And Now, Tea Pairings

Wine pairings, beer pairings, what else is new? Make way for the new wave—tea pairings. Think I'm kidding? Two top chefs--Thomas Ciszak of Chakra in Paramus and Todd Villani of Terre a Terre in Carlstadt--are taking the idea very seriously.

Chris Cason of Tavalon, a South Hackensack-based tea company, is on a mission to create “a new American tea culture. We are out to make tea cool,” he says. “Tea is the number one beverage in the world, but number six in the U.S. We drink more beer than tea.”

On October 22nd, Cason will join forces with chefs Villani and Ciszak to prove just how well tea can enhance and amplify the pleasure of food. Cason will pair his teas with each course of a special five-course dinner. The menu for the dinner, being held at Terre à Terre, will include:

–cold-brewed Jasmine green tea mixed with peppermint, served cool as the amuse bouche.

–Cured duck pastrami with parsnips and Shibumi Farm mushrooms paired with a blend of Earl Grey and smoky lapsang souchong teas, served hot.

–Arctic char with carrots and peas paired with cold-brewed Chun Mee green tea enhanced with dried lemongrass

–Black Berkshire pork belly terrine, lavender cabbage, kaffir lime and apple paired with iced Pai Mutan Chinese white tea with peppermint and fresh Korean plums (in the hot steeping water, strained out before serving).

You may wonder, at this point, what the difference is between iced tea and cold-brewed tea. Iced tea is made with hot water. After it steeps sufficiently, it is chilled. Cold-brewed tea simply sits in cool water, usually for long periods of time, until the tea infuses the water. Heat never touches cold-brewed teas (or coffees).

–Elysian Fields Farm lamb chops, pumpkin and wheatberries paired with cold-brewed Royal Golden Yunnan black tea

–Peanut dacquoise, milk chocolate and sea salt paired with hot chamomile, lemongrass, peppermint, Rooibos and vanilla bean tea. "I mix the herbs together and let the vanilla beans permeate for about a week to infuse that rich vanilla flavor," Cason says.

Diners are welcome to bring their own alcoholic beverages, but much like a traditional wine tasting, Cason and the chefs have put a great deal of thought into determining what Villani calls the best “collaboration of flavors” for each course.

For example, “The duck," Villani says, "is fatty and buttery. [Cason] chose his [tea] spices to stand up to it, just like you would if it were wine.”

Cason says that blending Earl Grey and Lapsang Souchong produces a flavor profile "a little more tannic, more acidic, one that will really cut through and cleanse the palate of the fattiness of the duck. It’s all about balance. If my tea overpowers his dish, or if my tea isn’t strong enough for his dish, neither one is going to harmonize.”

The chefs and the tea sommelier envision the evening as a journey that will range from hot tea to a 24-hour chilled tea to a cold-brew in which “hot water never touches the leaves,” explains Cason. The tea leaves are added to cold water and allowed to steep for up to 36 hours. “It’s much more subtle.”

This technique will be applied to the combination of sweet floral jasmine tea and German peppermint tea that will start the meal.

Cason says he will soon release a bottled iced tea he calls “The Genius.” He plans to unveil it in the rich pork-belly course. It features the natural sweetness of Korean plums.

Cason, 35, author of A Guide to Tea, founded Tavalon in 2005 with partners John-Paul Lee and Sonny Caberwal. The trio found that both the ceremonious Asian tea traditions and “the English, put-your-pinky-in-the-air tea culture,” do not translate well in America.

“We started having urban tea parties in New York,” Cason says. “Instead of sticking with classic teas, we did our own take, creating new blends. Instead of English Breakfast, we have what we call New York City Breakfast, which is a blend of three teas from different countries. It’s a little malty, a little spicy and hearty at the same time.”

“We are creating teas for the American palate,” Cason adds. “That’s why our slogan is The Future of Tea.”

Tavalon teas can be purchased from local King’s Supermarkets or ordered online at

The price of the tea-pairing dinner is $79 per person. Reserve your seats at Terre a Terre.

You may wonder whether you will horrify the connoisseurs if you ask for milk or sugar with any of these teas. Here’s the answer:

"I advise people to try it in its natural state first," Cason says, "but simple syrup will be on the table if diners prefer a little sweetness. These teas are a bit subtle, so milk is not recommended because it coats the tongue and mutes all flavor."

Terre a Terre
312 Hackensack Street


SUZANNE ZIMMER LOWERY is a food writer, pastry chef and culinary instructor at a number of New Jersey cooking schools. Find out more about her at

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