Come a certain hour (five o’clock, anyone?) I bet most of us look forward to uncorking a bottle of our favorite wine and celebrating a productive day. But what about those pesky, early-morning hours? You know, when our palates are sharpest and can distinguish nuances of flavor that might be lost on us later in the day. After all, it’s the reason most official wine tastings occur before noon. Alas, when we sit before a row of wine glasses at a tasting, we know most of that wine will end up in the spit bucket, rather than in our bellies. <Sigh.>
So back to my initial question: what do we, as wine lovers, sip when we first arise in the morning? Odds are that most of us crave a strong cup of coffee, depending on the jolt it provides to jump-start our day. I once was a coffee-user, too, looking at it more as fuel for a pillar-to-post kind of day than a beverage I truly enjoyed. When I left the daily office grind to work from home, I called it quits with coffee, relying instead on the soothing, gentle wake-up nudge of tea.
As I experimented with different types (green, rooibos, black, herbal) and blends (Russian, French) I began to notice the parallels between tea, in all its forms, and wine. Fruit and herbs dominate the aromatics, with acidity and tannin playing important roles in the flavor perceptions. Balance is key. Production methods matter, too: as with wine, organic and sustainable growing procedures figure into any discussion of tea. Grape growers and tea cultivators also share many of the same challenges with respect to climate and weather. And there’s no denying that terroir matters for both wine and tea, as well.
What really intrigued me, as I developed my “tea palate” though, was the cross-over in aromas and flavors between tea and wine. In fact, becoming more familiar with naturally flavored tea has sharpened my ability to detect those same elements in wine. Here are a few of my favorite wine and tea match-ups:
Kusmi Tea Black Tea with Violets and Cabernet Franc
Cabernet Franc, famous the world over for its role in Bordeaux and the Loire Valley in France, as well as in California and Washington here in the United States, is renowned for its highly aromatic profile redolent of violets. While classified as a floral component, violet is a little earthier or dustier than other floral notes, and it took me a while to learn how to identify violet apart from the other aromatics in Cabernet Franc. If only I had started by tasting Kusmi Tea’s violet-infused elixir! One whiff gives up pure essence of violet – a sense memory that will trigger your brain the next time you swirl a glass of Cabernet Franc.
Dammann Frères Black Tea Sept Parfums and Viognier
I had the same reaction when I first smelled this tea as I did the first time I experienced Condrieu, a white wine based on the Viognier grape, from the Northern Rhône in France. Wow! Seven perfumes, indeed. A profusion of flowers jumps out of the glass. No surprise given the ingredients: apricot, fig, lotus, bergamot, and Brazilian pitanga. For me, Viognier gives off some of these same aromas, particularly apricot, sometimes even a hint of lotus. This elegant black tea blend from Dammann Frères will transport you to the sunny hillsides of southern France, just like a glass of Condrieu.
Granville Island Tea Company Black Tea with Blueberry and Cassis and Cabernet Sauvignon
A trip two years ago to Vancouver, British Columbia, introduced me to Granville Island Tea Company, a charming stop during a day of sight-seeing. With shelves stacked floor-to-ceiling with every imaginable sort of tea, this place has something for everyone. My selection that day was black tea with natural flavors of blueberry and cassis. The cassis (or black currant) notes brought to mind the elegant wines crafted from Cabernet Sauvignon. The blueberry aromas sent me to California, evoking memories of Zinfandel and Petite Sirah. Wine flavors for the early morning hours.
Kusmi Tea Bouquet des Fleurs and Riesling
If you enjoy the charms of Riesling as much as I do, then you look forward to the refreshing green fruit and citrus flavors that work with a wide range of dishes. This tea offers up the same pleasure: made from black tea infused with lemon, lime, orange blossom, and mandarin peel, it smells to me a lot like Riesling from the Mosel region of Germany.
Granville Island Tea Company Ice Wine Black Tea and Gewurztraminer
Ice wine is quite a popular product in Canada, made both in Ontario and the Okanagan Peninsula. Ripe grapes are left on the vine until cold temperatures cause them to freeze, making it easier to separate the water content of the grapes from the flavor components. With the ice removed, the natural grape flavors become more concentrated, leading to a highly fragrant and flavorful wine. This tea contains some actual essence of ice wine, bringing with it the sweet grape flavors you’d expect. You can actually taste those elements in the tea, too. It reminded me of the lovely aromas of Gewurztraminer, itself sometimes used to make ice wine. Give it a try if you’re a fan of late harvest wines in general or ice wine in particular.
The Breville One-Touch Tea Maker
No post on tea would be complete without a ringing endorsement for perhaps my favorite kitchen appliance ever invented: the Breville One-Touch Tea Maker. While I love drinking tea, I do have some frustrations related to its preparation. For one, keeping the pot warm enough is always a challenge. I can’t stand tepid tea and, until this machine came along, I drank far too much of it. Brewing tea at the appropriate temperature is also important, but difficult to do if you’re winging it. Ditto that on determining the exact amount of time your tea should brew, eliciting all the lovely flavors without over-extracting the tannins that make it bitter. Yes, the Breville machine does it all. Based on how much tea you want, what type it is, whether you want it strong or weak, the Breville will calculate and apply the settings to ensure the perfect pot of tea. The automatic brew basket lifts the tea leaves out of the pot after the designated brewing period, eliminating the bitterness problem. Oh, and it has a burner that stays on for an hour, keeping your tea nice and warm.
I have no relationship with Breville, although if they wanted me to, I would expound endlessly on the wonders of their many products. This one, though, is life-changing – if you’re a tea drinker, that is. Not easy on the wallet but, in my opinion, well worth the expense. I use mine at least once a day, meaning it has more than paid for itself by now.
So the next time you’re brewing a pot of tea (no doubt waiting for a more appropriate hour to indulge in that first glass of wine) let your imagination run a little wild and explore the possible cross-over between two beverages that, at first glance, may seem dissimilar. When you look a little deeper, perhaps you’ll see the fine, elegant threads that connect them.