FEATURE - August 2018
Cooking With Loose Leaf Tea
From Your Cup to Your Plate
by Emilie Jackson
Tea has seen its popularity rise in recent years in the United States. We often hear about the antioxidant properties of the famous green tea; but, each tea—Black, Pu-erh, Oolong, Yellow, White—has its own virtues and health benefits.
Tea is the most widely consumed beverage in the world (after water) and yet it still has secrets to reveal. Whether you like it strong, with a cloud of milk, light, unsweetened, spicy, hot or cold, there is always a tea that will suit your palate and a time in the day to enjoy it. And if drinking tea isn’t your thing, maybe you’ll enjoy eating it!
Cooking with tea originated in China, just as tea cultivation did. In the spring, when the annual tea harvest goes into production and the bamboo shoots are newly emerging, the Chinese people are reminded that it’s time to purchase new tea for sipping— and time to relegate what little is left of last year’s tea for kitchen use. Throughout Asia, tea has been used as a natural food coloring and seasoning in many dishes for centuries. One of the most traditional Chinese recipes that uses tea is tea-marbled eggs and tea smoked duck—a common street food in China.
Cooking with loose leaf tea is a fun and creative way to enhance any type of dish. In France and in other western countries, it was only a few decades ago that chefs and tea tasters agreed that tea as an “ingredient” revealed its gastronomic potential. Chefs and cooks started to use it in their recipes because it never overpowers the dish with which it is paired. Instead, it allows for a more complex depth of flavor. It is considered a versatile seasoning that can be used for fish and meat, as well as pastries.
Simple tips to follow:
Like brewing tea for drinking, the most important thing in cooking with tea is to learn how to get the most flavor from it without releasing the bitterness or astringency commonly tasted when a tea has been over steeped*. If you are short on cooking time, you can use a simple and average water temperature to brew most of the teas (185°F / 85°C for 1 to 3 minutes).
Consider cold brew tea as an option, too. If you know a few days in advance what you’re planning to cook, you can use cold water to infuse tea overnight. This technique is one of the best ways to get the most out of the tea flavor and avoid any bitterness. Using 1.5 to 2 teaspoons for 6 to 8 ounces of cold water enables you to extract more tea flavor. When using tea for marinades for meat, fish or poultry, the proportion of leaves to liquid may be even higher.
Much like herbs or spices, tea can also be used for braising, rubs* and smoking, as well as a flavor enhancer for meat or vegetable stocks.
To start your adventure in cooking with tea, here are a few of my favorites teas to use in recipes:
Earl Grey is a black tea scented with bergamot, one of the most well-known flavored teas, whether you are a tea connoisseur or an amateur. Its citrus notes are a great complement in chocolate cakes or infused in warm milk to prepare a crêpe or pancake dough.
Keemun is a black tea from the region of Qimen in Anhui Province and is considered one of the most refined Chinese black teas. It has a sweet floral aroma and slightly smoky notes which pair perfectly with spices to cook meat or poultry.
Sencha is a green tea whose delicate and sweet aroma pairs well in cooking noodles or in vegetable and mushroom stocks adding to them a subtle grassy and umami flavor.
Matcha (powdered green tea) is the easiest to use because of its texture and bright green color, but green, black, smoked or scented teas also have their place in the kitchen.
Now that you understand the basics of cooking with tea, have fun with it and be creative! Use it as a garnish in salads or brewing spice in recipes that require milk, broth or water. It will boost certain flavors, give herbaceous or smoked notes, and take you into a completely new sensory universe.
*Over steeping: the action of infusing the loose-leaf tea too long, resulting in a tea that will taste overly bitter.
*Rub is a way to flavor meat by rubbing it with a mixture of dry ingredients called a spice rub. These rubs typically contain salt or sugar and spices, but can also contain flavorings like loose-leaf tea grounds, coffee grounds, etc.
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Emilie Jackson, MS
Born in France and having lived in four different countries before settling in Kansas City, Emilie has a passion for cultures, traditions and rituals from around the world — especially tea rituals. Emilie is the co-owner of Emilie’s French Teas – a French Tea Room located inside Centered Spirit Cultural and Holistic Center in Waldo – 8131 Wornall Road, KCMO 64114, 816.225.9393, firstname.lastname@example.org