Tea and cake - the perfect pairing

Simon Buckingham -
Tea and cake - the perfect pairing

As Anita has been developing the new cakes over the last few months it’s been a back and forth of tweaking bits and bobs here and there. What I’m trying to say to you loyal readers is that I’ve eaten a lot of cake, and I’m not sorry, they’re great. I’m looking forward to seeing what you make of them. Now they’re ready to be released it falls to me to pair the cake with teas. We have 20 loose leaf teas (supplied by our friends at Canton Tea Company) on our menu, which can be overwhelming, we’ve taken the opportunity to pair the perfect tea to each cake.

Although our eyes, ears, mouth, nose, skin & tongue all receive stimulus separately the information they coalesces in the brain. We don’t just experience food as taste; the aroma, appearance and texture of what we consume have an impact on our perception.

When I’m pairing food to drink I try to think what drink would complement or contrast said dish. This is common practice in wine, having been capitalised on since the eighties, white wines with fish, red wine with red meat. When you’re looking to pair drinks to food do you want to accentuate elements within the combination or contrast them? For example, if you’ve ever tried strawberries with balsamic vinegar. It brings something new out of each of them. With cake we’ve got a slightly easier job, a general rule of thumb is to pair sweet food with sweeter drink. If you want to start pairing try to consider the following:

  • Body – If you’ve got food light in texture, say a Victoria sponge, I would go for a delicate tea as they won’t stomp all over each other. Likewise a bold dish would require something strong willed to stand up to it, like a Malbec with steak.
  • Brightness / Acidity – This can be a tactile response to what you’re eating or drinking, as well as flavour. If you’ve got something tonally one noted (a brownie for instance) then something acidic can bite through that flavour, bringing another dimension. Brightness can bring a light touch.
  • Bitterness – Tannins in tea bring bitterness, (another word used for this can be astringency) which can play into body. The more robust something is, the more likely the bitterness. If we’re contrasting flavour we would use a big, bold, black tea to balance flavour.
  • Sweetness – Sweetness in savoury food is more common than it might at first appear, carrots, onions & courgettes help bring balance to dishes. In terms of pairing with cake we don’t want to go for anything too bitter (say a robust green tea), more something that will balance and become like an ingredient in the cake as well.

Of course, our suggestions for pairings aren’t set in stone, you can enjoy cake with whatever you want. That’s the wonderful thing about taste, it’s personal and subjective, often times our perception of flavour is tied in to our own personal histories, stories which are evoked by flavour, aroma and combinations.

So here are our suggested pairings for some of our cakes:

The Ambassador with Chocolate Tea : First featured in our Guest Tea range, we liked this one so much we brought it into the main menu. This tea has body brought to it from a Yunnan tea base, subtle plummy flavours that hum underneath the Madagascan vanilla. The vanilla is a beautiful rich flavour, that brings body and lightness at the same time, coupled with the Peruvian cocoa nibs they combine into a tea big in flavour but low in bitterness. So what cake better to pair this with than The Ambassador? A hazelnut meringue, Nutella mascarpone cream and this pleasingly sweet tea with bags of character makes for a treat that won’t leave you feeling over-loaded.

Coffee, Walnut & Cardamom with Ginger, Rose & Cardamom : Anita’s team have done wonders here, making a coffee and walnut sponge cake which is delicious, with the added bonus of being vegan. It has something in common with a traditional Turkish coffee by incorporating cardamom. We’ve chosen the Ginger, Rose & Cardamom (AKA Karma) infusion to go with this, a wonderfully nuanced tea who’s flavours hit you in tiers. Ginger, fennel seeds, whole cardamom pods, liquorice root, rose petals and vanilla blend have been craftily concocted inspired by Indian herbal medicine.

Lemon Curd Cheesecake with Chamomile Tea: Cards on the table, I love lemon curd, and when you combine with a cheesecake, jeepers, I’m in. It’s a sweet, rich cake with loads of creamy body, cut through with lemon curd. It response to these flavours a one note, big flavoured floral number is in order. Our chamomile tea is sourced by Jekka McVickar, the U.K.’s premier herbalist. Have a look in the pot and see the beautiful flower heads, which when brewed have a rich, apple-fragrant liquor.

Raspberry Cheesecake with Gunpowder Green Tea: Our Gunpowder green tea is a great example of astringency at work, the dryness left on the tongue will cleanse the creamy flavour of the cheesecake and will dovetail nicely with the sharpness of the raspberry. The Gunpowder is robust as far as green teas go and will stand up to this rich, unctuous afternoon delight.

Malt Loaf with Earl Grey: A classic combo here, this sponge has malty body cut through with dried cranberry and sultana. Malt has a broad profile, sitting in between sweet and savoury. If we wanted to compliment we’d pair with our Assam tea, but we feel a citrusy tea such as our Earl Grey has the big body from the black tea base contrasting a lightness from the bergamot. As always I would recommend this tea black, the milk can wash out the nuances of flavour.

Coconut & Lime with Mi Lan Dan Cong, Oolong: The Oolong we have on offer is one of my favourite ever teas, the delicately processed leaves give you a sweet profile reminiscent of lychee or peach. The Coconut & Lime cake is a big old wodge of zingyness, the sponge is drenched in lime and coconut syrup and then swaddled in a blanket of coconut covered frosting. The combination is evocative of tropical, exotic climes.

Date and Walnut flapjack with Lapsang Souchong: This oat based flapjack has a strong, nutty quality, with a sweet undercurrent provided by the date syrup running through its centre. As it’s not overly saccharine we’ve gone for a slightly more savoury, robust bodied tea. The pine-smoked teas leaves provide a tea which is unequivocally reminiscent of autumn walks. A comforting combination.

As I say, these are only our suggestions, so if you have a preferred combination, do let us know!