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.