Better Together

By Cuisine6 Minutes
August 17, 2018By Cuisine
Venison tartar, chocolate blood, salted blueberries matched with Sheng Puerh tea

As Clooney introduces new head chef, Nobu Lee, diners are in for an intriguing concept: seven-course degustation menus matching food with carefully curated teas, juices or wines. Anna Kydd, who worked closely with owner Tony Stewart, Nobu Lee, sommelier Benjamin Astair and restaurant manager Anita Su to select each tea pairing, says, “Due to the complexity of the flavour profile, tea lends itself wonderfully to food pairing. If you can match wine with it, you can match tea.

“It’s an amazing world of tea, and most New Zealanders don’t know about it.” As a certified Tea Master, she is well placed to help guide drinkers.

There are six categories of tea, all of which come from the same camellia sinesis leaf, but which differ mainly in the degree of oxidation and the way in which the leaves are treated once they are plucked: white tea is plucked and dried with no oxidation, making it delicate and subtle; green tea can be pan-dried or steamed and has a savoury, nutty flavour; for rare yellow tea the leaves are wrapped in special cloth, gently oxidising them to create a more aromatic and mellow tea; semi-oxidised Oolong can be floral and creamy or roasty and fruity; fully oxidised black tea has malty or even chocolatey flavours; dark tea is fermented, not oxidised, which gives earthy, musky tones, with some dark tea aged for up to 50 years. Anna explains that tea shares many of the same flavour profiles as wine and that, just like wine, flavours are affected by terroir.

To select a tea to accompany each degustation dish, Anna studied the intensity and the flavours of each dish, and considered teas that had similar flavours, complementary flavours or contrasting flavours. Mouthfeel must also be factored in – whether the tea is full-bodied on the palate, or light and fresh.

A delicate dish of langoustine, leek and lady-finger banana foam is served alongside a Darjeeling First Flush, which is floral and aromatic with a gentle astringency. The big flavours of slowcooked Te Mana lamb with kumara and hay need a more assertive Assam Dikom, the strong, malty flavours of the tea working well with the richness of the dish. “The astringency of Assam tea cleanses the palate between each mouthful, and the lamb enhances the taste of the tea, too,” says Anna. “With a good tea and food pairing both elements enhance each other.”

Each tea is freshly brewed and is poured as the dish comes to the table, and to ensure the Clooney experience is superlative, Anna conducted a masterclass with Anita and her team to coach them in the correct leaf-to-water ratio, temperature, steep time and the right teaware in which to serve the tea.

Anna was excited to include a New Zealand tea, too. Zealong Black, grown in the Waikato, accompanied Clooney’s cheese course. “It’s a black tea with a unique flavour, like cape gooseberries. The quality is comparable with the best.”

For so many of us, drinking tea involves slinging a teabag into a mug and gulping it down. But just like really appreciating a glass of wine, taking time to prepare and taste tea properly reveals more complex flavours.

Anna recommends using a teapot or glass with an infuser so that you can steep the leaves for just the right time and remove them before they get bitter. Then measure out the leaves – about 1 heaped teaspoon to 150ml of water.

Smell is crucial to appreciating the flavour: smell the dried leaves, swirl the liquid around the cup then smell the freshly brewed liquor, smell the aroma of the wet leaves in the pot.

Then sip your tea. Take a sip while breathing in to get the taste buds on your tongue working then, holding the liquor in your mouth, breathe out to draw the scent up to your olfactory gland, where the aromas are processed.

To introduce New Zealanders to top-quality tea, and to teach us how best to enjoy the distinct flavours, Anna has launched a monthly tea subscription service. Carefully selected artisan tea is delivered every month along with tasting notes to encourage drinkers to experiment and learn about different flavours.