When it comes to setting the mood on the most romantic day of the year, oysters are second only to chocolate. Did you know you can pair them with tea? Tea awakens your senses and goes really well with food. Wine is great but if you want to make Valentine’s Day unexpected, memorable, and sexy, tea is the way to go. So surprise your better half with a voluptuous tea and food pairing.
When pairing tea and food, it’s important to consider not only similar or contrasting flavor notes but also temperature and texture. That’s why oysters on the half shell, which are served over ice, are best complemented by cold-brewed teas. Cold brewing is a simple, foolproof method that draws out flavor and subtle nuances without any bitterness. Here’s how to make it:
Use 3 teaspoons of loose tea leaves for every 1½ cups water (preferably filtered or spring water). Combine in a pitcher or bottle, stir, and let stand for 30 minutes at room temperature. Cover the pitcher and transfer to the refrigerator. Cold brew overnight or at least 12 hours, even longer if you can. Serve ice-cold in a chilled champagne coupe, flute, cocktail, or wine glass.
As for the oysters, get them from a reputable purveyor and make sure they are at their freshest. Although shucking oysters might seem intimidating, with the right equipment and a little practice, it’s actually simple.
Capital (Spencer Cove, Wash.). These small oysters are briny and creamy, with delicious notes of cucumber and melon. Try them with cold-brewed Silver Needle white tea from China (Bai Hao Yin Zhen). White tea, which is lightly oxidized, is the least processed type of tea. Silver Needle is one of the most prized and consists of only tender leaf buds that are covered in silver down. With its delicate sweetness and subtle floral notes, it complements these oysters beautifully, and its melon notes enhance their flavor profile.
Chelsea Gem (Eld Inlet, Wash.). With their deep cupped shells, Chelsea Gems are mildly briny, umami (the fifth taste, also defined as meaty or savory), and succulent with a sweet mineral finish. Try them with cold-brewed Tamaryokucha. This Japanese green tea is similar to the more widely known sencha. It has a savory flavor profile with hints of seaweed and a mineral finish, which enhances the similar savory notes in the oysters.
Jenell’s Shells (Totten Inlet, Wash.). Delightfully buttery and creamy, these oysters have very low salinity. They are sweet and succulent. Try them with a cold-brewed lightly oxidized green oolong tea from Thailand. Any green high-mountain oolong from Taiwan also works, as long as it’s not too floral. Or you could try a Jin Xuan “Milk Oolong” from Taiwan or China. The Thai oolong is savory and buttery, with delicate hints of freshly cut grass. It complements and enhances the creaminess of the oysters, while working as a palate cleanser.
Pacific Gold (Morro Bay, Calif.). With their beautifully striped shells, Pacific Gold oysters are fresh, briny, sweet, and deliciously plump with faint lingering notes of melon and cucumber. They go well with cold-brewed Dragonwell green tea (also known as Long Jing), arguably the most famous Chinese green tea. Pan-fired in a hot wok and flattened by hand, Dragonwell is a real treat for tea connoisseurs. It’s slightly sweet, with toasty and nutty notes, which counterbalance the fruity and vegetal flavor profile of these oysters for a sophisticated pairing.
Hog Island Sweetwaters (Tomales Bay, Calif.). These local crowd-pleasers pair well with cold-brewed Gunpowder Temple of Heaven green tea. It’s a classic, full-bodied Chinese tea and its leaves are compressed into shimmery pinhead-shaped pellets. The smoky notes of the tea enhance without overpowering the slightly smoky finish of these oysters, which are deliciously plump, sweet, briny, and minerally.
For the most romantic, unconventional, yet sophisticated Valentine’s Day ever, try all these combinations or select just a few. You (and your better half) will be glad you ditched the wine.
You can find the oysters mentioned at Hog Island Oyster Co. (415-391-7117, hogislandoysters.com).
Consult the following San Francisco tea purveyors for availability of the teas mentioned: Song Tea and Ceramics (2120 Sutter St., 415-885-2118, songtea.com); Red Blossom Tea Company (831 Grant Ave. 415-395-0868, redblossomtea.com), Tap Twice Tea (online sales only, San Francisco based, taptwicetea.com), and Imperial Tea Court (Ferry Building Marketplace, 415-544-9830, imperialtea.com).
Correction 2/6/18: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the availability of the teas mentioned.