It’s likely many of us have attended a dinner where wine or beer is paired alongside courses of food. But even those of us who drink tea regularly are less likely to have experienced a dinner where tea is the beverage pairing of choice.
Fortunately, that’s beginning to change. As interest in tea grows across the U.S., there are an increasing number of opportunities to experience the widely varying flavors that tea can bring to the table.
One of them is coming up on Monday, April 22 when Celesta, 1978 N. Farwell Ave., will host a collaborative dinner featuring four Japanese courses paired with four equally compelling Japanese green teas from Rishi Tea & Botanicals.
"For this dinner, we really wanted to take the opportunity to showcase dishes that are a bit more elevated," notes Melanie Manuel, chef and owner at Celesta. "All of the courses offer a nod to Japanese cuisine; but we’re taking liberties with some really unique flavors and aromatics that complement the teas."
Every tea has a story to tell
Just as wine or beer can be used to enhance a meal, the same is true for tea. The tea itself might serve to highlight a given flavor in the food. Alternatively, the combination of flavors in a dish might create a segue for tasting more subtle notes inherent to the tea. Under rare circumstances, a "third flavor" might even be created during a pairing, a nuanced note that only exist when the tea and food are consumed together.
To guide diners through the experience, Marino Baca and Maddie Packard, members of the sales team at Rishi Tea & Botanicals, will be present to talk briefly about each tea, offering diners a basic overview of the cultivar, the processing method and the flavor profile.
"We’ll also talk about brewing methods and temperatures," says Packard. "Since Japanese green teas are processed using use wet heat, they have a unique flavor profile in comparison to Chinese teas, which are processed with dry heat. It makes them a lot more delicate, so they’re brewed at a much lower temperature than other teas."
The experience will serve to highlight the diversity among Japanese green teas, potentially introducing diners to a new favorite or two.
"Each cultivar possesses its own unique flavor," he says. "And they can be very different from the everyday green tea that most people drink."
- Amuse bouche: cantaloupe sashimi, a delicate Japanese pancake made with almond flour and gyoza with peas and mint. Pairing: Genmaicha brewed hot in a Simple Brew teapot. Genmaicha is a blend of sencha green tea and roasted sticky rice. It has a toasty aroma and nutty flavor.
- Soup: A silky chilled soup with a miso tare will showcase fresh vegetables including cucumbers, radishes and carrots along with chili oil and grapefruit zest.
Pairing: Nishi-san’s gyokuro brewed hot in a traditional Japanese kyusu teapot. This tea is a micro-lot from Rishi's 2018 Garden Direct series. It has a complex flavor with notes of sweet pea balanced with kombu umami.
- Entree: Noodles served with a combination of vegetables, tofu and Asian pickles
Pairing: Houjicha cold brewed in a Simple Brew teapot. Houjicha is a green tea that's subjected to an additional roasting process giving it notes of chocolate and roasted barley.
- Dessert: Matcha mochi
Pairing: Whisked matcha shot using single cultivar, first flush saemidori matcha, a rich creamy tea with savory umami notes.
The dinner on April 22 includes four courses (all dishes are vegan and gluten-free) with tea pairings for $60 per person. Seatings available at both 5 and 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be purchased by calling Celesta at (414) 231-3030.
Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club.
When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.