Tea isn't just for sipping anymore. The most consumed beverage in the world has an abundance of flavors—over 3,000 varieties, to be exact—from the subtle undertones of green teas to the more pronounced flavor of black teas. Pair that with the long list of ingredients added to tea—rose, mint, spice—and you lay the groundwork for versatility in the kitchen.
At this year's StarChefs International Chefs Congress (www.starchefs.com/cook/icc), tea was on the tongue, with chefs and bartenders using the flavorful leaves in a variety of ingredients. Heather Torrey, chief marketing officer of Rishi Tea, a vendor at the products fair, said chefs buying the teas were using them to add complex layers of flavor to a variety of dishes. "We have a turmeric ginger lemongrass tea chefs use for poaching and bartenders use to infuse spirits," she says. "They also love the smokiness of oolong tea.”
To Matthew Delisle and Cynthia Gold, tea is extremely important and the two teamed up to offer an ICC workshop to educate chefs on how to incorporate tea in cooking. In their restaurant, L’Espalier in Boston, MA, Gold serves as a tea sommelier, while Delisle uses tea to layer flavor into dishes, infusing cocktails, and expanding their pairing portfolio. The restaurant serves an afternoon tea with their own collection. Their “Chef’s Blend,” for example, includes black teas from China, Sri Lanka, and India with a touch of fruit, Chinese herbs, and chrysanthemum petals. The welcoming cocktail served at L’Espalier also includes tea in a ginger oolong simple syrup balancing out Assam Infused Beefeater, Grand Marnier, and orange bitters.
Although his cocktail offering at the ICC didn’t include tea, Joaquin Simo of Pouring Ribbons in NYC, also said tea was a perfect flavor-enhancer for cocktails. “With spicier bourbons and ryes on the rise, it’s no surprise that we’re using tea-based simple syrups,” he says. “The undertones of vanilla and cinnamon in the spirits pairs perfectly with black teas.”
Eric Kaiser, fourth generation baker and leader of the NYC baguette empire Maison Kayser, uses tea to appeal to different cuisines. “We’re available in over 26 different countries,” he says. “We have to create flavors that pertain to each country. We have to adapt to those local flavors.”
Inspired by the Japanese love for tea, he created a matcha green tea loaf with candied orange peel. The result became a market favorite.
Dessert guru Sam Mason of Brooklyn’s Oddfellows also used tea to make ice cream in a products fair demonstration. He served attendees a green tea ice cream and said tea works well because of the way it infuses and steeps, its flavors changing along the way.