Saturday, December 30, 2017


[Note: this post is an edited repeat of a Pairteas Facebook post from the past—hope you enjoy it, and hope you and yours experience fulfillment and happiness throughout 2018 and beyond!]

...Of course tea is not exactly champagne! 
But for those of us who, like me, can't tolerate alcohol and are thus tea-totalers, is there a tasty tea-based alternative?

Think I may have found it—try it and let me know what you think!

• Started with the question: what is the flavor profile of champagne? According to, champagne has flavors of citrus fruits, white peach, white cherry, almond, and toast (yeasty).
• In addition it has (of course) alcohol, which comes across on the palate as "acid" and, depending on your genetics, "bitter." How to get a similar profile? 
• Amazingly, you can get there by using white tea: white tea actually has a number of chemicals with peach, cherry, almond, and bready flavors, the latter thanks to its long withering. In addition, it has about half the catechins of green tea, so is decidedly less bitter, though some bitterness can be present.
• Next, we need the carbonation. At first was thinking about getting a sparkling alcohol-free apple cider—there are a couple of chemicals in white tea with an apple-like flavor—but champagne isn't apple-y to me, so I nixed that idea. 
• Instead I took myself to our local gourmet store to find a fizzy drink that wouldn't be too sweet, and found Juniper Berry DRY. To find out more about this exquisite sparkling soda, which you can get on Amazon, go to: Juniper has some of the chemicals such as alpha-terpineol and cedrol, that match chemicals in the white tea and activate the cool/cold receptors (think of the coolness of walking through a pine forest). While champagne appears not to have these particular compounds, it does have compounds that activate the cool/cold receptors. • Remembering that champagne also has a peach aspect, and that I wanted to cut the sweetness of the soda and the tea and add a tiny bit of bitterness, I also got some Fee Brothers peach bitters (

Here's the recipe:
• Bring 18 oz (half liter) of water to 170ºF (I checked with a food thermometer, but you can guess the temp because tiny bubbles start to appear, at least at my altitude which is 1700 ft). Add the water to 8 grams of white tea (I used a Bai Mu Dan), brew for 60 seconds, and remove the leaves.* This yields a rather dark tea (see photo below), but it will soon be diluted!

• Either let the tea cool down or be sure to put a metal spoon in your glass, then pour equal amounts of tea (first) and sparkling soda (second).
• For each 4 ounces of the tea/soda combo, add two dashes of peach bitters (or more, to taste). 

The picture below shows the result. 
Sorry it's not in a champagne glass—when I tool the picture I was in down-sizing mode, and couldn't reach my supply! Note that the tea soaked up some two ounces of the starting water!

Oh, and the bubbles don't show up in the picture, but the tiny bubbles are there...

=>> While you can still taste the tea very gently, the overall flavor and aftertaste is remarkably like champagne, and it feels so very festive!!! 

Enjoy! and my very best wishes for a joy-filled 2018!

* This short brewing time and low temperature means that fewer catechins enter the brew. Should note that Friend of Pairteas Kristin van Eetvelt brews her white tea at around 170º F as well, but lets the steep last 15 minutes or so as the tea cools. Haven't tried this method with this "champagne" recipe, but the result with a silver needle white tea (no additions) was deliciously comforting on the cold snowy night when we shared the tea.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Kombucha Alcohol Content?

Have been interested in understanding the appeal of kombucha, so have been reading about its properties. 

One characteristic is the presence of yeast (Saccharomyces sp.) in the fermentation mix. Yeast transforms the sugar that's added to the tea into ethanol and acetic acid (vinegar). 

So an important question is: how much ethanol is present in the drink? 

A study published this month detailed the ethanol content of several commercial kombucha drinks, and found that the ethanol content of each was above the US federally designated limit for a drink to be considered non-alcoholic, 0.5% alcohol by volume (ABV).* 

Ethanol (alcohol) content of commercial kombucha products used in this study.
The red line indicates the legal limit for non-alcoholic drinks. Note that the alcohol content of light beers, that is beers with the lowest alcohol content, averages around 3.5% ABV, so about twice the content in these kombuchas.

Apparently fermentation continues in the bottle, because the amount increased with storage at room temperature, and even at cold temperatures.

I wonder whether some of the attraction of kombucha may lie in its ethanol content. What do you think?

* Talebi, M., Frink, L.A., Patil, R.A. et al. Examination of the Varied and Changing Ethanol Content of Commercial Kombucha Products. Food Anal. Methods (2017) 10: 4062.

Monday, December 18, 2017

Georgia, Jee, and Sara pair cheese with white tea

That intrepid trio of tea bloggers, Georgia, Jee, and Sara, got together last summer to pair three white teas with French cheese, with results fascinating to this flavor chemistry geek.

For the nitty-gritty details, take a look:

The three white teas they tried were a classic "Silver Needle" from the Silver Needle Tea Company; a "Nepal White" from Royal Tea New York, which had an unusual aroma for a white tea, namely muscatel; and "Midnight White" from In Pursuit of Tea—I could not find this tea on the company's website, so do not know exactly what it was. The cheeses came from The French Cheese Board in New York City.

You may remember that from a chemistry point of view (as I blogged on 7/1/16), most white teas are almost indistinguishable from lightly to moderately oxidized oolongs.* Both kinds of tea are rich and complex in flavor, and the chemicals in them tend to activate the cool and especially the warm receptors.

The cheese that paired well with all three white teas was a Beaufort.** This fascinating cheese originates in the Haute-Savoie of France, up in the Alps. I fell in love with this cheese as a young girl when I spent a summer there with my family. 

Map of France showing Haute-Savoie (red circle) in the Alps next to Switzerland and Italy.
Image from Wikipedia.

Milk for this cheese comes from two breeds of cow: 80% comes from Tarentaise and 20% from Abondance cows. These cows are well adapted to high altitudes, rough terrain, and Alpine vegetation. The vegetation they consume is critical for the flavor of the cheese: plant terpenes pass unchanged into the milk and then into the cheese.

Here's a Tarentaise cow in her Alpine pasture next to daisies from the Asteraceae family that provide her milk with flavorful terpenes.
Image from 

Tarentaise cows come from the Tarente valley in Haute-Savoie, where their cheese has been made for at least 2000 years—Pliny the Younger talks about it! Abondance cows were bred by medieval monks for their cheese in the same area. These monks cleared trees from the mountainsides to allow the growth of lush pasturages filled with forage plants rich in terpenes. 

This graph, from Chion et al***, shows the plant families present in Alpine hay forage (Meadow) and in Alpine Pasture. The Poaceae are poor in terpenes, while plants from the other families are rich in these chemicals.

These terpenes give Alpine cheeses a distinctive citrus/floral/piney quality not found in lowland cheeses. In fact cheeses made with milk from these same cows during the winter, when they are fed hay are (literally) a pale simulacrum of the summer cheese because hay, even hay from plants rich in these volatile terpenes when fresh, has lost them.****

Tarentaise cows (lighter brown) and Abondance cows (darker, with white faces) heading up the mountainside to the field milking station. As you can see, these cows are highly muscled thanks to mountain climbing, yet they are unusually docile.
You can also see the ridges in the pastures that cows make as they forage, not to mention the lack of trees. Also, a bunch of tourists!
Image from
There are two secrets to why white teas and Beaufort pair well. 

Here's the first:  while the terpenes in Alpine cheeses such as Beaufort may not be exactly the same as those in white teas, they activate the same array of cool and warm receptors. For example, both cheese and tea have limonene, which, as its name suggests, has a lemon flavor, and activates cool receptors. By contrast, the terpene β-ocimene is in Alpine cheeses but not (to the best of my knowledge) in white tea. It has a warm, sweetly floral aroma, that complements the aromas of a number of compounds in white teas.  

Here's the other secret: Beaufort has a very high fat content—by regulation at least 45%. How does this help the pairing? Fat turns off the hot receptor TRPV1, and allows chemicals that activate the warm and cool receptors to be appreciated. The flavor of white teas is characteristically described as "delicate." I think that perhaps the better word might be "faint"—in fact the trio had to increase the proportion of tea to brew water to bring out the teas' flavor. Turning off TRPV1 allows these faint flavors to come to the fore. As Sara notes: "[Beaufort] not only brought out the softness of the [Silver Needle] tea, but it brought out a bit of floral aroma as well." 

==>> By the way, am working on a sequel featuring white tea to my book "Three Basic Teas & How to Enjoy Them" (available at Amazon). In this sequel you will find out why white tea is more like oolong than, say, green tea, even though the processing steps for oolong and white tea are so very different. 

* Torri, L., Rinaldi, M. and Chiavaro, E. (2014), Electronic nose evaluation of volatile emission of Chinese teas: from leaves to infusions. Int J Food Sci Technol, 49: 1315–1323. doi:10.1111/ijfs.12429.

** You can find out all about Beaufort cheese on innumerable websites, but if you can read French or just want to look at mouthwatering photos, the best one is Beaufort's own

*** Andrea Revello Chion, Ernesto Tabacco, Daniele Giaccone, Pier Giorgio Peiretti, Giovanna Battelli, Giorgio Borreani, Variation of fatty acid and terpene profiles in mountain milk and “Toma piemontese” cheese as affected by diet composition in different seasons, In Food Chemistry, Volume 121, Issue 2, 2010, pp. 393-399, ISSN 0308-8146,

**** Here is another paper showing the effects of pasturage on Alpine cheese composition: de Noni, Ivano; Battelli, Giovanna. Terpenes and fatty acid profiles of milk fat and “Bitto” cheese as affected by transhumance of cows on different mountain pastures. Food Chemistry, 07/2008, Volume 109, Issue 2,  pp. 299-309.