I highly recommend pairing tea and cheese! They have a lot in common. Tea and cheese are affected by seasonality, terroir, and processing and aging. Some teas and cheeses are associated with Protected Designation of Origin. And, all teas and cheeses derive from a common base, Camellia sinensis and milk, respectively.
My first formal tea and cheese pairing was at In Pursuit of Tea, in the company's former pop-up shop on Crosby. That was in 2011. I experimented at home, inconsistently. Last year, Alexis of teaspoons & petals paired three teas and three Di Bruno Brothers' cheeses on The Alexis Show. Then a couple of weeks ago, June 4th to be exact, I attended a Bellocq Tea and Cheeses of Europe pairing at the French Cheese Board near Grand Central.
The tasting was panel was composed of Charles Duque, French Cheese Board founding managing director as well as Heidi Johannsen Stewart, Bellocq co-owner, and Bellocq tea expert, Ravi Kroesen. In preparation for the event, the panel first selected six cheeses then taste tested one to three teas per cheese before deciding on a final slate. The slate presented at the event is below, and note the tea runners-up in italics.
#1 White Peony + Raclette
(2nd) No. 13 Royal Golden Yunnan, (3rd) No. 17 Dragonwell
The Raclette was nutty and gamey while its tea partner was sweet with caramel notes.
#2 Kikuya (Sencha and rose blend) + Brillat Savarin
(2nd) No. 28 Mulberry Leaf
Although the aroma of the tea was rose-heavy, the cream and saltiness of the brie and the seaweed, grassy flavors of the Sencha dulled the rose notes of the tea when drunk. This was one of favorite pairings.
#3 Shui Xian Oolong + Comte Saint Antoine
(2nd) No. 74 Himalayan Rani Bhan Spring
This Wuyi oolong with roasted, mineral, honey, and floral notes plus the hefty, nutty raw cow's milk cheese created a thick mouthfeel.
#4 Gypsy Caravan black tea blend + Camembert
(2nd) No. 22 National Parks Dept.
The blend was bold and dry. The cheese was mushroomy. Together they tasted like mac and cheese with a lingering sweetness in the back of the throat. This pairing was very successful.
#5 Darjeeling 2nd Flush + Bleu d'Avergne
no runner up
This blue is less salty and robust than other types of blue cheese. Combined with the Darjeeling, you experienced layers of sweetness and saltiness. The muscatel flavors of the Darjeeling became more pronounced as the tea cooled.
#6 Golden Puerh + Epoisses Berthaut
(2nd) No. 61 Keemun Imperial Black Snail
Epoisses has a strong aroma; you might know it as a "stinky cheese." I think I'd like to try it with a Keemun. Cooked puerhs are one of my least favorite teas.
If you can source the teas and cheeses above, it is worthwhile to recreate the pairings, especially the first five. "Darjeelings are a failsafe; they go with everything," said Ravi Kroesen. Other teas that work well with cheese are gunpowder and genmeicha. If you want to experiment with herbal teas, consider cold brewing them to accentuate the delicate flavors. A final tip from Bellocq, use Poland Springs water to steep your teas.
The French Cheese Board has posted fuller descriptions of the teas and cheeses than I did here. Read Sara of Tea Happiness' take on the pairings.