Playing with flavor combinations is one of our favorite things to do with cheese, and that includes nonalcoholic cheese pairings. Alcohol-free drinks like tea, drinking chocolate, and kombucha offer just as many exciting pairing possibilities as their boozy counterparts. Even better, they’re accessible to everyone and always hangover-free.
Whether you’re looking to expand your knowledge of zero-proof cheese pairings or trying Dry January for the first time, tea and cheese pairings are a great place to get started. Here are some useful tips for pairing cheese with black tea, green tea, herbal tea, and more.
When Pairing Cheese and Tea, Match Intensities
As with drinks like wine or beer, a good rule of thumb with nonalcoholic cheese pairings like tea is to match intensity levels. While this tip is specifically about flavor, color can clue us into intensity.
For example, sweet, refreshing white tea is very mild in flavor, making it appropriate for cheeses with similar intensity and sensory notes: fresh cheeses like chèvre, ricotta, or fromage blanc; firmer mountain cheeses like Gruyère and Pleasant Ridge Reserve; and subtle tomme-style cheeses like Manchego.
On the other end of the spectrum, tannin-rich black tea packs the deepest, boldest flavor, meaning it can stand up to a more densely flavored cheese like caramel-y aged Gouda or a mild, creamy blue cheese like Chicory from Tulip Tree Creamery.
Don’t Forget Texture and Mouthfeel
Another way to achieve a compelling, balanced nonalcoholic cheese pairing is to consider texture. Tea might not have the carbonation in alcoholic drinks like beer or sparkling wine, but many varieties offer mouth-drying tannins that should be considered when pairing.
For example, a rich, creamy cheese like Petite Camembert may have a comparatively mild flavor profile, but that lush texture makes it a great foil for tannin-rich black tea. Conversely, herbal tea blends with bright, tart elements like hibiscus complement mild, creamy cheeses with their acidity.
Pair Cheeses and Teas With Similar Tasting Notes to Heighten Flavor
Here’s where tasting notes—or prior experience with a tea or cheese—can be really helpful. You’ve probably heard cheese described as “grassy”—evoking a fresh meadow with its aroma or flavor. Green teas like sencha can also offer a light, grassy flavor. Pairing the two together can take that tasting note to the next level.
The same goes for the malty, baked-cracker notes in some aged cheeses. Bring out those roasty-toasty flavors and aromas with a cheese like genmaicha, a green variety blended with bits of roasted rice.
This guideline is especially helpful when pairing more pungent cheeses with nonalcoholic drinks like tea. Match a funky washed-rind cheese like Consider Bardwell’s Dorset Mini or Marin French Cheese’s Golden Gate with fermented pu-erh tea. Its earthy, smoky, or animal notes will bring out similar flavors in the cheese. Long-aged pu-erh can also make an excellent pairing with long-maturing cheeses like aged Gouda.
Experiment With Herbal Teas to Find the Best Cheese Pairings
While we commonly call any hot infusion of dried leaves “tea,” the term is technically reserved for the leaves of the tea plant, Camellia sinensis, from which black, green, and white tea are made.
Herbal teas, also called tisanes, can be made from a wide variety of edible and medicinal plants, including fresh or dried roots, seeds, leaves, bark, and flowers. Because each herbal tea blend is unique, it helps to start by tasting the tea first, then finding a likely cheese to pair with it.
If you’re lucky to get your hands on fresh stinging nettles in springtime, look for lightly aged soft goat cheeses to bring out the plant’s delicate vegetal flavors. Herbal tea blends that include dried fruit or berries can offer fruity notes and acidic qualities that complement fresh, bloomy, or aged cheeses just as those fruits would on a cheese board.
Sweet, vanilla-scented red rooibos can complement the sweetness of milky, fresh cheeses and bloomy rinds or balance out the saltiness of a mild, creamy blue cheese. And herbal teas made with dried flowers or flower petals can bring out the floral aromas of cheeses with those tasting notes (or cheeses made with flowers).
As you explore, keep the guidelines mentioned above in mind: pair teas and cheeses with similar intensities, look for shared tasting notes and sensory descriptors, and consider texture and mouthfeel.
Have you tried pairing cheese and tea? What are some of your favorite combinations? Tag us @cheesegrotto on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and let us know!