield 5 to 10 cups of brewed tea. If you don’t bat an eye at spending $10 to $20 for a bottle of wine, which yields five servings, you’ll find elegant teas a more affordable luxury.
Read on to learn about our tea matches, the recipes and tips for making tea and food pairings.
Tina Danze is a Dallas freelance writer.
Paul Botamer, sommelier and wine director at Fearing’s at the Ritz-Carlton, 2121 McKinney Ave., Dallas, fearingsrestaurant.com
Brandon Friedman, co-owner, Rakkasan Tea Company, Dallas, rakkasantea.com
Sharon Hage, chef, restaurateur and consultant
Chad Houser, executive director, Cafe Momentum, 1510 Pacific St., Dallas, cafemomentum.org
Kyle Stewart, Certified Tea Specialist and co-owner, The Cultured Cup, 13731 Omega Road, Dallas, theculturedcup.com
James Tidwell, Certified Wine Educator, Master Sommelier and Certified Tea Specialist
Erin Booke, Taste editor
Tina Danze, freelance writer
Teas for Green Tomato-Melon Salad
The Great Mississippi Tea Company dedicated six years of research to growing and processing this award-winning Japanese-style green tea. “I call this a U.S. farm-to-table tea because of the care that goes into producing it,” Stewart said.
The tea leaves are handpicked and and the tea produced in small batches. Impressing the green-tea connoisseurs of the panel, the tea’s bright, vegetal notes brought out the green flavors in the salad, most notably the watercress and the cucumber peel. Botamer noticed that the tea also accented the mint in the salad. This mint highlight — which was by no means overbearing — added to the complexity of the dish, Tidwell said. Hage said her salad is tailor-made for a green-tea pairing.
“I chose vegetables that mimic the flavors of green tea in general,” she says. “And the acid-fat medium of the lime juice, oil and vinegar makes the marriage of the salad and the tea happen, allowing you to fully taste” all the flavors.
Mississippi Queen: Use 1 tablespoon per 8 ounces of water heated to 175 F. Steep 4 minutes. $10 for 1 ounce; $19 for 2 ounces, The Cultured Cup.
Made with both sencha tea leaves and their connecting stems, this tea has half the caffeine content of regular green tea because the stems are caffeine-free. Quality matters with kukicha teas, Stewart said. Inferior versions may include woody branches, which impart a bitter flavor.
Panelists found this to be an earthier, more vegetal green tea. “It has a classic Japanese green-tea profile,” which makes it an ideal match for the salad, Hage said. “It has a more viscous texture, herbal-floral notes and a fleshy fava bean flavor.”
Stewart cited this tea’s “mouth-filling brothiness,” and “fresh vegetal” quality. “The green flavors are deeper [than previous green tea], and it shows more umami richness,” he said.
Kukicha: Use 2 teaspoons tea per 8 ounces of water heated to 165 F. Steep 1 1/2 minutes. (Japanese green teas can be too astringent if brewed longer.) $9.50 for 1 ounce; $16.50 for 2 ounces, The Cultured Cup.
White teas are minimally processed and consequently very light in body. Their subtle flavor makes them a good match for green salads. This one is a “tippy” tea, meaning it is made with only the youngest, smallest and thinnest leaves as well as the unopened buds. The result is a more refined, fragrant tea with a smoother flavor. Hage found the tea to have a concentrated apricot jam flavor.
“The tea’s floral, jasmine-honey note brings out the sweetness in the salad,” Tidwell said. “It’s a fascinating interaction. The tea enhances the cucumber and honeydew flavors.”
White Sunrise: Use 1 to 2 teaspoons per 8 ounces of water heated to 180 F. Steep 3 to 5 minutes. $20 for 1.5 ounces, Rakkasan Tea Company.
This rare, wild-grown tea is different from other green teas because it’s fired and dried in a wood-fired cast-iron pan, rather than a drum oven. Friedman says this method results in a smoky aroma and earthy, woodsy notes, evoking the pine forest where the tea is grown. This was the “biggest” of the green teas we tried, showing more astringency and a pronounced smoky quality. Houser liked the tea’s fresh hay aroma. Although Hage thought the salad brought out the tea’s bitterness, Tidwell thought this was a very good pairing. “The tea highlights all the green notes in the salad, not just one element,” he said.
H’mong Kings Tea: Use 1 to 2 teaspoons per 8 ounces of water heated to 180 F. Steep 3 to 4 minutes. $12 for 1.5 ounces, Rakkasan Tea Company.