Beyond the teacup

Experimenting mode

Beyond the teacup

Mention the word ‘tea’ and the first association you make is with a tray of biscuits, crustless sandwiches and other snacks that one usually combines with the hot beverage in the late afternoon hours.

While many still enjoy a nice cup of tea at least twice a day, chefs and cooking experts are taking the ingredient to another level altogether.

Cooking tea infused dishes has become one of the popular choices amongst ‘foodies’. The tea leaves are steeped and mixed into a sauce that can easily infuse bold and subtle flavours into both sweet and savoury dishes alike.

With the complex flavour that different types of tea offer, home cooks can create bitter, powerful or lightly flavoured dishes.

Soumya Gopi, a home chef, decided to infuse tea in jasmine rice and create something new. She says, “I enjoy my cup of tea every morning and evening. I also love jasmine rice and thought it would be a good experiment to combine the two.”

She explains that even though the rice is not good on its own, when paired with a simple side dish like ‘butter garlic prawns’, it was a match made in heaven. “Though my husband was sceptical of the outcome initially, once he tried it, he fell in love with it,” she says.

The use of tea leaves and brewed tea is making waves not only because it is trendy but also because of the way it complements different kinds of meats and daily produce with its subtle flavour. It has also earned a reputation for its health benefits — it is rich in antioxidants and is less caffeinated than coffee. These advantages, combined with the taste, have left many cooks with more room to explore.

Ambica Selvam, a food stylist, loves experimenting with tea infused dishes. She says, “I make a lot of soup with tea. I steep the tea and blend the liquid with a stock of my choice and enjoy it with noodles and vegetables. I also enjoy poaching chicken and fish in tea. It complements the dish really well.”

With a few years experience in experimenting with the ingredient, she says one must know the tea that they want to work with. “The combination of tea with another ingredient is really good because it brings the best of both worlds. But it’s important that you understand the type of tea that you want to work with. Some of them are strong, so knowing how to balance the flavour is crucial.”

Apart from savoury dishes, creating creamy and chocolate-based desserts is another choice for tea lovers. With green tea being one of the most common ingredients in Japanese restaurants, one has seen the emergence of dishes like green tea ice cream and macaroons. Geetha Krishnan, the owner of ‘Fragrant Kitchen’, often infuses tea in desserts.

She says, “I make ‘chocolate tea tart’ and ‘chai latte cupcakes’ on a regular basis. I brew the tea and mix the spices later on. Once you bite into the baked goodies, you’ll be left with the refreshing taste of tea.” Agreeing with Ambica, she says that it’s important to balance the flavours right for the final product.

“When I first made the ganache for the tea tart, it had a very strong tea flavour. It’s important that one ingredient does not overpower the other. I learnt my lesson. I hope to try something with white chocolate and tea very soon,” she adds.

Riya Patel, a blogger at ‘Yummy Inside My Tummy’, wanted to try an Indian inspired dish for the festive season and using ‘masala chai’ seemed like a perfect choice. She says, “I made ‘Masala chai brownies’ for ‘Deepavali’. I mixed the tea with the other ingredients. I crushed some tea leaves on top just before I put it in the oven. Even though I am not a tea fan, this dessert changed my opinion of the drink.”

And just like that, once you appreciate the flavour of the tea, it can be easily incorporated in almost all the dishes that you prepare. However, make sure not to over-steep it. Well, the trend proves that tea is not limited to cups alone.

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