Pairing Japanese Green teas with food is a tradition much older than many might think. For example, Matcha is well known for its traditional use in Japanese tea ceremonies, and usually, during this event, there is food served to guests such as traditional Japanese sweets (wagashi) and/or a light meal.
In this post, Will, from Nio Teas will share a few favorite food pairings he’s found during his travels around Japan and will explore why certain flavors work well together, and which pairings you should avoid. So let’s get pairing!
First of all, in case you don’t know what Matcha is, it is a type of powdered green tea, but it has to be made from specific tea leaves (Tencha). These leaves are shaded for 3 weeks before the harvest, the top 3 sprouts are selected in the early spring and they have their stems removed, all to improve the flavor. They are then ground into a fine powder in a large stone mill (learn the Matcha basics).
Matcha and Mochi
To start off, let’s talk a bit about one of the more classic food pairings for Japanese green tea. Wagashi or Japanese sweets can be thought of as the original tea food pairing. These decorative sweets are presented to the guest during the Japanese tea ceremony, along with a bowl of Matcha.
A common ingredient in wagashi is “mochi” or rice dough. This dough is made by pounding glutinous rice into a smooth dough, and then it is often flavored with other ingredients. These different styles of mochi are sometimes seasonal like sakura mochi for example, which is made as a specialty dessert during cherry blossom season.
Favorite Matcha Mochi Combo
Our favorite mochi is called Daifuku, which is filled with sweet azuki bean paste. This is something you will find in shops all over Japan, and even a few specialty stores around Europe and the U.S.
By eating something sweet alongside the matcha, you are able to smooth out some of the bitterness. It is almost unheard of to add sugar to Japanese green tea, so as an alternative, many people like to enjoy a sweet like daifuku alongside the tea to indirectly sweeten it.
Matcha in particular can have an especially strong flavor to it, so you may enjoy having a nice sweet treat to look forward to.
Matcha and White Chocolate
When it comes to pairing food with Matcha, there are two main rules to follow. The first is you want to keep the pairing sweet and the second is, that you want the flavor to be neutral.
The reason you want to pair Matcha with something sweet is that Matcha can have some bitterness to it, and this is brought out by certain flavors like citrus, for example. Instead what you want to do is pair it with something sweet to neutralize the bitterness.
Because Matcha has a very intense taste profile, it’s also best to not pair it with something else that has a unique flavor like dark chocolate for example. What you want to do instead is pair it with something like white chocolate, which has a sweet yet neutral flavor.
Check out a few amazing recipes that combine Matcha and white chocolate:
Hojicha is a tea made from roasted green tea leaves. Although the leaves are brown and the infusion is a reddish color, this is actually not a type of black tea, instead, it is simply a roasted Japanese green tea.
Hojicha and Roasted Nuts
This is a food pairing introduced to us at Senchado, a tea shop in Tokyo. Here guests can sample an assortment of roasted nuts and dried fruit. A few of their favorites include cinnamon almonds, smoked pistachio, candied walnut, and dried figs. We find that these warm and sweet flavor profiles tend to pair well with roasted teas like Hojicha.
Hojicha is a perfect tea for the fall, with notes of coffee beans, caramel, and burnt brown sugar. It’s no surprise that this tea pairs well with anything related to cinnamon, roasted nuts, and other quintessential fall flavors. Hojicha pairs well with many simple snacks really, as long as the flavors fall more on the warmer side of the spectrum.
Hojicha and Pickled Ginger
This pairing is one we were introduced to at Sakurai, a tea house in Minato. With Hojicha, you generally want to go for warming characteristics, and ginger definitely fits the bill.
You may think that these two flavors would clash, but they actually work surprisingly well together. Try a slice of fresh ginger in your glass of Hojicha tea and see how you like it. You may notice that it helps to enhance the warming qualities of the tea.
Try some delicious Hojicha recipes:
Bancha and Popcorn
Bancha is a green tea made from the older leaves on the tea plant, and the flavor has more of these cereal notes, as opposed to the fresher, more citrusy notes of a Sencha for example. These work great with something like popcorn, and the taste of Bancha is so mild, that it doesn’t clash with the flavor of the snack.
We like to think of Bancha as a nice “snacking tea”. It is low in caffeine so you can drink it in the afternoon, it is thought to help with digestion and it has a mild flavor that pairs well with certain foods.
The older leaves of the tea plant tend to be higher in minerals, and drinking Bancha with or after a meal is thought to help with digestion. Making this food pairing could be a way to not only enjoy your snack more but also feel better after you eat it.
Sencha and Edamame
Edamame often comes to mind when trying to explain the flavor of Japanese green tea. It has a subtle sweetness, a smooth yet savory finish, and a hint of this steamed vegetable characteristic.
Edamame is often served as a side dish with sushi, which also pairs well with Sencha tea. Try some steamed edamame alongside a cup of Sencha tea next time you want an afternoon snack. Because the flavors are so similar, they work great together!
Bonus: Wakocha with Dark Chocolate
While almost all the tea consumed in Japan are Japanese green teas, there are a few types of Japanese black tea or Wakocha.
Because these teas are fully oxidized, they tend to drift off into a warmer, slightly sweeter direction. This makes it a great choice for a chocolate pairing. The sweetness of the chocolate smooths out the astringency and accentuates the caramel notes of the black tea.
Which one was your favorite of these Japanese green teas and food pairings? Do you have your own food pairings you’d like to share? Be sure to let us know!
About the Author: Will has been working with Nio Teas for the past 4 years, and during that time has helped to educate people through video content about Japanese green tea on Youtube, Instagram, and TikTok. Nio Teas is a distributor of premium Japanese green tea grown without the use of pesticides. They meet with small farmers all across Japan to learn about tea and find the best teas to share with people all around the world.