KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 15 — We’re all familiar with wine-pairing dinners, where every dish in a multi-course meal is matched with a tipple that best complements its flavours.
Now, what if you replace the whites and reds with greens and blacks?
Tea-pairing, unfamiliar as it may be to most, is not all that new a concept in the culinary world.
“In New York, Eleven Madison Park has been offering a tea programme for a few years now,” says Zeehan Zahari of Copper by FAV, a casual chic modern European restaurant she co-owns with her husband and chef Chai Chun Boon.
“I’d nursed the dream of doing the same at our restaurant.”
Since its inception in 2015, Copper has been actively collaborating with other chefs and promoting various culinary concepts through one-off events and special menus.
A tea-pairing menu was on their radar, but the right partners didn’t materialise until Zeehan met Joni Leimala, who mentioned that his Taiwanese wife, Julia, is a tea enthusiast and in the midst of writing a book on tea "hacking" — that is, the many and practical ways for everyone to enjoy premium teas in their everyday lives.
Julia, who says she had her first cuppa at the tender age of eight months and has downed over 30,000 cups to date, owns an extensive collection that includes vintage teas aged up to 30 years.
She’s also developing a line of teas under the label, Ferlei.
The two couples bonded over the idea of presenting a menu that revolves around tea and the wheels began turning about five months ago.
The four would meet up regularly to bounce ideas and recipes, sample teas and bites. “Chef Chai’s grasp on flavours is amazing,” Joni and Julia note. “All we had to do was tell him the taste profile of each tea and instantly, he comes up with a dish.”
The four of them tasted and tested every single pairing. There were numerous variables to consider; besides the variety of teas, the same leaves when steeped in different temperatures of water can yield different results.
And when paired with the dishes, they sometimes produced startling effects — some brought out certain flavours, others completely washed them out.
“I think we tasted over 200 pairings,” Zeehan recalls.
“At one point, we consumed so much tea in one sitting that our hands were shaking!”
Nearly half a year on, they’ve finally agreed on several matches that were made in tea and taste heaven, and these will be presented in a special two night-only dinner this November 23 and 24.
Diners will be treated to not only Chef Chai’s well-defined flavours and Ferlei’s carefully curated vintage teas, but also an insightful exploration into how teas affect the palate.
With every dish that’s served, you will receive specific instructions on how to enjoy the corresponding cuppa. Take a sip and keep the tea inside your mouth before popping the food in, you might be told for one course.
The next may invite you to savour a sip, follow with a mouthful of food, then drink a bit more.
You will taste, think, have all your senses titillated and be thrilled by what you discover with every bite. There will be teas served hot, warm, and cold – not iced, but prepared using the cold brew method. That means the leaves have not been treated with any heat as they’re steeped in cold water and refrigerated overnight. A popular way of enjoying tea in Taiwan, it results in very refreshing brews you’d want to keep drinking.
You’ll get a taste right at the start of the dinner, where a cold brew Taiwanese Honey Black dances with a Cherry Gazpacho with oysters, burrata, fennel, and snow peas. This vibrant combination sets the right tone, finetuning your palate for more delights and surprises to follow.
Things warm up with the Porcini & Prawn Soup with soft egg yolk, complemented by an 80s Fu Brick that brings up the comfort factor. This is one of the most expensive teas around, priced up to US$5,000 (RM20,946) per kilo, and is characterised by tiny yellow fungus on the leaves.
Salt Beef & Mushroom Ala Jillo delivers the next hit of umami, served with grilled sourdough toast and sour cream in parsley oil. You get a complete range of textures in this dish, perfectly washed down with an earthy 90s Ripe Pu-Erh, which makes another appearance with the Wild Caught Seabass.
Will you enjoy it better with fish rather than beef, and will another tea change the way it tastes? There’s an interesting lesson to be learned with this dish as well as the next; Australian Lamb Rump with red miso and prune dressing. It’s complemented by the same 80s Fu Brick that’s served with the soup, offering an opportunity to explore its nuances and in the process, further define your palate.
Four more teas wrap up the dinner.
There’s Longjing, in the form of a granita, with Muscat syrup and lychee jelly. This popular green tea that’s most famously grown in China’s Hangzhou typically has a sweet and nutty finish. Here, it’s elevated to a crisp finish that’s further highlighted by the lychee.
As the finale, you will be served piping hot churros with three types each of dips — Valrhona dark chocolate, dulce de leche, and crème Chantilly — and teas: Taiwanese Oolong, Taiwanese Honey Black, and Oriental Beauty.
The latter, a silver-tipped oolong, is one of Taiwan’s most famous offerings and is said to have earned its moniker from Queen Elizabeth II.
So which tea goes best with which dip? Try them all out, pair them any way you like, and find out what tickles your fancy the most. Even if you’re a regular tea drinker, there are surprises and discoveries to be made from this unique dinner.
As Chef Chai puts it, even the most perfect pairing is imperfect.
“Even though we finally settled on these dishes for the pairing menu, if we continue to test and taste, we will keep coming across better or more interesting matches the taste profiles of teas are so varied that the possibilities are endless.”
Copper is located at Level 5, Menara Shell, 211, Jalan Tun Sambanthan, Kuala Lumpur Sentral, KL. The Copper x Ferlei Vintage Tea Dinner will take place on November 23 & 24, with two seatings on both nights (7pm and 8pm).
It is priced at RM360++ per person.
For inquiries and reservation, contact 012-2793685 or email [email protected]