With an infinite number of possibilities for tea out there, it can be a bit daunting trying to decide which one to use in your recipes. Often times several teas will work in the same dish; each will simply bring a slightly different flavor profile. Think of tea as broth or base that will promote taste enhancement. If the tea isn’t good enough to drink, you shouldn’t put it in your food.
Now, I suppose I could go through the most common types of tea out there and say what to use them in, but that seems a bit restrictive. I think it is best to use some basic concepts and relate them to your personal palate. If you see someone cooking with a bottle of red wine, most of the time you don’t go out and buy that exact wine. You pick one out that you know you like, and use it in the dish. The same should be done with tea. Every palate is different so using a tea you are fond of will ensure a flavor profile you will respond to well to.
When cooking with red meat it is often best to use a heartier tea like black, puerh or a stronger oolong. When cooking with white meat or fish consider a lighter oolong or green tea as not to overpower the dish. Vegetarian dishes can vary depending on the vegetable being used. For instance if you are using mushrooms you will find the heartier teas are a good match. If you are using a root vegetable, you may want to consider something a bit lighter like an oolong or green tea. For desserts and baking, it is best to consider the base of it and the sweetener being used. With vanilla, cream or white sugar, you will want to use a lighter tea; however, with chocolate, brown sugar or nuts, you will want a heartier tea. The basic thought here is to match the body of the tea to the body of the dish. Though this is not a steadfast rule, it is a good way to start out your tea and food cooking adventure.
Consider the region the dish originates from to decipher the flavor profile your dish will exhibit. If your dish is Southern BBQ you may want to use a Lapsang Souchong for it’s smoky notes. A muscatel Darjeeling can accompany an herb crusted lamb roast. When you think of the tea, what flavors or foods come to mind. When I try a robust green tea, I consider some garlic and olive oil on chicken or turkey. The flavors in the tea should either compliment or mirror the flavors in the dish. For example, puerh has an earthy flavor which mirrors its notes very well in a hearty pot roast but can also compliment a pork loin that has been sweetened with honey or brown sugar. These few basic tips should give you a starting point to create wonderful dishes with tea.
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