Thursday, August 31, 2017

Tea Pairing 101: Green Tea and Mochi

Tea, sweets, and art. Add in a dash of fashion, and I'm one happy gal. What do all of these things have in common? I'm excited to present the next Tea Pairing 101 collaboration with Jee and Georgia! In this pairing we combined a few of my favorite things into an afternoon of green tea and mochi magic. Read on below to see how to pair green tea with a variety of flavors.

You may remember from our first Tea Pairing 101 we choose 1 type of tea, three styles of that tea, and three variations on a snack to pair with it. Each tea is tasted and assessed using a tasting form we adapted from our ITEI tea school studies. In this case we chose three different green teas and prepared them in professional cupping sets. We used 3 grams of leaves (weighed with a scale for precision), the water temperature suggested on the package, steeped for 3 minutes. We assessed the teas and then tried the mochi. 

the mochi from left to right: black warabi, strawberry rose, fig pistachio
Speaking of mochi, have you had them before? They are pillowy-soft, sweet Japanese rice cakes and can be made in all sorts of flavors. They have a marshmallow-y texture on the outside, and a flavorful middle. We had three stunning mochi to choose from, provided by Mochi Rin.  I was bowled over with how stunningly beautiful and delicious they turned out to be. I was also taken aback by how each mochi was so different in flavor. We had three different types of mochi to work with- fresh fig and pistachio, strawberry with rose, and black warabi (adzuki bean paste with bracken skin dusted with cinnamon roasted soybean powder). 

So I mentioned the tea and sweets, but you may be wondering where the art and fashion come in. The three of us were lucky enough to do our pairings at the Blank Space Art Gallery which is inside the super chic Lie Sangbong store. To get to the gallery space you walk past all of the impeccably designed clothing to find yourself in a gallery tucked away, with beautiful natural light streaming in from an enormous skylight. Very similar to the experience of eating a mochi with a hidden surprise in the middle. It was so much fun to photograph our pairings among the artistic creations of Nemo Jantzen.


Tea Pairing Round 1: Sencha 
The first tea we prepared was Hosen Sencha provided by Ippodo. The dry leaves had a sweet aroma with a hint of cream. There was a bit of something savory that made me want to start chewing the leaves! It smelled very fresh, I could visualize vibrant blades of grass. The needle-like leaves were beautiful shades of jade green. The prepared tea made me immediately think of steamed asparagus. Vegetal but also full of umami with a hint of sweetness. The tea had a creaminess about it, and a nice body. Very refreshing and satisfying. After assessing the tea, we nibbled the mochi and decided which would pair best. I felt like Goldilocks, since the black warabi was too strong, the strawberry was too sweet, but the fig was just right! The fig and pistachio flavor was just sweet enough, but also earthy, which seemed bring out the brine and sweetness of the sencha. So delicious!

Long Jing

Tea Pairing Round 2: Long Jing
We all thought a Long Jing (Dragon Well) tea would be a nice contrast to the Sencha. This tea was provided by Teavivre. The dry leaves were sweet and slightly nutty. The leaves were flat and uniform in size and color. The prepared tea had a bit of that sweetness, some roast and something nutty, reminding me of roasted chestnuts. There was also a bit of astringency, which brought almond skins to mind. Overall a very comforting brew, quite different from the refreshing sencha. After a few slurps and nibbles of mochi, I had a hard time choosing the mochi to pair with it. The strawberry was again too sweet, but I found the cinnamon flavor in the black warabi paired nicely with the roasted notes in the tea. The earthy sweetness of the fig and pistachio was the true winner though-it felt like all the flavors were gliding gracefully together on my palate. An extremely pleasing pairing. 


Tea Pairing Round 3: Woojeon
Korean green teas don't get as much attention as Japanese or Chinese greens, but they really should. I've been enjoying quite a few Korean green teas lately, and they are extremely versatile. We chose to use a Woojeon provided by Tea Dealers. When I sniffed the dry leaves my nose was instantly met with fresh meadow grass and something a bit surprising- chocolate! The leaves are thin and wiry, and just as dramatic as their aroma. The steeped tea was reminiscent of the Long Jing in that it was quite nutty and roasty. The surprises continued as I wasn't getting much vegetal flavor at all. None of that meadow grass! Mostly nuts and roast, and a little bit of fruit. The pairing had a similar outcome to round 2 as well- the cinnamon from the black warabi worked very nicely with the roasted notes and slight bit of chocolate in the tea. The earthy yet vegetal adzuki bean also paired well with this tea. But the fig mochi won the day! The only note I made for the fig and woojeon pairing is 'Perfect!'. The sweet strawberry mochi was so pretty to look at, but it was too cloying for all three of the teas. But have no fear, I certainly didn't let it go to waste.

Left to right: Sencha, Long Jing, Woojeon

The Outcome- A Sweet Is Not Just A Sweet
For pairing the green teas, I was struck with how important the sweetness was in both the tea and the food. Since each green tea had a bit of sweetness, the sweet mochi further enhanced this flavor. It's important to note though that not all sweet flavors are created equal. The gentle sweetness of the fig paired much better than the intense sweetness of the strawberry mochi. I found this interesting because strawberries are often paired with Japanese green teas, but in this preparation it just wasn't the right fit. Sweetness also worked to highlight the contrasting flavors in the tea, whether it be savory, earthy, briny, or nutty. It's important to really get to know the teas, and keep an open mind as to what flavors will work well with them. There are plenty of books that give you a standard to work with, but with a bit of creative trial and error you may find yourself with a more interesting pairing. 

Epilogue: Trial and Error
I think we also learned that preparation is important. We need to do a bit of experimentation with the tea first. Not always is the professional cupping standard the way to go if you are tasting teas for pairings. In retrospect, we felt that we could've done 2 grams of tea, or steep it quicker, as the flavors were very strong. But we only had a limited amount of time in the space, so we had to stick with the 3 grams. For home use, I'd say try the tea as directed by the package, and then prepare the tea exactly the way you'd like to serve it. You'll need to know exactly how those flavors are coming through as you select the food to pair with.

Don't forget to find out what Jee (Oh, How Civilized) and Georgia (Notes on Tea) thought about the pairings. Visit their blogs to learn more! A big thank you to Lie Sangbong and Blank Space Art Gallery for providing such an inspiring space to work in. Thank you to Ippodo, Teavivre, and Tea Dealers for providing the teas! Keep an eye out for our next pairing...we've started brainstorming!



  1. Fantastic Green tea pairing 101! The mochi description inside and out is very beautiful. The Trial and Error approach is a must when it comes to tea and food pairing. You gotta try different tea brewing ways, different teas, different sweets to see which one is the ideal one. Nothing beats trying things on your own instead of just following some advise from a book. Lie Sangbong and Blank Space Art Gallery are indeed inspiring space to work in. Yummy Yummy Green tea Pairing 101. Can t wait for the next one.

  2. Hi Sara -- it seems people enjoyed my riff on your oolong pairing, so I thought I would work backwards and talk about your pairing experience with green tea and mochi cakes. The Facebook post will be going up this afternoon (Monday Nov. 6) at 5:06pm Eastern (
    Here's the link to the corresponding blog post:
    Thanks so much for your interest and support! -- you three are doing wonderful things for tea!

    1. How fantastic! Can't wait to read it! Thank you for your support and kind words. We will be working on our next pairing very soon!