Culinary Tea

More Than 150 Recipes Steeped in Tradition from Around the World


By Cynthia Gold

By Lise Stern

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This cutting-edge tome on one of the world’s oldest ingredients and most popular beverages will be an invaluable tool for both home and professional cooks. Gold and Stern offer new ways of looking at tea: the leaves with a history stretching thousands of years is now a secret weapon in the culinary arsenal.
Tea in its many forms has been around for thousands of years, and is a burgeoning industry in many countries as the demand for specialty leaves grows. Read all about the picking and drying techniques virtually unchanged for centuries, popular growing regions in the world, and the storied past of trading.

Culinary Tea has all this, plus more than 100 recipes using everything from garden-variety black teas to exclusive fresh tea leaves and an in-depth treatment of tea cocktails. The book will include classics, such as the centuries-old Chinese Tea-Smoked Duck and Thousand-Year Old Eggs, as well as recipes the authors have developed and collected, such as Smoked Tea-Brined Capon and Assam Shortbread.


For my children,
Gabriel, Eitan, and Shoshi
For Helen Gustafson, her life, and her work. Helen was a fascinating and enigmatic woman whose pioneering efforts with Alice Waters at Chez Panisse in Berkeley, California, brought high-quality, properly steeped loose-leaf teas to the American restaurant world. Those of us who were fortunate enough to have known her and shared tea with her will always remember herfor her passion, intelligence, and charisma. She was an inspiration and a mentor to many and has left a legacy of fine tea appreciation. Although she did not officially bear the title, I believe she was the first Tea Sommelier, and am profoundly grateful for all that she shared with me personally and all the industry.


What is Culinary Tea?

TEA IS ONE OF THE OLDEST INGREDIENTS USED IN THE KITCHEN—AND AT THE SAME TIME, ONE of the newest. Within the various tea-producing regions of the world, tea has long been consumed as a food as well as a beverage, yet more often than not, these culinary preparations have stayed hidden within their cultural niches.
Tea as a beverage is fast gaining popularity in the West, thanks in part to a greater availability of wonderful loose-leaf varieties and also to a growing body of research that supports the historic understanding of the health benefits of tea. As large segments of our population embrace healthier lifestyles and eating habits, tea is a part of this. And for us, it followed naturally that tea should make the leap from cup to plate.
Culinary Tea is all about cooking with tea—bringing this remarkably versatile, healthful, and flavorful ingredient into modern kitchens. We offer fresh ways of looking at tea—approaching it from way outside the cup, as it were—by drawing on classic ways of cooking with tea, such as the centuries-old Chinese Tea-Marbled Eggs (page 91), as well as developing new recipes using innovative approaches in the techniques employed and the flavors and textures achieved, such as Tea-Rubbed Short Ribs with Smoky Barbecue Sauce (page 152) or Assam Shortbread Diamonds (page 186)
There are myriad ways in which tea can enhance a dish, and a variety of techniques that bring out the best flavor in both the tea and the complementary ingredients in a dish. Tea can be added dry, steeped in water, steeped in other liquids, smoked, brined, or infused. And the many styles of tea complement foods in different ways. Within the four basic categories of tea—green, black, oolong, and white—specific styles of tea can enhance various dishes in different ways. Among black teas, for example, a delicate Darjeeling will work better in one kind of dish, a hearty Keemun in another, a smoky Lapsang Souchong in a third.
The enchantment of tea, too, is its backstory. Tea is literally steeped in history, a history that spans the world. China, India, and Japan are the most well-known tea countries today, but other Asian countries such as Sri Lanka (formerly called Ceylon) and Korea have their tea traditions, as do European countries such as Britain and France. This cultural history affected the development of different tea traditions, and different teas.
Culinary Tea is divided into two parts. In part one, we give an overview and background on tea in general, with a history of cooking with tea, and detailed descriptions of more common styles of tea. While all tea comes from the same plant, Camellia sinensis, different handling and processing techniques create a wide array of distinctive flavors. We explain why black tea is called black, and what makes a tea green, white, oolong, Pu-erh, scented, or blended. We give an overview on flavor profiling. Just as certain wines harmonize with certain foods, teas complement foods in more and less satisfying ways, and we explain how. Part two begins with a chapter describing the various techniques we recommend for cooking with tea. We continue with over one hundred fifty recipes demonstrating the many methods of cooking with tea, organized by course.
As you explore Culinary Tea—forward, sideways, inside-out, as is often the way with cookbooks—you'll learn how to easily incorporate tea into your culinary repertoire. Ultimately, we hope you'll be inspired to create your own original culinary tea recipes.

Notes on Ingredients

TEA: We prefer loose-leaf tea. Loose-leaf offers the greatest variety, while tea bags are limited to a handful of blacks and greens, with an occasional white or oolong, as well as artificially flavored teas (peach, mango, etc.). Loose-leaf teas are now widely available outside specialty tea shops—you can even pick them up at coffee bars like Starbucks. At the end of the book, we list sources for both loose-leaf teas and tea equipment.
That said, you can use commercial teabags for culinary tea. Because the tea in teabags is usually finely broken or ground (unless you are using the new breed of teabags, containing whole leaves) you will need less tea if using teabags than the amount called for in our recipes. Here's the standard rule of thumb: 1 standard teabag = 1 teaspoon loose-leaf tea leaves
EGGS: We use large eggs in all recipes.
FLOUR: Unless otherwise stated, use all-purpose flour. We prefer unbleached flour, as bleached flour often has a chlorinated taste that can especially interfere with the subtle flavors of tea.
SALT: For baking and most cooking, we generally prefer fine sea salt, though some recipes call for coarse sea or kosher salt. Regular table salt may be substituted for any recipe calling for fine sea salt.


Our Personal Histories with Culinary Tea

BOTH OF US CAME TO COOKING WITH TEA afteryears of simply enjoying it as a beverage. More than a decade ago, Cindy opened the first of two tea restaurant-cafés called Tea-Tray in the Sky in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in which she promoted her love of all things tea, and offered a menu of more than three hundred loose-leaf varieties. Lisë met Cindy when she was writing an article on masala chai for the Boston Globe. While she had tried several chais, Cindy's version converted Lisë from a tea drinker to tea aficionado.
As a chef, Cindy began creating foods in her restaurant that would complement the teas she served. Being surrounded by flavorful and aromatic teas—they screamed to be given their due! Soon customers started asking for pairing suggestions, wondering which of the many teas would best go with the food items on the menu. Cindy began to pay more attention to the flavor profiles; it then occurred to her that pairing a tea and food within a dish shouldn't be that different from pairing alongside a dish.
Cindy's first culinary tea creation was the Fresh Fruit Tart with Jasmine Tea Pastry Cream (page 214). Other dishes quickly followed, like the Jasmine Tea-Cured Gravlax (page 93) and the Flourless Keemun-Cherry Chocolate Torte (page 204).
Lisë, who was already a fan of Cindy's cooking, was inspired by Cindy's enthusiastic embrace of culinary tea. And as you discover the teas and recipes in this book, we think you will be, too. It's not a new concept: As we soon discovered, the concept of cooking with tea has a history as long (or longer) as the concept of drinking tea.
A Brief History of Tea
TEA IS BELIEVED TO HAVE ORIGINATED IN China, or in the Assam region of northern India—the base of the Himalayas. Beyond that, its historical origins as food and drink are steeped in myth and legend. The Chinese have a legendary ancestor, shennong, known as the father of Chinese agriculture (shennong means "divine farmer") who is credited with, among other things, "discovering" tea. Descriptions of his first encounter with tea vary. Some say tea leaves blew into water he was boiling, others say he chewed on the leaves. Some claim he was feeling ill at the time from sampling other plants and the tea cured him, others say the tea simply imparted a good feeling and tasted delicious. Regardless, the year of his encounter with tea is oddly precise: 2737 B.C.E. According to The True History of Tea by Victor H. Mair and Erling Hoh, "Curiosity and gluttony being two hallmarks of our species, it is easy to surmise that humans discovered the nourishing, salubrious effects of the tea leaf much earlier than the Shennong myth claims. And when they did, it was certainly by chewing the raw leaf—a custom practiced to this day by people in its native region."
In The Empire of Tea, Alan MacFarlane agrees that people were enjoying tea long before they thought to add water. He writes, "No one on earth drank tea a few thousand years ago. A few small tribal groups in the jungles of southeast Asia chewed the leaves of the plant, but that was the nearest anyone came to tea drinking. Two thousand years ago it was drunk in a handful of religious communities. By a thousand years ago it was drunk by millions of Chinese. Five hundred years ago over half of the world's population was drinking tea as their main alternative to water."
According to Indian tradition, it was the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma who discovered the stimulating effects of tea: He found he was able to meditate with renewed attention after chewing on some tea twigs. The gorier Japanese twist on this legend is that Bodhidharma was attempting to meditate for seven (some accounts say nine) years, and after five years, dozed off. He was so upset, he cut off his eyelids and threw them on the ground; where they fell, tea trees grew.
Regardless of the legendary source, tea trees do go way back—and can live a long time. Tea trees assessed to be more than one thousand years old have been discovered in China. In 2007 at the Third China International Cultural Industry Fair, a brick of Pu-erh tea weighing about a pound was on display (and for sale for $38,961.04). The tree that commanded this price is said to be the oldest cultivated tea tree, estimated to be over three thousand years old.
The tea culture in China is similar to the wine culture in France, with hundreds of specialized regional teas and closely guarded production methods. China established a strong tea trade with surrounding countries. Tea was traded and used for currency, usually pressed into bricks and cakes for transport. Agnes Repplier writes in her 1931 volume To Think of Tea!, "The world drinks tea, but its history and traditions are indisputably Chinese. Japan has the ritual, England the pure comfort and delight, Tartary and Thibet the needed stimulant in a land of snows. But the 'China drink' is China's child, and China's inspiration."
Surrounding countries that became nations of tea drinkers include Japan, Tibet, Russia (Siberia), and Myanmar (Burma). Oddly, India was not much of a tea-drinking country until the British arrived. In regions where tea grew wild, such as Assam, native tribes might have had some tea here and there, but there is little documented history.
Tea did not arrive in Europe until the seventeenth century—namely to Britain, Holland, and France. As in China and Japan, it was initially lauded for its curative powers. The British famously took to tea more than anyone else, and as demand in that country grew, the British East India Company, which had been importing tea from China, saw India as a goldmine of tea possibilities. At the end of the eighteenth century, what started as a business deal turned into a colony, as the East India Company began buying up more and more land in India. A few decades later, after a coffee blight wiped out that industry in Sri Lanka (then called Ceylon) tea plantations were planted there as well.
The British may have lost the American Revolution, but they played a significant role in the spread of tea—taxed or not—all around the world.
Each country that adopted tea developed its own rituals. In the 1968 Time Life Foods of the World series volume on China, Emily Han writes, ". . . most of us have taken to tea. We each have our special ways of using it. The Chinese drink it straight without sugar, cream, or lemon; the Moslems put in mint; the British, when faced with crises, rush to make a nice strong cup of 'Indian' mixed with milk; the Irish like it so strong that—to use their own expression—'a rat couldn't sink its foot in it'; and the Australians probably brew it longer than anyone else."
Mair and Hoh, in an appendix to The True History of Tea, write extensively about the etymology of the word tea. They propose that the very word is a linguistic account of the spread of tea:
Just as the trade routes for tea may be traced, so may the paths of transmission for the various types of words for tea be tracked. Not surprisingly, the two systems—economic and linguistic—closely coincide. Of the three main branches of the family of tea words, te, cha, and chai, the first commenced its voyage from the southeast coast of China . . . the second went overland from northern China to neighboring territories, but also by sea from Canton in the south, while the third journeyed by pack animals (camels, horses, mules, but also often humans) and carts across steppes and deserts and over mountains. To study the history of words for tea is thus what might be called an exercise in geolinguistics. In the end, goods produced and named by human beings, from start to finish, are ineluctably linked to the land. The evolution of tea usage is a prime example of the intimate interface between Homo sapiens and Mother Earth.

Tea and Health

THERE IS NO OTHER DRINK IN THE WORLD like tea. What other elixir is simultaneously relaxing and energizing? "First and foremost, tea gives you a high, a buzz," says James Norwood Pratt, author of New Tea Lover's Treasury. "You don't notice it, because tea is subtle. You never feel a jolt from it—it's so subtle, that you don't feel the liftoff—and you don't notice the letdown a couple hours later. At the same time, other constituents in the tea leaves are acting on the human system to calm you down."
Modern medicine has caught on relatively recently to kitchen wisdom passed down through generations. Probably the single factor that has most contributed to the growing popularity of tea is its healthful reputation. In the past decade, the number of studies examining the health benefits of tea has increased exponentially. Each study conclusively demonstrates that tea benefits heart, mind, and body in numerous ways. In an introduction to the Second International Scientific Symposium on Tea & Human Health in 1998, Richard P. Phipps, Dean's Professor of Environmental Medicine, Oncology, Pediatrics, and Microbiology & Immunology at the University of Rochester, wrote "It is fascinating to reflect that tea, the world's most widely consumed beverage next to water, began in Chinese antiquity not as a beverage but as a medicine. Several millennia later, modern scientific research is confirming that such ancient intuition has relevance to contemporary health concerns including cancer, heart disease, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria."
Of course, while healthfulness might initially prompt people to try tea, it's not necessarily enough to keep them in the tea camp. This is where taste comes in. Health can pique an interest; taste can create a devotee. The more people try tea, the more they discover that they actually like the stuff, and a new aficionado is born.

Tea as Food Around the World


EARLY RECORDS OF CHINESE TEA CONSUMPTION indicate it was used more as a food than a beverage. Mair and Hoh describe a third century document on tea preparation, which states that those who "wish to brew the tea first roast [the cake] until it is a reddish color, pound it into a powder, put it into a ceramic container, and cover it with boiling water. They stew scallion [spring onion], ginger, and orange peel with it." For centuries, tea has been used in China for classic dishes such as Tea Smoked Duck (page 142). In some regions, especially near the West Lake District, fresh unprocessed young tea shoots and buds were lightly wok-cooked for dishes such as Tung Ting Shrimp (page 97), and whole fish were stuffed with tea leaves before steaming.
While Shennong's existence is not entirely historical, another important figure to tea in China is. In Ch'a Ching, translated as The Classic of Tea, which was published in 780, author Lu Yu describes all aspects of tea, from farming to production to preparation to medicinal benefits. He was very precise about where water should be drawn for making tea, and he also was definitive about what tea should—or rather, should not—be prepared with. Namely, no scallions, ginger, mint, or anything other than salt.
Still, Repplier describes accounts of tea leaves being steamed and pounded into a paste, then mixed with rice, spices, milk, and salt. "The mixture must have been more like a pot au feu than liquid jade," she observes.
In China today, cooks are starting to use tea in contemporary dishes, as well as adding it to traditional ones. In Chinese bakeries, you can find moon cakes, bean-filled pastries served for an autumn holiday, flavored with different teas, including green and oolong.
The Chinese Hakka minority today still prepare a dish called lei cha ("pounded tea") that dates to the third century. A cultural legend describes the curative powers of an early version, which was often served at lunch, or for the arrival of honored guests. Lei cha consists of a soupy herb-and-tea "pesto" served over rice and sautéed vegetables, topped with nuts and sunflower or sesame seeds. The dish is also served in Malaysia by the Hakka population there, and for many it's a daily staple.


The Japanese have long used tea in broths and when making rice. More recently, many Japanese sweets incorporate matcha, a finely powdered brilliant green tea—an "instant" tea of sorts that is synonymous with chanoyu, the ritualistic Japanese tea ceremony. Matcha is one of the oldest styles of tea in Japan: The Japanese Buddhist priest Eisai is credited with bringing tea to Japan from China in 1191—and the tea he brought was a powdered tea.
Matcha is produced in several different grades. A culinary-grade matcha is a popular ingredient especially in many Japanese sweets. It is used to flavor and color wagashi, candy-like confections made from bean paste and rice powder, which resemble marzipan. It is also used in a number of other Japanese desserts, which tend to be less sweet than their American counterparts, including green tea mousse cakes and green tea ice cream.


The standard historic tea preparation in Tibet is tea blended with salt and yak butter. Brick tea is boiled, then blended with cream—actually churned, in an instrument that looks just like a butter churn, till the mixture is smooth. Sometimes this ja is mixed with barley flour, called tsamba, and sometimes the tsamba is further steeped with pig bones, for a substantial rera ja, or meat tea.
The British explorer Henry Savage Landor recounts in his 1898 volume, In the Forbidden Land: An Epic Equestrian Journey through 19th Century Tibet, being captured by "lamas" (bandits, in this context) in Tibet. His captors were evidently looking forward to a ritual execution the next day; when he threatened to perish from starvation, they brought him tsamba and a large raksang of tea to ensure that he'd still be around for the execution. He partook of the feast; ultimately his life was spared and he lived to tell the tale.


There is an old Burmese saying, "Mango is the best among fruits and laphet is the best among leaves." The leaves here are tea leaves—but not just any tea leaves. Laphet are pickled, fermented fresh tea leaves. This dish was—and is—so revered that ancient Burmese kings appointed an official to oversee the production and to serve them laphet and green tea.
Tea leaves from the interior mountains of the Northern Shan State or Namsan, and from Mogok in Mandalay, harvested after March but before the monsoon season, are considered to be the best leaves for laphet. After harvest, as in green tea production, the leaves go through a period similar to a wither period (see page 20). They are then steamed lightly until wilted, mixed with oil, and packed into urns, hollow bamboo, or a variety of different containers. Originally they were then buried for three to seven months, but in modern commercial production this is less common. The resulting fermented leaves vary from paste-like to the texture of cooked spinach with complex, pungent flavors: salt, bitterness, smoke, and tea.
Laphet is often finished into a salad, Laphet Thote (page 66), which is the national dish of Myanmar. Variations on the salad components and ratios are as numerous as variations on masala chai recipes in India, but some of the common ingredients include raw cabbage, diced tomato, fried garlic chips, toasted sesame seeds, roasted peanuts, dried shrimp, roasted or fried beans or peas, and chili peppers. When the fermented and seasoned leaf paste is combined with the chosen ingredients, the result is a complex melding of textures and flavors.


The Singpho tribe in Assam, who are believed to have been the first to discover tea in India, as well as the Khamti (also known as Hkamti) tribe of Assam and northwest Burma (now Myanmar) have been consuming tea since the twelfth century. In 1598, the Dutch traveler Jan Huyghen van Linschoten observed that the Indians ate the leaves as a vegetable with garlic and oil, as well as boiling the leaves to make a beverage. This early example of culinary tea in India is particularly significant, since cooking with tea in India is not as old or as widespread a tradition.
Modified hand plucking at Glenmorgan Estate, the Nilgiri Blue Mountains, India;
The famed Hupao Spring, or Running Tiger Spring in Hanzhou China, revered by Lu Yu in the eighth century as an ideal water source for tea preparation.

Modern Culinary Tea

TODAY, MANY MORE RESTAURANTS ARE featuring quality teas as beverage options. And as soon as a restaurant stocks quality teas, it's not surprising to find chefs recognizing their culinary potential, using them as ingredients in everything from appetizers to desserts. (In our experience, having those teas around leads to some inspired new dishes.) It is our hope that eventually the concept of cooking with tea will go mainstream—that tea, like wine or garlic or pepper, will be a pantry staple in every kitchen.
To that end, Cindy teaches seminars and classes around the country on basic concepts of how to cook with tea. There also are some noteworthy pioneers in this effort, including chefs Robert Wemischner and Joanna Pruess. Dilmah Tea, a visionary Sri Lankan tea company, is also now leading that effort in promoting cooking with tea by educating chefs. They started by creating the National Dilmah Tea Sommelier Competition, held in Colombo, Sri Lanka, in 2007. This led to an International Tea Sommelier Competition, which looked at a central piece of a tea sommelier's focus, steeping and serving fine teas, as well as creating tea cocktails and other drinks that can enhance guests' appreciation of the diverse potential of tea. From the first competition involving twenty-five hotels and restaurants, Dilmah then went on to sponsor Thé Culinaire competitions, again beginning in Sri Lanka, and an event with Australian chefs, called the Chefs and the Tea Makers.
We are grateful to Dilmah Tea for their ongoing efforts to deepen the respect and appreciation of fine teas world wide, and we are pleased to include some of the winning recipes from these competitions in this book.
As Dilmah Tea recognized, competitions are a great way to stimulate interest and creativity. In the United States, the 2009 New England Culinary Tea Competition, sponsored by the Boston Park Plaza Hotel and Towers, the Tea Board of India, the Cambridge School of Culinary Arts, Upton Tea Imports, and TEA: A Magazine , brought together student and alumni competitors from culinary schools throughout New England. Over one hundred entries vied for the Best Tea Cuisine Savory Dish, Best Tea Cocktail, Best Tea Cuisine Dessert, and the Best Culinary Use, any category, of Indian Tea. Some of the finalists' recipes, as well as the winning recipes, are included in this book.
Additionally, several chefs in India are making great strides now cooking with tea, and we have included some of their recipes as well.



On Sale
Sep 7, 2010
Page Count
208 pages
Running Press

Cynthia Gold

About the Author

Cynthia Gold is a tea sommelier at The Boston Park Plaza Hotel & Towers. She also frequently speaks on tea cuisine at conferences and teaches at culinary institutes around the country. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

Lisëtern has written on diverse subjects from software to travel, and considers food writing her main passion. She lives in Boston, Massachusetts.

Learn more about this author