At many dim sum establishments, diners can choose what type of tea is served. While jasmine tea is often provided as a default, the traditional tea of choice to pair with dim sum is pu-erh (po lei in Cantonese), says huiray. gourmaniac likes the clean feel of drinking pu-erh; it “helps with the greasiness of dim sum,” he says. Pu-erh tea has a strong, distinctive, earthy flavor that’s a challenge for those who didn’t grow up drinking it. Chrysanthemum flowers are often added to pu-erh to offset the harsh, bitter taste with a floral note; but even so, the flavors are “probably most unusual and most difficult to get used to by a beginner from a Western culture background,” says Chemicalkinetics.
If you’re the kind of Chowhound who’s intrigued by harsh, earthy flavors, you owe it to yourself to taste pu-erh. Like wine, pu-erh tea comes in a variety of grades and ages. The “raw” product is untreated and young, and the “cooked” or “ripe” tea has been aged and fermented to develop the flavor, says will47. “Basically, the tea is composted in a controlled way,” he says. “Bad ripe tea can have a ‘fishy’ or ‘pondy’ type flavor (which will tend to lessen over time), but a good quality ripe pu’er shouldn’t have those flavors.”
For high-quality pu-erh at a low price point, you’ll almost always get better tea from a tea shop than from a grocery store, says will47. And ipsedixit recommends pairing less fancy tea with dim sum, and saving the really good stuff for drinking on its own; it would be wasted if paired with dim sum, as your palate will be affected by all those greasy, delicious chicken feet!
Discuss: Best tea for Dim Sum?