With contemporary cooking and global cuisine making their way into our cities and kitchens, my curiosity got me thinking about tea. How can use tea in multiple ways? What is the versatile, multifaceted nature of this leaf? I have covered on how we can cook, experiment and use tea in our daily cooking in this section. These are my experiments and adventures in cooking with tea. Do share your experiences with me, as you cook with tea.
Tea as We Know It
‘Chai’, a popular beverage made by boiling a mixture of water and milk, adding flavour and colour by adding in ‘Chai patti’ or tea leaves and then adding lots of sugar to it.
While some people like to add in Chai ‘masala’ to their Chai, others add in cardamom, black pepper or ginger. Ginger chai tastes even better if you add in some cinnamon powder to it, try it.
The urban population also drinks lemom tea, green tea, white tea or even pomegranate tea. The most commonly used tea in India however, is black tea even today.
Types of Tea Available in India
The supermarkets are primarily stocked with brands of ‘chai patti’ which are usually blends of different types of tea. In India you do find various types of pure black tea as well which is not blended.
Black Tea – Darjeeling, Assam and Ceylon (available in India)
Black tea gets its name from the darkness of the liquor. It is produced from Camellia sinensis, the same plant as white tea, green tea, oolong tea, and pu’erh tea. What makes black tea different from other varieties comes from how it is produced, specifically, the amount the tea is allowed to oxidize after the leaves have been plucked.
Green Tea – Green tea is a type of tea that is harvested and then quickly preserved. Whereas black tealeaves are allowed to oxidize after they are picked, green tealeaves are immediately heated to prevent oxidation.
White Tea- Grown mainly in China and Taiwan. White tea is made from immature tea leaves that are picked shortly before the buds have fully opened. The tea takes its name from the silver fuzz that still covers the buds, which turns white when the tea is dried.
Earl Grey- is a tea blend with a distinctive flavour and aroma derived from the addition of oil extracted from the rind of the bergamot orange, a fragrant citrus fruit
Oolong Tea – Oolong teas fall somewhere in the middle: partial fermentation gives them a distinct reddish colour and a “flowery” flavor.
Jasmine Tea – These are Jasmine flowers mixed in small proportions with tea.
Chamomile – Is not a tea but a herb, which is a flower similar to daisy.
Fruity and other flavours of tea such as apple, cherry, mint, lemon or ginger
Tea Facts about India
India is one of the largest producers and exporters of tea in the world.
India is the largest producer of Black Tea in the world.
Darjeeling Tea is known as the Champagne of teas.
Teas That Can be Used in Cooking
Earl Grey tea, Jasmine tea and different types of black tea are often used to flavour sweet and savoury dishes. Green tea and Oolong tea are also used to flavour rice or in making cheesecakes. Apart from enjoying tea as a beverage, tea can also be used as a herb and a flavouring.
How To Use Tea in Cooking
As Indians, we have a better understanding of the flavour of black tea over others. I suggest, start by using black tea in your cooking. Try dependable combinations like citrus fruits with black tea flavoured sugar syrup.
Although Jasmine tea flavoured rice goes surprisingly well with coconut curries like Meen(fish) Moilee from Kerala.
Making A Tea Infusion
Boil water, add in the tealeaves, turn off the heat and cover with a lid.
Allow the leaves to steep for a few minutes. Strain the tea and discard the leaves.
The concentration of tea can be regulated with the amount of tea you add or the length of time you let the tea steep for, giving you more control on the dominance of tea flavor in your dish. When the desired concentration is achieved, strain the liquid for use.
Tea leaves can be added to stock and once the desired concentration is achieved, remove the tea leaves and use the tea-flavoured stock to make soup.
Used clarified stock flavoured with tea to make tea consomme garnished with mussels, clams and other seafood.
Use fish stock flavoured with black tea, ginger, garlic, soy sauce for an oriental style seafood soup.
Cream soups, like a cream of mushroom soup can be flavoured with tea by adding a prepared black tea infusion concentrate to the soup.
Vegetable puree soups such as potato and cheese soup can be flavoured with Chamomile tea. Dip in the tea bag when the vegetable puree is cooking and remove after tasting, when the concentration is right for your palate.
Vinegar – We frequently use balsamic vinegar or fruit wine vinegars to give a unique twist to our salads. Why not try plain vinegar flavoured with tea?
How To Infuse Cold liquids like Vinegar or Orange Juice with Tea?
Add tea to plain vinegar, let the tea steep and allow it to sit for a couple of hours or until it reaches the desired strength. Remove the tea from the vinegar and drizzle over salads for the X factor in salads.
Use the same technique to flavour orange juice with black tea, mix it with a little olive oil and use to drizzle over grilled vegetables or salad.
Simply replace the extra virgin olive oil in your salad with tea oil to add flavour.
Using Tea in Marinades
There are 2 ways of using tea to marinate your meat.
1)Infusion – Make a tea concentrate and add it into the marinade mixture.
Add in spices and aromatics like black pepper, shallots or chilies along with oil. For example, pork chops marinated with apple puree and black tea.
2)Rubbing into Meat- Use a pestle and mortar to crush tea, chili, ginger with some salt and oil. Rub this mixture on chicken legs with skin and pop it into the oven.
Use tea concentrate to add in sauces. Mushrooms, leeks and lemon along with a little tea concentrate make a great sauce to go with mussels or clams, even salmon.
Braising – Any red or pink meat like lamb, sheep or veal can be browned in butter and then cooked with tea concentrate and spices like cloves, black pepper and garlic.
Rice and Pastas
Boil water and add in an aromatic tea like Jasmine or fennel tea, remove the tea once the desired concentration is reached. Remove the tea leaves and use this cooking liquid to cook rice or pasta. Subtle flavour of fennel in pasta tastes good with grilled vegetables and greens. Jasmine tea flavoured rice tastes good with Thai curry.
The leftover cooking liquid can later be used to steam mussels or clams.
Mix crushed tea (green or oolong) with aromatic herbs such as basil and use this mixture to sprinkle over ciabatta or any other homemade bread while baking for flavour.
Sugar Syrup – Add in tea leaves to warm sugar syrup, once it is flavoured remove the tea and pour this syrup over oranges, sweet lime, grapefruit or other citrus fruits. Garnish them with a few tea leaves sprinkled on top.
Citrus Tarts and puddings– Add some assam black tea to flavour lemon tarts or puddings. The tangy, refreshing flavour of citrus fruits pairs beautifully with black tea, just like in lemon tea.
Granitas and Ice Creams. Use rose and tea infused water to make granitas.
Steep tea leaves in cream for a couple of hours to add flavour in ice cream.
Muffins and Cakes
A strong tea concentrate made with Ear Grey tea tastes great when added to the batter when making muffins. Add some nuts to the Earl Grey Muffins and you have yourself a treat.
Dried fruit, fruits and tea can be used to make glazes for cakes. Apricot and tea glaze are great on a dense fruitcake.
Fruit and tea glaze can also served with barbequed meats and grills.
There are two ways in which tea can be used as a crust.
1)Blend (freshly picked) tea leaves in small quantities with aromatic herbs like basil, parsley and coriander along with some fresh breadcrumbs and use this mixture to coat the meat, fish or poultry before panfrying it.
2)Take a whole fish with the skin and brush to remove the scales. Take 150g of rock salt mixed with 60g of crushed tealeaves and fold this into egg white from 5 eggs, lightly beaten. Use this mixture to fully coat the fish on both sides and then pop it into the oven at 200 degree Celsius for 25 to 30 minutes depending on the size of the fish. Crack and remove this salt crust and serve the tea-flavoured fish.
Tea for Smoking
Keemun and Souchong are good choice for smoking. Black tea works well for smoking meat and poultry due to the beautiful aroma. To use them the leaves are wet and then use them like mesquite chips. You can use a grill box or even smoke them in wok with 2 cups of uncooked rice with ¼ cup black tea along with other spices like black pepper and some sugar covered with a fitted lid so smoke doesn’t escape.
Tea As a Colouring Agent
Indian Cooking- My mother adds a tea bag to the water when she boils chickpeas to make chhole in order to darken the colour of the chickpeas as well as the curry. Using Tea as a coluring agent also adds a subtle earthy aroma without dominating the flavour.
Black Tea concentrate can be used to darken sauces and make them look more appetising.
Tea as a Seasonal Health Drink
We Indians drink tea in the form of ‘Chai’ latte all year around. We also boil tea with ginger and lemongrass to cure a cold.
Spice Tea includes Ginger + Tulsi (Holy Basil) + Blackpepper + clove + cinnamon + lemongrass + pinch of turmeric warmed with some milk and sugar for a sore throat and cold. My grandmother says it works like a magic wand.
Tea for Cocktails
Steep tea in alcohol for a couple of hours and let it stand. The flavoured alcohol can be used to make cocktails.
Flavour Vodka with tea or use tea (light) concentrate to make a Vodka Tea Martini.
Next time you are cooking, do try experimenting with tea flavour in some of your favourite dishes. First, try using small quantities of tea mixed with aromatic herbs or use infusion technique so you have more control on the concentration of tea flavour in your dish. Keep tasting and adjusting the tea concentration as per your preference, since we Indians understand this flavour so well, it won’t take long for you to master it. Happy cooking!