The Science of Tea with Modernist Cuisine

By Daniel Gritzer Posted June 24, 2013

Photo. Jason Bahr/Getty Images for Pure leaf.

Heading to a lunch this past weekend at the Food & Wine Classic in Aspen that focused on the art of pairing tea with food, I never imagined we’d end up talking about baking soda, pressure cookers and sulfur. But that’s what happens when the expert panel includes Chopped host Ted Allen, food-science geek Scott Heimendinger of Modernist Cuisine, and tea master John Cheetham. Hosted by Pure Leaf Iced Tea at the St. Regis hotel, the lunch took a scientific look at why tea can be a great match for food. Along the way, the panel revealed some interesting—and unexpected—tea-related insights. Here are a few of my favorites:

· A trick for making sweet tea taste even sweeter: add a pinch of baking soda. There are two explanations for this. First, because baking soda is alkaline, it reduces the tea’s natural tartness, which in turn enhances its sweetness. Second, some research suggests that baking soda reduces the effect of the tea’s natural tannins, making the drink less astringent.

· For a more flavorful cup of tea, consider borrowing a pressure cooker principle by brewing the tea with a plate set over the cup. Not only will the plate trap the heat inside the mug, leading to better flavor extraction, but it will also trap the volatile aromatics that would otherwise escape into the air, leading to a more flavorful cup (similar to how chicken stock is more flavorful when made in the closed environment of a pressure cooker).

· Asparagus is notorious for being difficult to pair with wine, thanks to plenty of sulfur compounds and bitterness in the vegetable. A lightly sweetened tea, however, is able to tame some of those funky flavors while cutting through the vegetable’s natural bitterness and astringency.

Related: Asparagus Recipes

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