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Understanding Tea Pairing: Corresponding vs Complementing

February 5, 2016

By Jovita Ang


CNY'16 Tea Guide


Prior to joining the Gryphon team, I’ve always been a creature of habit when it comes to tea drinking. A breakfast brew calls for an English Breakfast, a mid-afternoon pick me up means an uhm, iced English Breakfast, my dinner drink a strong Pu-erh while a before bed tea would be my soothing cup of Japanese green tea. 


I’ve walked into tea stores and met with friendly staffs who would very affably educate me on the different tea combinations and pairings. “Perhaps you could do a sencha or gyokuro with your butter pastries.” “Oh! An aged Pu-erh will be ideal to accompany your BBQ roast!” I walk home with the above three on hand, but with no real understanding of why these pairings work. They should all work well with everything, right…?


Not really. 


There are several reasons why certain teas work better with your roasted lamb, much like how red wines go better certain cuts of meat. But before I scare you away with all the tea terminologies and scientific breakdowns, today’s focus will be on understanding how you can go about attempting your own tea pairing. The first step would be to identify “Corresponding notes” versus “Complementing notes”. 


Corresponding Complementing

Bak Kwa


Bak Kwa is sweet and boasts strong caramel notes. A corresponding note will be something sweet and of caramel tones (no really, I’m not kidding). A complementing note with be something that helps cut through the sweetness. 


Peanut Cookies


Peanut cookies are buttery and nutty. A corresponding note will be something… you got it! Something buttery, silky, smooth, and nutty. A complementing note will be something light to help enhance the flavour. A brew that’s robust and dark will in turn overpower these peanut cookies, hindering its flavour from fully coming through.


Prawn Rolls


Prawns rolls are spicy and savoury. Overall a snack that’s heavy in flavour. A corresponding note will be one that’s spicy (herbal teas like lemongrass and ginger has a nice spicy kick to them) while a complementing note will be one that helps cut through the oil, or one that can balance out the spiciness. 


Kuih Bahulu


Kuih Bahulu are little cakes of buttery goodness. A corresponding note would be notes of smooth and creamy tones. A complementing note could be one that’s fruity, sweet and gentle (Japanese senchas and white tea). 


pineapple tarts


Pineapple tarts too sports a heavy butter fragrance. Apart from creamy and gentle tones, a fruity tone will also correspond because well, pineapple! A complementing note could be something roasty to balance out the buttery tones or one that’s floral to match the fruity flavour. 


love letters


Love letters are made using coconut milk and sugar so a corresponding note will see a note that boasts caramel tones and toasty nuances. A complementing note on the other hand, could be one that’s light, and something floral if you’re a fan of a coconut-floral combination. 


Yam Nian Gao


Nian Gao is rice flour sweetened with brown sugar. This one’s sandwiched between creamy yam and sweet potato, so a corresponding note will unsurprisingly, be of caramel tones and creamy silky nuances. A complementing note could see toasty or even fruity notes. Sweet potatoes paired with mangoes are heaven!

Kuih Lapis


Kuih Lapis sees layers after layers of buttery sugary perfection. For a heavy dessert like this one, we’d recommend pairing it with corresponding notes of robust and silky tones. Black teas are great! If you’d like something that can help balance out the sweetness, opt for a zesty Earl Grey or a caffeine-free Rooibos. 


There’s no right or wrong to tea pairing; it’s merely about understanding what works best. This list is not exhaustive. In fact, it merely just scraped the surface to the art of tea. But as founder of Gryphon Tea Company, Lim Tian Wee, once said, “There’s no right or wrong in tea drinking. The most important to me has always been to enjoy the whole process.” 


The Lunar New Year celebrations is a weekend away, be sure to have your tea brewing gears on standby! As your guests come knocking, have some fun of your own and recommend not just the usual English Breakfast. 


Photo credits to Citrus and Candy, Baking Equals Love, Feast to the World, Sea Salt with Food, Wendyinkk, Lisa’s Lemony Kitchen, Roti n Rice and Atkokken.

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