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Tea is a lot like wine – it’s taste, colour and cost change depending on the region, season and label. And like wine, it’s both a luxury item and an everyday grocery at the same time.
But while we’re used to seeing tea as a beverage, it’s also a fantastic flavour add for food. In fact, people all across Asia have been cooking with tea for generations.
Tea’s distinctive flavours—woody, ripe and sweet, pleasantly astringent or bitter—adds layers of complexity to otherwise simple food in a truly unique way.
Green tea has been hailed for its health properties and unique flavour and has started infiltrating menus in Australia. Green tea ice-cream has been a popular dessert item for years now, while matcha lattes, smoothies and even cookies are becoming more commonplace.
To help introduce you to the wonderful world of cooking with tea, we’ve collected some of our favourite recipes and methods to get you started. Let us know if you’ve got a favourite matcha recipe you’d like to share!
Tea smoked duck
One of the most iconic dishes to emerge from Sichuan province—a major tea-producing region of China—is the tea-smoked duck. Think American barbecue, but Chinese. The whole duck is hot smoked with green tea leaves instead of wood chips, and the results are pretty fantastic. The tea’s smoky bite is more delicate than wood, a little sweeter and less overtly woody – obviously – while still providing enough savoury goodness to give the meat some depth.
It’s a dish well worth trying at home (wrap a wok tightly in aluminium foil, inside and over the lid, to do it right on the stovetop), but make sure you’ve got a good range hood or a well-ventilated kitchen, just in case the smoke leaks out.
You can try this recipe with any of your favourite meats really.
Chicken noodle broth
While we in Australia are more familiar with using tea in desserts or sweet things, it really comes to life in savoury dishes. Chicken noodle broth is a famous cure-all no matter what continent you’re from, but when it’s flavoured with green tea—just a pinch or two, simmered in the stock until the leaves turn tender – it really comes alive. Not only does the tea add delightful depth to the flavour, slowly simmering the tea helps release all the health-bringing goodness stored in the leaves. The best part is cheaper teas are actually a better choice—budget greens often have a more roasted, savoury taste that plays especially well with chicken and noodles.
Grassy-yet-savoury powdered matcha ice cream is the go-to choice here, but don’t underestimate good chai or a roasted oolong for a deep, rich tea flavour. The key is to steep the tea in the mixture before freezing.
Flavour a Stir-Fry
Nutty-tasting genmaicha (a mixture of green tea and puffed rice) is perfect for adding some flavour to a stir-fry. When the leaves hit the hot pan they unfurl and toast while the rice picks up a golden, roasted flavour that’s with greens, root vegetables, and any meat.