While green tea has been used in a medicinal role since ancient times, in Japan it also has a long history that goes hand-in-hand with eating. Although of course Japanese tea is also good to drink on its own, in actual fact, it really delivers its true value when enjoyed together with food. One of the characteristics of green tea is that it can accentuate and emphasize the flavor of various dishes, and enable diners to thoroughly appreciate the “umami” (savory taste) of the food itself. As an added benefit, the catechin in the tea freshens the inside of the mouth, allowing diners to reset their taste buds before the next dish. As with wine, the active ingredient in green tea can be enjoyed through pairing with a variety of foods. Here, we introduce some of our recommended tea and food combinations.
Sencha × Fish dishes
The active ingredients that give sencha (green tea) its distinctive “umami” (savory) flavor are amino acids. These amino acids are actually the same amino acids found in fish, and can be considered in a similar way to white wine. In particular, sencha goes especially well with white fish, accentuating the umami flavor of the fish and allowing diners to enjoy the lingering aftertaste. Ideally, we recommend sencha made with cold or lukewarm water. The properties of amino acids in tea are such that they effuse more readily at lower temperatures. Although our typical image of tea is of it being brewed with hot water, tea made with warm water at lower temperatures is much sweeter, to the extent that it tastes as if it were made with completely different tea leaves. When the tea is combined with various dishes, it creates yet another new flavor inside the mouth, enabling you to enjoy both the food and the tea at a higher level. Of course, one can also enjoy tea made with hot water together with a meal for the different purpose of refreshing one’s taste buds.
Houjicha × Meat dishes
It is a well-known fact that red wine goes well with meat dishes. Actually, the reason for this is that, while meat dishes have strong elements of sweetness, saltiness and umami (savory taste) to their flavor, red wine has elements of bitterness and slight sourness. The combination of the two therefore creates a balance of the five basic human tastes—sweetness, sourness, bitterness, saltiness and umami—and enables us to feel that the combination is tasty, or delicious. In actual fact, houjicha (roasted green tea) is raised as an example of green tea that has the same kind of characteristics as red wine. houjicha—which is made by roasting Sencha—not only has a fragrant aroma, but also a subtle trace of bitterness produced by the tea leaves. When combined with the active ingredients in meat dishes, this produces the same flavor-enhancing effect as red wine. Why not try using tea to enjoy your favorite dishes in a different way from usual?
Genmaicha × Oil dishes
The distinctive characteristic of genmaicha (whole rice tea) is that it allows us to enjoy the aromas of both genmai (whole grain rice) and sencha (green tea). It is characterized by its refreshing flavor, which is not as strong or overpowering as other teas. Genmaicha is a good choice for resetting the palate, and also has the effect of washing down oil, and so is often drunk with oily foods. This prevents the inside of your mouth from feeling oily, and enables you to enjoy your next dish.