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Learning to cook with tea

From ramen, cakes to 'chhole', there are spectacular ways to use tea beyond drinking it

The easiest way to include tea in baking is to infuse sugar with tea. (Photo: istockphoto)

I have a confession to make. I am not much of a cook. “Come for tea”—not lunch or dinner—is the invitation I issue. Once, a friend came for dinner and set out to cook the meal. She flung some tea into the chhole and I baulked. But didn’t you know, she asked, that you add tea leaves to chhole? Of course, I didn’t.

This year, I would like to cook more, and because I am familiar with tea, I plan to use it as my route to cooking. I watched some experts at the International Virtual Tea Festival in November, and collected some tips I thought I would share.

Cooking with tea: I finally figured out that my friend had used tea as a flavouring, almost like a stock, and not just to add colour to the chhole. I didn’t taste the tea in the chhole eventually but I have since always watched for its flavours. Alan and Marlys Arnold run a site, Adventures with Tea, which has many recipes that include tea. They seem to use a lot of tea blends. They suggest tea as a substitute for water in recipes, as a soup base (green tea with its vegetal flavours), as a marinade, and even ground as a herb (which makes sense when you think of it). One of the teas that came up was the lapsang souchong, a smoked black tea from China (you can get a smoked Assam black tea as a substitute). A bartender friend told me this tea reminds her of bacon. The lapsang souchong works as a meat rub, as a poaching liquid, or, as the Arnolds suggest, can be steeped overnight in milk and used to make a grown up’s Mac and Cheese. Tea broth is also used as a base for ramen in Japanese cooking.

Baking with tea: If you are like me, baking may be a better starting point. The easiest way to include tea, I found, is to infuse sugar with tea. Or if that’s too easy, try infusing butter with tea (melt unsalted butter and allow the tea to steep in it for a few minutes. Strain and use the butter). Tea is also used ground and added to cookie dough as an ingredient, or to cake frosting, or even as a poaching liquid. Spiced chai seems a popular option in baking along with matcha—as a powdered tea, it’s a handy ingredient.

Interestingly, the tea of choice for desserts seems to be Earl Grey. As a blend of black tea with citrusy bergamot, perhaps it feels like the beginning of a great dessert already?

Lattes, cocktails and mocktails: At a tea expo some time ago, I had a sip of what was passed around as a matchai. This odd drink was a matcha chai. I remember that it was hot, and therefore welcome, but recall little of the taste itself. Daniela, who blogs at Tea Cachai, ran a session at the virtual tea festival on tea-based beverages and her site offers several recipes. I especially enjoyed her version of the Bellini, where she replaced the prosecco in the original recipe with a cold brew Darjeeling first flush steeped in sparkling water. Now, that is a good place to start, I think.

Tea Nanny is a weekly series steeped in the world of tea. Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry.

@AravindaAnanth1

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