Tuesday, June 5, 2018

A delicious tea pairing: Lapsang Souchong and cheddar cheese

Sara got together with her friends Georgia and Gee again, the time to try out pairings of black teas with tea sandwiches, and as before the results are fascinating! 

Here are their blog websites:
Sara: http://www.tea-happiness.com/2018/05/tea-pairing-101-black-tea-and-tea-sandwiches.html#more
Georgia: https://www.notesontea.com/2018/05/tea-pairing-101-black-tea.html
Jee: https://www.ohhowcivilized.com/tea-pairing-101-black-tea/ 

...and here are the teas and the sandwiches, from Sara's blog http://www.tea-happiness.com/2018/05/tea-pairing-101-black-tea-and-tea-sandwiches.html#more

The three black teas chosen were about as different as possible! In this post, I'll talk about the first tea, an atypical Lapsang Souchong. 

What makes Lapsang Souchong different from other WuYi teas is that it is smoked over a pinewood fire. When carried to completion, the tea leaf's chemicals are replaced with ones from the burning pine wood. However I gather that the particular Lapsang Souchong that Sara, Georgia and Jee chose was less smoked, so retains some of the original black tea flavors that the Joseph Wesley Tea company (source of the tea) characterizes as "malty plum and chocolate."

Sara waxed enthusiastic about pairing this tea with a cheddar cheese sandwich with Branston pickle on whole wheat bread, and Georgia and Jee concurred. 

Before I go into why this combo works so well, a word about Branston pickle for those of us on this side of "The Pond." Branston pickle is a form of sweet/sour chutney made with dried chopped up vegetables (especially cauliflower and rutabaga), vinegar, tomato, lemon, apple, and spices, including mustard.* It is the classic accompaniment for cheddar cheese—when I had my first ploughman's lunch in England I went gaga over this combination!

So why then does the trio of Lapsang Souchong, cheddar, and Branston pickle work so well?

I like to think that it's because these three play with your hot and cold receptors in a fascinating, not to say dazzling, way.

First to the cool/cold receptors: 

As we will see below, most of the characteristic compounds of aged cheddar cheese activate the warm and hot receptors. However, Sara mentions that the cheese was "tangy," an effect that comes from activation of TRPA1, the cold receptor. Which chemical in the cheddar does this I don't know, but amazingly, this cheese has a large amount of linalool, a characteristic compound of tea that activates the cool/cold receptors. 

Next, the major compounds in pine smoke (and therefore in this tea), such as alpha-pinene and alpha-terpineol, also activate the cool/cold receptors—when you walk through a pine woods you can feel the coolness from these chemicals activating the same receptors in your skin as you have in your mouth. 

Finally, cauliflower, rutabaga (aka swede), and mustard—and in fact all the Brassicas—are characterized by chemicals that activate the cold receptor TRPA1. And the apple and lemon juice in the Branston pickle are both on the cool/cold side, too.

Summing up the cool/cold side of the equation: all the elements of this pairing activate the cool/cold receptors, so amp up the volume of all these flavors together. 

So what about the hot receptors? How do they come into play?

Both tea and cheddar have several chemicals in common that activate the warm and especially the hot receptors, including (believe it or not!) the characteristic volatile from damask roses that I talked about in my previous blogpost: beta-damascenone.** 

As Sara, Jee, and Georgia all noted, the cheddar also had a nutty flavor. This flavor comes from chemicals called pyrazines, that are present in the tea as well as the cheddar. As you might guess from their name ("pyr-" means "fire" in Greek—think of a "pyre") these chemicals are formed via Maillard reactions at temperatures at and above 100ÂșC (=boiling water temperature). And of course the Branston pickle was boiled as well—it's brown color comes from Maillard reactions. And by the way, good quality whole wheat bread is especially rich in Maillard browning products, too—that's why it tastes nutty.

So all in all there are a number of compounds in this pairing that will activate the warm/hot end of the temperature spectrum.

Which now brings me to the question of balance: there are three compounds in this combination that (I believe) serve to harmonize the combination of tea and sandwich successfully. These are vinegar, sugar, and fat. You'll notice that all these are responsible for tastes, and it's the interactions of these tastes with the temperature sensations via the trigeminal nerve (responsible for hot and cold) that may bring together this pairing.

Vinegar is sour, which is to say that it will activate receptors for sour in taste buds. At sufficient concentrations it will also activate the hot receptor TRPV1—you may have felt the burning sensation when you taste a vinaigrette. However, the same amount of vinegar when combined with oil will not cause a burning sensation because the fat turns off TRPV1. You will simply get the sourness. Then add some sugar to the mix, and even the sourness is tamped. 

In the case of this pairing, the fat to dampen the hot receptors comes from the cheese—cheddar has a high fat content—and the sugars to decrease the sourness come from the pickle and the bread. The net effect is to shift the overall flavor profile to the cool/cold side when you first bite into the sandwich and sip the tea. Then if you wait a short while, the cool/cold effect dissipates and there is a warm afterglow because the hot receptor, with its slow-on slow-off response, remains activated after you have swallowed food and drink. Re-sip the tea and take a bite of sandwich, and the whole process starts over again. 

As Sara said:

"It's a lovely pairing, so easy to eat that I could have it every week and not get tired of it."

An aside: my first taste of Lapsang Souchong when I was a young girl, was accompanied by cheddar and a slice of apple...so delicious, and now I know why!

* Data from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Branston_(brand). For more about the pickle, see https://bringoutthebranston.co.uk/range/pickle/.

** T.K. Singh, M.A. Drake, and K.R. Cadwallader. Flavor of Cheddar Cheese: a Chemical and Sensory Perspective. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. Vol. 2, pages 166-189, 2003.

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