Cooking with tea is not really a new concept, frankly. There are so many ways in which tea can be used to flavour your recipes – be it pure Ceylon tea, Indian teas like Assam tea, Darjeeling tea, Nilgiri tea or even green tea. The Chinese have used loose tea leaves to bring in a new dimension to their food for centuries, and if you try some of their recipes that uses tea as an ingredient, you will notice that this simple kitchen staple can add a bit of panache and sparkle to an ordinary dish and take it from ‘blah’ to ‘wow’ instantly.
With that being said, it’s important to understand that tea is after all a complex ingredient. There is a right way to cook with it, and then there is a wrong way!
So if you want to try out a new recipe with a twist of adventure and surprise brought to it by using tea, let’s find out what’s the right way to do that.
Tea: Making an entrance in to gourmet restaurant
Tea is back with a bang and you will find that many experimental chefs are trying their hands at new creative recipes that revolve around tea as the main flavouring ingredient. Why? Tea has so much potential – you can attain a strong pungent flavour, or try a fruity floral recipe and most teas will actually change the taste and aroma of the recipe dramatically.
They have been used to add colour and fragrance, and there is always a new variety that will hit the palate just right, blend just perfectly with the other ingredients and uplift the whole dish by a few notches effortlessly.
However, what all good chefs recommend without a doubt is to always use your gut to find the right tea variety to pair with a dish and to never ever settle for a lesser quality tea. Also, novice cooks must take extra care to brew the tea to just the right temperature when following a new tea recipe and go easy on the amount you use for a dish.
Perfect pairing: Combinations made in heaven
According to Chas Kroll from the American Tea Masters Association, there is a right way to choose a tea and pair it with particular foods. This holds true whether you want to serve the tea to complement the meal, much like wine, or want to infuse the dish with the flavours of the tea.
Here are some of his recommendations, which we think are bang on and a must-try for tea enthusiasts:
- If you are serving a continental breakfast with a twist, the teas to try infusing the food with are Assam, Ceylon, Darjeeling, Indonesian, Kenya and Nilgiri
- For a main course made with fried foods, meats or eggs, the best tea pairing are Ceylon, Kenya, Lapsang, Assam and African blends
- If you plan to surprise your guests by serving a light meal, try to add flavours of Green, Oolongs and Lapsang Souchong teas
- With spicy foods, nothing pairs better than stronger teas and the winners here are Assam, Ceylon, Darjeeling and Jasmine infused teas
- If you are to serve a cheese platter for a delectable snack, try a nice dip or a sandwich spread to go with it made with green tea or Earl Grey infusion
Tips to cook with tea
Now we mentioned that there is a right way to cook with tea. And that means, you need to get a few basics cleared up if you want the recipe you create to be blissfully surprising and not horrendously shocking! If you are excited to try exploring the many flavours of tea and add them to your dishes, we recommend you first learn how to work with tea as an ingredient to flavour food.
Tea can be added to marinades, rubs and infusions. For that, the easiest way to make a start is to dry roast the tea. Ensure that when you roast the tea, you use a medium flame because the leaves can burn or char very fast. Be careful and supervise carefully. When you get the aromas of the tea infusing the air, it means your roasted tea is now ready to be added to rubs and marinades.
A little bit of high quality tea can be great to bring about a sense of balance to a recipe. It can mask acidity, can also counter sweetness in a recipe and will add richness to a dish that is otherwise ordinary. However, the trick is to add only a little bit at a time to make sure you don’t overdo. For that, brew the tea depending on the type being used and add in small quantities – a spoonful at a time. Keep tasting so that you get the perfect balance based on the quantity and ingredients you are working with.
When choosing tea for cooking, never use a low quality tea. If you will not drink the tea, there is no reason to use it for flavouring your food! A high quality tea will result in a richer, fuller taste so make sure you don’t try and cut corners with quality here. After all, you are using it for flavouring, so how much can you really use? If you need to, buy a very high quality tea only to infuse foods with (and use slightly cheaper alternatives for your morning caffeine kick) just to ensure that every new recipe you create is lip smacking and so worth the extra you have spent.
Some recipes require a ‘tea concentrate’. As obvious, that means you need to create a concentrated brew of tea. The trick here is to NOT increase brewing time…but to increase the quantity of tea leaves used for the perfect taste. Or else you will have on your hands a very bitter blend that will ruin your recipe!
Whole leaves can be used too. They work perfectly to crust chicken, fish and duck, especially if you add them to other interesting ingredients like ginger, honey and soya sauce. Tea leaves can also be used to add flavour to boiling rice, pasta and noodles or put whole in to sauces and broths for a twist of interesting flavours.
Have some leftover tea brew? Try to use it in a dish creatively! It can be added to chicken gravy, it can be used to spice up meats and add flavour to soups. The trick is to experiment, and to ensure that you trust your palate. It’s also possible to add tea brew to salads – simply mix it in to the dressing and drizzle over.
If you want to bake with tea, add some ground up leaves to the batter for cakes, muffins and cookies. It gives an instantly great taste and smell, but make sure that you adjust the sugar accordingly, especially if you are using a slightly bitter and stronger variety of tea.
Green tea brew is great to poach fish and other sea food. It balances the smell of these meats with ease, and also adds a real nice character.
Ever tried a tea dessert? No? Then here is a recipe that you will love!