Tea pairing menus at fine-dining restaurants are lending a new dimension to the appreciation of this age-old beverage.
At Esora, tea is served in modern stemware instead of traditional porcelain cups.
Degustation dinners paired with libations are often decadent affairs that leave one heady from long ﬂights of wine, and a little groggy-headed the day after. But not at Esora. The ﬁne-dining Japanese restaurant that opened last August offers not just a wine pairing menu, but also one where every course is matched with tea.
Chef-owner Shigeru Koizumi goes to great lengths to deliver a tea programme with a difference. Only the best teas of the season are sourced – just as a chef sources prime seasonal ingredients for his menu. “The teas are sourced through my personal relationships with suppliers, who have direct connections with tea plantation owners and farmers. While most establishments either source their leaves from commercial suppliers or have external producers curate their tea list, I wanted to ensure the quality and consistency of the teas from farm to cup,” says Koizumi.
The prized leaves are blended in small batches daily and the brews are strained into clear bottles to showcase the different hues. They are served either cold or warm, depending on the character of the tea leaves and dish. For example, a blend of iribancha (smoky green tea), hojicha (roasted green tea) and cinnamon is brewed at 60 deg C to bring out its smoky ﬂavours that complement a rich dish of omi wagyu.
Modern stemware rather than cups are used. Think a champagne ﬂute for the tohou bijin oolong blend – “the narrow rim focuses the ﬂoral aroma of hibiscus and plum to the nose”, explains Koizumi. “A chardonnay glass could be used for the extremely aromatic kinsen oolong tea, where the larger bowl allows for air to enter and coax the creamy notes.”
While cold brewed teas are well served by the glassware, the thin walls of the vessels are unable to retain heat from the warm teas as effectively as traditional porcelain tea vessels. In this instance, aesthetic form appears to trump function.
Given that tea, like wine, is a seasonal product of terroir and climate, and equally nuanced in taste and with a ﬂavour spectrum suited for pairing with a variety of dishes – it works as a natural accompaniment to food. In Singapore, French ﬁnedining restaurant Beni also has a tea pairing menu featuring luxe brews. Elsewhere, Michelin-star establishments such as Atera in New York and Club Gascon and Fera At Claridge’s in London have also been serving up tea pairing menus for the last few years.
Indeed, tea pairing is not completely new. Singaporean tea entrepreneur and founder of Gryphon Tea Lim Tian Wee shares that he has been designing tea programmes and training tea sommeliers for F&B outﬁts for the last decade, though tea pairing meals as a regular offering is a recent development. “Diners today seem to lean towards lighter tastes. The beneﬁts that come with drinking tea also appeal to the health-conscious,” says Lim.
Highlighting the similarities between wine and tea tastings, he thinks it is not unfathomable for someone who enjoys wine with his meals to also appreciate how teas can augment the dining experience. “I have had attendees of tea pairing meals tell me that they didn’t think it was possible to go through dinner without wine, and yet found the experience thoroughly refreshing,” he says.