While coffee and tea are two of the most popular drinks on earth, they have created distinctly different cultures. It is only logical that each should have its own array of complementary snacks—for reasons cultural, but also personal and even scientific.
A Matter of Taste
While both coffee and tea can offer subtlety, tea is hard-pressed to come up with the strength of flavor that a cup of coffee offers. This is simply a result of the originating product—while coffee is made by steeping roasted, ground, intensely-flavored beans, tea is made from the cured leaves of the Camellia sinensis plant. Generally, drinkers of each will derive more pleasure from embracing the natural taste characteristics of the beverage in their choice of snacks; coffee requires a stronger-flavored food complement (say, chocolate) to pair well with it, whereas the subtle flavors of tea would be overwhelmed by something so strong.
Coffee is an excellent match for chocolate, cinnamon, nuts and fruit, because these flavors actually show up in the coffee itself. A few treats that complement coffee quite well are fruit pastries (such as these Coffee-Infused Banana Muffins), breads (such as this Spiced Coffee Nut Loaf) and rich desserts (such as this Chocolate Espresso Cake)—all foods rich in butter and sugar to enrich the coffee experience itself. Like attracts like, and a beverage as strong as coffee must have a food with strong flavor in order to compete.
Tea, by contrast, calls for food that is generally more understated (coffee lovers might say bland). Black tea, made from the most oxidized of the Camellia sinensis leaves, is considered the strongest of all teas, and can thus be paired with relatively richer foods such as chicken, egg dishes and lemony desserts. Milder teas like green tea fare best with milder foods—seafood, salads and the like.
A Matter of Custom
Every culture has its hot beverage and accompanying treat, and many of our choices are merely a reflection of what the rest of society prefers. In England, the snack traditionally served alongside tea is inarguably the biscuit. Also known as a digestive, the biscuit might be described by an American as a cross between a cookie and a cracker. Perhaps the best-known manufacturer of digestive biscuits, the McVitie’s company, owns the largest biscuit factory in Europe, located in the northwest London neighborhood of Harlesden, where 27 million biscuits are produced daily. According to a survey done by Kantar Worldpanel, a European market research firm, an astonishing ninety-nine percent of British households purchased biscuits in 2010.
And in the United States? Coffee and donuts, of course—a combination the New York Daily News suggests is the “breakfast of champions.”