They say necessity breeds invention, and I find this to be especially true with my own approach to cooking. When it comes to seasoning a meal in the making, I’ve been known to rip open a tea bag or two, and toss the contents of my favourite herbal blend into an otherwise humdrum homemade stew or soup. Did you know there’s a lot more we can do with tea than just sip it from a delicate china cup?
Although tea is lovely when savoured as a comforting beverage, we can also cook with it. Tea can be used as a stock, rub, or marinade. And whether we use brewed tea, tea leaves, or infuse other liquids with tea, it remains a versatile and flavourful food ingredient—offering endless options for innovative and inspired cooking.
We want to offer you some basic hints on how to use tea as a flavourful ingredient.
It’s probably best that we begin with some basics about tea. Black tea, green tea, Oolong and white teas all originate from the leaves of the same tea bush, yet these four general tea varieties hold distinctive flavours.
>> Black tea (such as English Breakfast and Chai) is made with fermented tea leaves. It generally has a dark colour, a full distinctive taste, and is usually higher in caffeine.
>> Green tea, made with steamed tea leaves, tends to be lighter in colour than black tea. The taste is also less bold than black tea, offering a balance of flavours which are often described as floral, grassy and bitter.
>> Oolong tea is a cross between black and green tea, both in colour and in taste. Depending on how the leaves were prepared, this type of tea can vary in taste from fruity and sweet, or woody and roasted.
>> White tea is a pale tea described to have a smooth sweet flavor. White tea is also the least processed of the four teas.
In addition to these, “herbal teas” are actually herbal infusions—most often these contain no real tea leaves. Herbal infusions are brewed from grasses, leaves and bark, as well as flowers and fruits.
Now that we’ve covered the basics about tea, let’s explore three ways we can enjoy teas and herbal blends by incorporating them into meals…
1. Brewed Tea
Steeped tea can be used to replace water or broth. Cook rice, pasta or couscous in tea by substituting brewed tea in recipes which normally call for water. Use prepared tea as marinate to enhance the cooking of roasted vegetables and meats.
2. Tea Leaves
Use tea leaves just as you would any other herb by adding a pinch of dry leaves to foods (such as vegetables or fish) while cooking. Sauté previously steeped leaves with greens or meat. Or sprinkle ground loose tea leaves on meals at the table – use as a spice.
3. Tea Infusions
Brew teas in soups and stews. For those of us with a sweet tooth, infused tea is also great for baking cakes, cookies and desserts by infusing tea in oil, milk, or other liquid ingredients.
In fact, there are many ways to take pleasure in tea added to sweet foods, such as: smoothies, cocktails, infused chocolate, tea-infused milk—just to name a few! For those of us new to cooking with tea, here are a couple of very simple ideas that will get you started (we suggest using organic teas when possible):
Green tea: brew a cup or two of your favourite green tea and use to simmer rice or fish.
Red tea (Rooibos): bake butternut squash (coat with hot butter and sprinkle with loose Rooibos leaves).
Chai tea: add chai tea bags to milk and infuse overnight. Use milk to make dough mixture when baking scones. Or try using brewed chai tea to cook hot oatmeal.
Herbal tea (of your choice): Try creating a light herbal-infused salad oil using your favourite herbal blend. Simply pour canola oil into a mason jar and add 4 herbal tea bags. Tighten lid and leave in a sunny spot for 2-3 weeks. Pour on a summer salad.
Looking for inspiration when it comes to mealtime? Some of the best recipes are those which include the best ingredient of all—creativity. Remember to experiment as you cook with teas, as each one has unique flavor. Also try to mix it up—different teas can be blended when cooking. Don’t be afraid to try something new!
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