Oh, the possibili'tea'!

Add-on: Why conform tea to a cup? When added to food, tea and its various forms enhance the flavours.

Masala Chai Crème brûlée

If you think tea is only for making your favourite beverage, think again! Today, many food enthusiasts and chefs are finding unique ways to incorporate tea in a recipe to enhance the flavour profile of a dish. “Over the past few years, the curiosity on how one can use tea in food has increased. Of late, I have also seen a lot of tea-inspired dishes come up. So, there is a lot of recipes that are now available for people to try,” says Jyoti Rajesh, a food blogger at www.currytrail.in.

Its distinctive way of adding layers of subtle and delicate flavours to dishes makes tea one of the most versatile ingredient to work with. “Think of tea as a spice, and this throws open many possibilities,” shares Abhishek Roy, assistant restaurant manager, Mainland China. For instance, you can use brewed tea in place of water, or you could also smoke your dish using tea leaves. Some of the other ways that tea can be used include braising and baking.

Brew for all

As you get a feel for using tea as an ingredient, try increasing the volume of brewed tea or finely ground tea leaves. As you begin your adventure with tea, here are a few tips that you can keep in mind to ensure that  your dish comes out perfect:

Choose your tea according to the dish that you are cooking. In particular, keep in mind the ingredients that you are using. This ensures that the tea doesn’t overpower the other ingredients that are being used. “Creating a balanced flavour profile also depends on the cooking method used. For example, when I use tea leaves in a wok-tossed rice item, the flavour of the tea is accentuated with the presence of other ingredients like oil and turmeric,” adds Ankit Gupta, co-founder, Burma Burma.

The choice of the tea used can determine what flavour notes you would like to add to a dish. “For example, in the case of masala tea, the spices may go well with a higher cacao percentage of dark chocolate, while matcha can be combined to balance the sweetness from white chocolate,” says Bhuvan Ravishankar, senior sous chef and pastry expert, The Oberoi, Bengaluru.

More importantly, brew teas at the right temperature and for the right amount of time. If it is over-brewed, it can tend to leave a bitter aftertaste and affect the flavour profile of the dish. Before you start cooking with tea in a full-fledged manner, start by adding just a small amount of brewed tea or a pinch of finely ground tea.

Each kind of tea has its distinct profile and personality. So, understanding these key differences can help you choose the right one for each recipe. So, once these aspects are taken into account, it is easy to add an exotic touch to various dishes. For example, the robust flavours of black tea can be paired with hearty, rich food like meat-based dishes, while the earthy flavours of green teas can be paired with vegetarian dishes and salads.

For maximum flavour

Here are some ways that tea can be used to enhance flavours of a dish:

• Use ground tea leaves in spice rubs for meats, paneer and tofu.

• If you have a sweet tooth, consider adding tea leaves to baked goods like cakes. For example, Bhuvan uses a delicate tea like Earl Grey and chamomile to compliment the flavour profile in chocolates. “They are used in the preparation of a ganache as a filling for bonbons,” he says.

• To add more flavour to grains such as rice, use brewed tea instead of water while cooking. Brewed tea can also add a subtle flavour and aroma to stews, soups and poached dishes.

• If you have any brewed tea leftover, consider using it as a marinade or even adding it to sauces and gravies.

• If you are looking for distinctive, smoked flavour to your dish, you can using tea leaves instead of wood chips.

• Infuse puddings or custards with the subtle flavours of tea by steeping tea in warmed milk.

Apart from using tea in foods, it can also be used to make various drinks as well. For Devati Mallick, assistant manager, food & beverage manager, The Oberoi, Bengaluru, the subtle similarities between teas and spirits make them perfect companions in cocktails.

“Tea offers a new dimension of flavour and complexity to drinks by adding weight and aromas to a drink. Strongly flavoured teas can be mixed with dark spirits to enhance the body of the drink whereas light and aromatic teas can be mixed with neutral spirits to give them a fresh and herbal twist,” she explains.

Hence, it is important to know which tea to pair with the liquor. “A few things that should be considered before pairing are the colour, concentration and flavour of tea,” says Abhishek. In this light, tea is used in numerous ways by chefs in drinks. For example, at The Oberoi, Devati states that they infuse spirits with tea leaves and turn them into cocktails like the The Breakfast Martini, which contains Earl Grey-flavoured gin, orange marmalade, lemon juice and a dash of honey.

Cooking with tea is an adventure in new flavours and aromas. As a subtle and enhancing flavouring, tea is complementary to most ingredients it is used with. So, why not start experimenting with your teas today?

 

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