Our Christmas family tradition is still a work-in-progress, led largely by the nine-year-old in the house and his idea of celebrations. We have finally settled on a few things: that decorations must be done on the 1st of December, that we will watch Christmas movies often, and that since the living room looks so pretty, we must entertain. Before the pandemic, we had started another tradition, of having friends over for tea in December. This year, looking for new teas, I decided to explore dessert teas.
The idea of a dessert tea seems to be catching on in India. These are essentially blends designed to mimic the flavours of a dessert. At its simplest, a dessert tea can be a cocoa-black tea blend. The more adventurous, however, will find sophisticated options, like creme brûlée and blueberry cheesecake teas. The best dessert teas build on the base tea but let’s face it, their appeal lies in how they can make an everyday cup of tea rise to a festive occasion.
I tried a few dessert teas and while I don’t think I will replace my everyday teas soon, they are fun. I can see why friends who prefer tea blends will enjoy the play of flavours and touch of chocolate or vanilla that makes its way into so many dessert teas. You can put out a host of options and allow your guests to choose where their mood goes. In choosing dessert teas, seek those that use natural flavouring and natural additives. Remember, not all dessert teas are named after a dessert, so look for teas that include cocoa, hazelnut, rose, almonds, mint. There are several new brands that offer dessert tea blends.
For a more conservative selection, I have two favourites:
Mulled wine tea: This is a great combination, with two beverages that are similar yet different. You can make a non-alcoholic mulled tea or a mulled wine with tea. Choose an Assam black if you can, although any black tea works. The spices bring together the tea and wine in wonderful harmony. For mulled tea, heat water gently and add spices (clove, cinnamon, lemongrass, nutmeg, star anise, cardamom, orange rind). Let it simmer for 5-10 minutes. Add tea and let it steep for three-four minutes. For mulled wine tea, use tea instead of water, add spices and simmer. Add a dry red wine at the end, simmer until it’s warm.
Kashmiri kahwa: The kahwa’s use of saffron can make any occasion feel festive. To make the kahwa, choose a Kangra green tea or a gunpowder green tea (pellets). Heat water. Add the tea, cardamom pods, cinnamon and saffron strands. Let it steep for three-four minutes. Garnish with almond slivers. If you would like to stay in familiar chai territory, however, and believe a cup of masala chai is the most hearty, you will find several chai blend options. Because no matter the scale or style of celebration, know there’s a tea that will go with it!
TEA PICKS: Dessert teas (Chayam Tea, No.3 Clive Road), Winter Christmas Tea Blend (Dharmsala Tea Company), Vanilla Spiced Chai (Vahdam), Kashmiri Kahwa (Dharmsala Tea Company). If DIY is your choice, Romancing Tea (mittalteas.com) has an exhaustive collection of recipes.
Aravinda Anantharaman is a Bengaluru-based tea blogger and writer who reports on the tea industry. @AravindaAnanth1