Saturday, April 14, 2012

Tea Tasting/Pairing at the Marmalade Pantry with Dr Leslie Tay.

After water, tea is the most widely drunk beverage in the entire world - more than 5 million tonnes of the dried leaves are produced annually. It's good for you, too - it's chock full of antioxidants, flavanols, flavonoids, and polyphenols. So when Dr. Leslie Tay of ieatishootipost organized a high tea tasting / pairing over at The Marmalade Pantry, the darling and I jumped at the opportunity to learn more about this leaf!

The afternoon was structured like how a wine-tasting/pairing session would be like - four different teas, paired with four different food portions, designed to complement and bring out the flavors in each other. We're concentrating today on Dilmah's Watte Single Region Teas, which are the same tea plant grown in four different altitudes/climates.

The darling and I know nothing about tea, so it's great that Dr. Leslie is on hand with his projector to moderate and guide us through the pairing session. Different teas have different strengths and character, and generally speaking a light tea would go well with a light tasting meal, whereas heavy, sweet desserts would need a heavier-tasting tea to wash it down with. We're also supposed to look out for three 'categories' - taste, texture, and components (how well the tea and the food complement each other).

We also were lucky to have Dilhan, son of Dilmah Founder Merrill Fernando, who took the microphone quite a number of times during the session to impart some of his tea knowledge! We learn that how 'strong' a tea is depends a lot on the sunshine, temperature and humidity that the plant is exposed to - which is why the different Watte teas taste so much different despite being the same plant grown in the same region.

We start off with plants growing at 5,500-6,500 feet (above sea level) with the Ran Watte. It is a very light tea, slightly dry, with a slight hint of herbal/floral sweetness.

It's paired with Citrus cured salmon with tea smoked cream cheese on brown toast, and we're surprised that the tea did enhance and bring out the flavors!

Moving down the hills, we proceed to the Uda Watte (5000ft). At these elevations the richer soil and more exposure to sunlight result in a stronger, earthier taste, and is more suitable than the Ran Watte for adding milk. This was paired with Pork belly pot stickers with XO sauce - this was my favorite nibble of the day.

Incidentally speaking, the ideal way to have your milk tea is to add the tea to the milk, instead of the other way around. This apparently allows the milk to gradually warm up, and prevents the breaking down of the milk proteins.

Next up, we pair Cocoa ribs with garlic confit and steamed buns with the 3000ft Meda Watte. This tea is even stronger, being probably a little stronger-bodied than the "everyday" tea bags that we brew. The darling makes a remark that the taste is quite similar to the Chinese Pu Erh tea.

The final pairing is the Oyster po boys with celeriac slaw, broiche buns, with the sea-level Yatta Watte. We've been having our teas sans any sugar or milk to fully enjoy and appreciate the differences of each tea, but this cup is too earthy and strong for me.

As a special 'bonus' tasting, we also get to sample Dilmah's very luxurious Uva Highlands Seasonal Flush (2011). The abridged version of what makes this tea so special is that the winds, weather, sunshine and rains came together perfectly in this region. On 9th August 2011, only 500kg in total of tea leaves were harvested. We thought that this tea was the best of the five we had today - very flavorful without much bitterness from the tannins. Had a wonderful aroma, too!

Each of us got to go home with a goody bag of some of Dilmah's more mainstream offerings :P

While we're in no way tea connoisseurs, I think that the session has managed to up our appreciation of the beverage quite a few notches. At the very least, we now know that there are quite a few varieties of black tea that can be comfortably slurped without sugar and milk overpowering all the aromas and rich textures!

Thanks to Dr Leslie for organizing the event and being and awesome host, and the Marmalade Pantry at the Stables for the lovely nibbles. Totally worth the $30 that we paid.


  1. Really happy to read that the right way to make tea is to add tea to milk because that's how I do it! Not because it's right, but because that's a habit i picked up in Uni. No need stir the tea with a teaspoon mah. Less to wash;) LOL

    nice write up. Learned a thing or two, about tea.

    1. Ha ha, doing it the right way by co-incidence, eh? :D ... I doubt the vast majority of us normal folk would be able to taste any difference between either method, though!