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The origins of the two beverages are so important that you could have a whole detailed discussion on that subject alone. Terroir - the region where the tea or grape grows has an important influence on the end experience - including the mouthfeel, texture, aroma, the acidity, and flavor you would observe. Also, the experience of sipping wine or tea has so many similarities, and when you discuss a tea tasting, it’s very similar to how you would describe a wine. You would discuss mouthfeel, body, astringency, overall taste, aromas, flavors, and then what memory it reminds you of.
I had the opportunity to meet Vas Sanchez, who is an established wine sommelier, chef, and comedian. A friend introduced us, saying that he was extremely poetic with his language when he described wine. I found Vas to be just that, and it was so fun to share the experience of tea and wine tasting with him. I learned a lot more about wine, and he was fascinated by how similar wine and tea are.
Shop Now: Jasmine Black Tea
I intentionally started my tea tasting based on tea oxidation and steeping temperatures with our white teas and green teas, initially followed by oolongs and black teas such as Jasmine Black Tea, leaving the blends more later on. We started by steeping Herbs & Kettles single origin, single batch Meghalaya Limited Edition Silver Needle. As soon as I spoke about the single origin, single batch, and the year it was grown, Vas and I laughed, immediately realizing we were using similar lingo! Just like with wine, with a high quality loose leaf tea, you want to know about its origin, terroir, whether it is a single batch, and the year it was made, and also if you are a connoisseur, you want to be able to compare the differences from batch to batch and year to year.
Being a wine novice, I learned the term vintage from Vas, which resonated with my tea sourcing and my discussions with the farmers we source from. Vas, who usually drinks more oxidized teas, was fascinated by how smooth yet complex the silver needle was. We got four steps out of the silver needle. Just like you would appreciate wine, you want to take a big slurp of your tea into your mouth and swirl it around to really appreciate its mouthfeel, taste, and flavor. We were enjoying Meghalaya Silver Needle in the autumn of 2022, and it was still very young, medium-bodied, with no astringency, rich mouthfeel, and a lasting aftertaste with notes of holy basil, lemon balm, and wildflowers.
Shop Now: Meghalaya Limited Edition Silver Needle
After this, we tried the Nilgiri Green Twirl. I gave Vas my usual spiel about how green teas should be steeped at lower temperatures and for short periods to avoid astringency and bring out the taste of the sweet and umami. I told him that the Nilgiri Green Twirl was from the Nilgiri mountains of South India, where the high altitude and cloud cover increase theanine content, contributing to the brothiness of the tea and umami flavor. At this point, we discussed how theanine increases GABA, which increases dopamine and serotonin in the brain, helping reduce acute stress and anxiety and bringing a sense of calm. Alcohol, on the other hand, is a GABA agonist and also releases dopamine and serotonin, which causes euphoria and disinhibition. However, excessive alcohol consumption depresses the excitatory neurotransmitter glutamate, leading to intoxication and impaired function. If I have to give my two cents on the question, "What is healthier, wine or tea?" I would say that chronic alcohol use alters the reward and aversion system in the brain, leads to alcohol dependence, and increases anxiety, amongst other symptoms. However, tea does not inhibit glutamate or lead to chronic dependence withdrawal patterns.
Hence concluding that tea is wine's sober sipping and an excellent nonalcoholic substitute seems very appropriate!
Shop Now: Darjeeling Yanki Red Oolong
After finishing the white and green teas, we moved to oolong teas. Vas opened a bottle of orange natural wine for us to sip, and I steeped Darjeeling Yanki Red Oolong. It was wonderful to compare and contrast the wine with tea. I learned how to appreciate the viscosity in the wine by swirling the wine glass around and seeing wine legs form on the sides of the glass. With tea, we usually appreciate viscosity by perceiving the weight of the tea on the tongue. We talked about how commodity wines and teas would never have the same experience as high-quality single-origin ones. We also discussed wine and tea snobbery and concluded that both should be a beverage used to create community, not exclude people.
Finally, we ended the evening with steeping a few black teas, including Darjeeling Golden Summer Muscatal and Assam Golden Needle. I told Vas how Darjeeling's second flush got its name from the muscatel grape, which has sweet honey. Oak, fruit, and floral aromas and flavors. Last, we steeped our Assam Golden Needle, which is malty and boozy, often being compared to a brandy or sometimes even a Marzen beer.
Definitely a fun evening and a new friendship. We promised to meet again. It got me thinking that it would be nice to do tea and wine drink pairings for people to really appreciate the similarities and the differences, possibly even pair the wine and tea with food. Cheers to “communitea,” and enjoy an extremely special evening!