While wine consumption continues to increase around the world, it still lags behind another terroir-driven beverage: tea. The evergreen Camellia sinensis shrub spread from China across Asia and Africa, and is now cultivated in a variety of styles. From tropical, monsoon-drenched tea fields of northeast India to mountain peaks of central Taiwan, this little bush expresses time and place in every leaf.
Whether white, yellow, green, oolong or black, all tea originates from the same parent plant. The major difference in styles come from varying amounts of oxidization allowed in the leaves after harvest. Like with wine, teas will vary in the level of tannins and fruitiness, and many of the more oxidized teas take on malty or nutty flavors. If you want to try teatotaling, find the perfect leaves based on your favorite wine.
(teas pictured left to right)
Try Assam black tea if big, bold wines like Barossa Shiraz are your game. Grown in the tropical climate of northeastern India, this malty black tea is all about power. It has broad tannins with a dense core of cocoa nibs.
Like the honeyed, floral character of Alsace Pinot Gris? Try Bai Mu Dan, a sundried, minimally oxidized, white tea from China’s Fuijan and Jiangxi provinces that maintains an elegant balance of levity and intensity.
Consider Dragonwell (or Longjing) green tea if Etna Bianco is your go-to white. Gently pan-fired to halt oxidation, this Chinese tea carries aromas of sweet hay and white flower, along with an earthy, stony palate that echoes the Sicilian volcanic whites.
Take a break from food-friendly Finger Lakes Riesling, and pair your dinner with Tieguanyin oolong. Resounding notes of peach and apricot carry on the palate of this high-mountain Taiwanese tea. There’s also a juiciness and richness that makes it a perfect meal accompaniment.
If you collect Right Bank Bordeaux, try Shu Pu-erh. Often sold in cake form, this black tea is fermented and aged for at least one year. At that age, richness takes center stage. Matured a bit longer, the tea will display delicate floral and sweet earth tones.