Tea snobs might argue that drinking tea with honey should be avoided, as honey (or any sweeter, for that matter) masks the subtle flavor nuances and complexities of tea, especially if it is high quality, single-origin tea. Honey enthusiasts might make a similar argument.
But I say: Do what you want and what makes your taste buds happy! Life’s too short, am I right?
I, personally, am a huge fan of honey and from time to time, do enjoy it in certain kinds of tea, such as a robust Ceylon black tea or even a chai. (It’s not only delicious but good for you, too, when consumed in moderation.) But what I really enjoy when I’m craving a bit of indulgence is pairing tea and honey.
There are some 300 varieties of honey in the United States alone, and their flavors and colors are very much influenced by the type of flower the honeybees visit. So, much like artisanal chocolate and cheese, artisanal honey, with its complex flavors and various textures, is a wonderful food to pair with tea to bring out flavors of both items in a unique way.
Learn more about pairing tea with honey in this step-by-step guide so you can enjoy this luxurious tasting experience on your own, or impress your food-loving friends at your next get together.
Step 1: Keep quality in mind
While you can pair any honey and tea, the most enjoyable pairings include products that have been crafted with quality in mind. Select items that have been made with natural, minimal ingredients and are transparent in their sourcing.
Single-origin teas, like those we sell at Gachi, have the most complex flavors that evolve with every infusion. Similarly, single-flower honey – or honey made from one type of flower – lets you carve out specific flavor notes across different types of honey.
Step 2: Select your flavor experience
Next, you’ll want to choose what kind of flavor experience you want to create with your pairing. Your selected tea and honey combinations should complement, contrast or enhance the flavors of each other.
- To complement: Select a tea and honey that may not have the same characteristics, but are still compatible.
- To contrast: Choose a tea and honey that have entirely different flavor notes to accentuate the differences.
- To enhance: Pick a tea and honey that share similar characteristics and tasting notes for balanced flavor combinations.
Step 3: Choosing the right combination
When you’re ready to select the honey for your pairings, aim to include no more than three to five tea and honey combinations, as any more will overwhelm and confuse the palate and fewer will not provide enough comparison.
White tea – tea that is made from very young tea leaves or buds – is very light in flavor, as it has only been minimally processed. Therefore, white tea like our White Peony is best paired with an equally light honey, such as acacia or fireweed honey.
Green teas are typically grassy and mild, with some like our Sencha Sunrise boasting subtle floral notes. Selecting a floral honey, such as an alfalfa, clover, lavender or tupelo honey can further emphasize these notes. If you're looking for something truly special, consider pairing your green tea with this Brazilian Cipo Uva honey. An avocado honey will bring out fresh vegetal flavors. If your selected green tea has a minty profile, opt for a linden honey.
Because black teas such as our Ceylon Breakfast have been fully oxidized, they taste best with a more robust honey. Try a buckwheat or sourwood honey for a strong cup of tea. Honey produced from herbs in the Lamiaceae family, including thyme and sage honey, work nicely, too.
Scented and blended tea
Jasmine-scented tea is one of the most popular scented teas. Because this tea is very fragrant in aroma, it should be paired with an assertive floral honey such as holly, lavender or clover honey. These honeys also work just as well with our Fleur de Tea, a blend of hand-rolled black tea leaves and dried tea flowers.
Chai is another fun tea to pair with honey. Opt for a meadowfoam or gallberry honey to add sweet vanilla and cinnamon notes to the pairing. Goldtap Honey’s chipotle-infused Voodoo Betty is a personal favorite of mine to pair with chai.
You can really get creative with herbal teas. We suggest pairing basswood, holly, eucalyptus, citrus or blueberry honey with different herbal or fruit-flavored teas to up the level of the tea’s fruitiness.
Rooibos is a neutral tea with a sweet, nutty flavor accompanied by hints of vanilla and cinnamon. Pair it with an orange blossom or a spiced honey like gallberry or meadowfoam to accentuate these flavors.
Experiment with flavor combinations until you find what you like best. Keep a tea journal to document your experiences.
Step 4: Get to tasting
Once the pairing menu is finalized and ready to be served, portion the honey out into small servings (about 1 teaspoon of each) along with a tasting spoon for each person. Prepare the tea, and consider displaying the dry leaves and honey for guests to see and smell.
Once you’re ready to begin your tasting, follow the steps below:
- Start by taking a small bit of honey into the mouth and to allow it to coat the tongue.
- Next, slurp some of the tea so that it reaches the back of the mouth and the furthest taste buds. (Consider letting it cool a bit so that it’s warm – not hot – when your guests taste it.) Make sure you breathe to take full advantage of the character of the tea. Swirl the liquid to coat your mouth and swallow. Compare the mouthfeel and flavors of the tea to the mouthfeel and flavors and the of the honey.
- Take another taste of honey and discover how the tea has influenced the second sample. Does the tea enhance the flavors of the honey? Or does the honey bring out the flavor notes of the tea?
- Take a few minutes to evaluate each pairing and to compare your findings. If you’re tasting with friends or dinner guests, take notes. Talking about the flavor combinations can be just as fun as tasting them. Tea is, after all, better together.