Jeff Ruiz of NYC's Altera has found many similarities between the aromas and flavors in wine and tea. Here, his tips for selecting tea based on your taste in wine, plus three great tea gifts.
Ruiz calls tea “the everyman beverage.” “It’s the second-most-consumed drink in the world behind water,” he says. For the past three years, he’s been running the tea program at New York City’s Atera. The $65 tea progression, served with the restaurant’s tasting menu, involves 24 different brews, including herbal teas made from lemon balm or anise hyssop, which Ruiz clips straight off the plants. All are prepared tableside, with various methods and vessels.
THE TEA-WINE CONTINUUM
TEA: A Pinglin bao zhong, from northern Taiwan, has delicate floral aromas and a brioche-y quality, notes also found in Champagne. $8 for .8 oz. camellia-sinensis.com.
CRISP, LIGHT WHITE
TEA: A silver needle or white tea, like bai mu dan wang, has a fresh kick of apricot and peach flavors that matches the brightness of the wine. $10 for 1.8 oz. camellia-sinensis.com.
TEA: A shaded Japanese green tea, like ayame kabuse, can be as polarizing as oaky Chardonnay; they share a rich, buttery note. $27 for 3.5 oz. kettl.co.
LIGHT, FRAGRANT RED
TEA: An earthy oolong, like the Taiwanese Oriental Beauty, has floral notes that remind Ruiz of a delicate red wine, like Pinot Noir. $18 for 1.8 oz. te-nyc.com.
TEA: A Darjeeling 2nd Flush black tea from India’s Namring Upper Estate has a perfect balance of deep fruit, tannin and spice notes, just like a big red wine. $29 for 4 oz. inpursuitoftea.com.
A pot for Chinese or Taiwanese Tea
Ruiz uses a gaiwan, a lidded cup, to brew large-leaf Chinese and Taiwanese teas: “Gaiwans capture the bouquet so effectively. When you take off the domed lid, you’re able to experience that whole range of aromas.” He likes the blue- and-white antique gaiwans from Tea Urchin in Shanghai. From $55; teaurchin.com.
Japanese Green Tea Pot
The lidless black Kuro Kyusu pot is easy to brew with and wash. “The frequency with which people use their teapot is directly related to how easy it is to clean,” Ruiz says. $47; kettl.co.
Ruiz says tea is best served in a very small cup with a flared rim, which amplifies the aromas and cools the top layer of liquid quickly. The petite, austere Camellia Sinensis Pure White cups from Taiwan are his favorite all-purpose, everyday teacups. Two for $12; camellia-sinensis.com.