A cup of tea sits on a leaf with a white background

Clooney, one of Auckland’s top restaurants, has started offering a tea match with its degustation menu – an alternative to the traditional wine match or the non-alcoholic juice match. Clooney offers an extensive tea menu, curated by tea master Anna Kydd, with each tea offering a different aroma, favour and sensory experience. Together with owner Tony Stewart and chef Nobu Lee, the teas were selected to accompany every dish on any menu or just to be enjoyed by their own. The list includes Formosa Bonita 27 from Taiwan, Black Pine Needle from China and Assam Dikom from India, as well as a range from Japan and New Zealand.

“I’m probably a little biased, but I believe it is as good, if not better [than a wine match],” Kydd said. “Tea has a very broad and complex flavour profile across the six different types of tea and this means there is so much choice when it comes to selecting a tea to pair with a dish. It’s not only about finding flavour notes in a tea that enhance or complement the flavours of the dish, it’s also about understanding the tea’s texture and mouthfeel.”

Temperature is also a factor. While wines are served within a temperature range of around 5°C, tea can be brewed hot, cold or served chilled.

“The heat from a hot tea can change the flavour of a dish – cheese for example – in a way that wine can’t, and that creates a different experience,” said Kydd. “You can play around with temperature.”

Cheryl Teo, founder of Flag and Spear Tea Hunters in Australia, has a similar approach.

“The first step is to get well acquainted with the tea I want to work with, noting down observations on the smell, taste and mouthfeel. I then select a key flavour and create ‘bridges’ to other flavours. For instance, a tea may have peach aromas, which could be paired with ingredients such as coconut, almonds, blueberries and honey. From here, it’s just a matter of tasting the tea with a selection of ingredients to determine which pairings work and which do not.”