Thursday, February 21, 2019

A Lesson In Pairing Tea, Wine, and Food at Baccarat Hotel

I recently had the pleasure of attending an exquisite tea, wine, and food pairing event at the Baccarat Hotel in NYC. I picked up tips for pairing tea with champagne and food in the most beautiful room, while sipping on the most delicious tea, champagne, and food. Sounds like a dream, right? It was quite an evening.

This incredible event was created by Gabrielle Jammal, the incomparable tea sommelier at Baccarat. Over the past year she has been working tirelessly to create tea events in this luxurious yet intimate setting, to show guests the true magic of tea. So, on to the magic...

Walking in to the Baccarat hotel, I felt instantly transformed into a jet-setting debutante. Everything is dripping with crystal in a tasteful, elegant atmosphere. Ushered into a private room, I was handed a glass of champagne in a flute that cost more than all of my glassware put together. The evening's wine was exclusively champagnes provided by Rare Champagne, a company with a small, carefully crafted line of vintages to maintain a high standard of quality.

Cold brewed Mao Feng

While sipping the bubbly, I happily chatted with fellow tea-amigo Jee, and spotted In Pursuit of Tea's Ana and Sebastian who handed me a cold-brewed mao feng, the perfect way to refresh the palate and get ready for the meal ahead. The sweet and lightly nutty tea went well with a variety of passed hors d'oeuvres. 

The main task for In Pursuit of Tea was to pair their teas with the champagne, but also keeping the food in mind. Pairing tea and champagne may sound like pairing apples and oranges, but when you think about it, tea and wine have so many similarities it makes perfect sense. They share similar characteristics that influence flavor such as region, terroir, culture, processing, etc.

The table, decked out with Baccarat crystal

Pairing Tea, Champagne, And Food- The Courses
I knew we'd be in good hands with Ana and Sebastian, as they are experts at pairing food with their lovely teas. Speaking of the food, the preparation was overseen by Baccarat's new culinary director, Gabriel Kreuther. We all sat down to our first course of golden ossetra caviar, and quail egg buttermilk mousseline. This was a dish that was salty, briny, savory, and tangy. Brut Reserve champagne paired well with the caviar (when doesn't champagne pair with caviar??), but I was most impressed with the tea, a sencha Yabukita which had savory, sweet, and vegetal notes that paired really nicely. I was surprised at how well the sencha worked with the champagne.

In Pursuit of Tea's Sencha Yabukita

The second course was a diver scallop and black truffle tartar. I'm not usually a fan of scallops (especially raw), but adding in the truffles made this quite delicious. This was paired with the Cuvée Rare 2002 Champagne, and Temi Estate 1st flush tea. Made in Sikkim, the tea has similar characteristics to Darjeelings with a bit more spice and heft. I found the tea accentuated the grape and floral notes in the champagne, and the wine brought out slightly bitter notes in the tea. These flavors worked nicely with the dish.

Curry-Poached Lobster
This next course was my favorite pairing of the evening. Curry-poached lobster served with a Tsunami Daxue sheng puerh and Cuvée Rare 1999. The wine and tea were a surprising pairing. I found that they both had similar hay and slight earthy/leather notes, and they both highlighted the sweetness and minerality echoed in the lobster.

Rose and Shan Lin Xi

We were then served Australian lamb that was 'in a haystack', basically cooked with grasses and hay to impart an interesting grassy and slightly smoky flavor. The tea was Shan Lin Xi, and Cuvée Rare Rosé 2007 champagne. The little girl in me did a little squee at the pink champagne, but let me assure you this had grown-up flavors with notes of herbs and strawberries. I enjoyed the floral, buttery high mountain oolong paired with this champagne. I'm not a huge fan of lamb, so I couldn't appreciate the food pairing with this one.

mixed berry vacherin

We finished off the evening with a mixed berry vacherin- imagine the most decadent layers of meringue, ice cream, and sorbet. I couldn't believe how intense the flavors were. I've been to Gabriel Kreuther's namesake restaurant a few times, and I have to admit his desserts are my favorite thing on the menu. There weren't any beverage pairings with this last course, but the dessert was so flavorful that I didn't mind.

We were surrounded by champagne and crystal at every turn

Tips For Pairing Tea, Wine And Food
It may seem daunting to pair wine and tea together, but as I mentioned they have so much in common that it makes sense. Just as any food and tea pairing, wine and tea work similarly- you can pair similar flavors, contrasting flavors to make a more complex tasting experience, or work with certain notes in each, to see what gets enhanced. Rely heavily on your sense of smell as the aromatics are just as important as the flavors.

A tip about glassware- for champagne, we were told that flutes aren't really a great choice to use. They are narrow and don't allow the wine to breathe. Using larger wine glasses will really let you experience the aroma. I also adored how the tea looked in the Baccarat crystal. Heavier glassware works really nicely for tea, and of course thickly cut crystal is a nice touch, although most of us don't exactly have it lying around. Any thick glassware will do, and you can use more delicate wine glasses for lower temperature teas.

I am so grateful for such an informative, decadent evening. Thank you to Baccarat (especially Gabrielle) for this amazing event!

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