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Drinks & Eats

Sweet Treats & Tea: Tips for a Pairing Party

Spring is the perfect time for a tea party.
Spring is the perfect time for a tea party.
Share your favorite pairings with friends.
Share your favorite pairings with friends.
Temperatures are rising and birds are chirping. It's an ideal time to enjoy an outdoor gathering with friends and loved ones. Planning a tea and dessert pairing party is a great way to engage one's creative side, and to discover how talented friends and family are at detecting the flavor profiles of a variety of teas. Plus, it is a great excuse to sample many tasty treats.

Traditionally, a full afternoon tea would be served on relaxing sofas around a coffee table with sweets as a break from the day to bring blood sugar and energy back up. Using this tradition as inspiration for a party can be a great way to catch up and share a tasting adventure together. Pairing the teas with certain pastries will allow for the discovery of hidden notes in favorite brews. Just like sampling wine, noticing the color, temperature, scent, and then taste of each tea will aid in the appreciation of the leaves.

Creating Invitations Get creative before the party even starts by designing invitations using leftover tea and tea leaves. One idea is to use 3-4 teaspoons of black tea as ink and draw on cardstock paper. Start by placing wet room-temperature tea leaves in a shallow bowl with about 3 ounces of cooled tea. Dip into the tea with a paintbrush to hand-stain the invitation details. All other methods require typing up the party details beforehand and printing on standard printer paper. After printing those invitations on selected paper, dab a clean paintbrush or sponge into a bowl of about 8 ounces of cooled brewed tea, and apply to the paper to coat. Hang dry and place the dry invitations under a stack of books to flatten the pages or use an iron on the steam setting.

To give the page a treasure map appearance, go a step further. Place the page on a cookie sheet, then pour a small amount of room temperature tea (slowly) over the invitations. Tilt the cookie sheet to evenly coat the pages. Let the tea soak into the pages for five minutes, then blot gently to collect any leftover liquid. After, place the invitations in the oven on a low temperature, and heat until the edges start to curl. Remove, let cool, and deliver to guests.

Preparing The Space Decide if preparing teapots or bags for each guest will serve the space best. Disposable, fillable tea bags will be more manageable than setting aside a strainer for each guest if there will be multiple teas to try. Be sure to have a teaspoon or scoop available if guests will be filling the tea bags themselves.

Another option is to prepare different teapots with different brewed teas, and have everyone sample the teas and pastries at different times.

Remember that temperature and brew-times make a big difference in the taste of a tea. Steeping a tea at a temperature too hot or a time too long can result in a bitter flavor. http://www.adagio.com/info/goal_perfect_cup.html

Organize the table so that each person has their own cup, saucer, plate, and note sheet to write about their favorite pairings. Providing the options of milk, sugar, and lemon are also acceptable and standard in classic tea gatherings. Sweets can be prepared in bite-sized portions placed around the table, or every guest can have their own plate with each pastry in front of them.

Guide to Pairing Whether you already have a few teas in mind or have desserts ready to go, the below list will help you finalize which teas and pastries to try together. Aim for three couplings from the below list, or go on and try all varieties if everyone is feeling adventurous.

 — Black: Black teas pair well with cheesecake, carrot cake, tiramisu, and other creamy pastries. If there is a distinct flavor profile in the black tea, choose a complimentary flavor or a dessert that resonates with the aroma of the tea. Darker blends tend to be rich in flavor, so pairing them with something equally decadent will likely go over well with guests.
 — Green: Choosing the best pastry to pair with green teas can be affected by the regional origins of the tea. White chocolate mousse will pair well with Japanese green teas such as matcha, sencha, and bancha. Green tea blends from China, such as gunpowder and jasmine, have their own personal characteristics. Gunpowder goes well with mint and sugar; try mint brownie bites or perhaps a grasshopper pie. Jasmine is much lighter in character, and pairs well with simple shortbread cookies. Remember that green tea is less oxidized than black teas, so choose pastries and sweets with more delicate flavors.
 — Oolong: Oolong tea pairs well with fruit and naturally sweet flavors. Ideal pairings could include peach cobblers, or chocolate cakes with rosewater icing. Try a strawberry kiwi tart, if you're feeling daring. Oolong's flavor can be compared to a midpoint between a black and green tea, so consider pairing with a range of flavors recommended for the above two teas as well.
 — Rooibos: The naturally sweet and caffeine-free red bush tea is a great match for citrus, nutty, and tropical flavors. Try pairing with lemon bars, macaroons, pistachio cake pops, peanut butter blondies, or a kick it up a notch with a vanilla bourbon pecan pie.
 — Pu-erh: Pu-erh teas are quite strong in flavor, and can aid in digestion, so consider serving last or at the end of a feast. Ideal pairings can include pastries containing spices and herbs.. Try sampling with a lavender lemon cookie, cake, or bar. If the group would appreciate something with a kick, opt for a chipotle chocolate confection.

Setting Up a Conversation About Teas: The main objective of a tea pairing party is to enjoy each other's company, engage in conversation, and (most of all) have fun! Encourage guests to discuss which flavors paired well together and what they would try again. Keep track of what everyone enjoyed about each coupling, what would they try again, and what they might do differently. If your first tea pairing party is a success, consider inviting your guests back for regular seasonal tea pairings.

Summer is coming, and what better time is there to discover what iced teas pair best with everyone's favorite savory snacks?