On Saturday night I hosted a tea party. No, not the kind with teddy bears and imaginary chamomile in Fisher Price cups. Instead, for this month’s Foodbuzz 24, 24, 24 event, I invited a few friends over to our Shanghai lane house apartment, turned on some Duke Ellington, and served finger foods and drinks made with different types of tea.
As dear readers of this blog may know, I love experimenting with tea in the kitchen. I’ll try age-old Chinese regional dishes, use hibiscus tea in an alcoholic granita, or work with rose tea in a cross-cultural rice pudding. It’s just…I have so much tea. Both leaves and bagged tea are so cheap and light-weight that I think nothing of buying tons of either. Before I know it the cabinet is bulging and I spend about 10 minutes every morning facing the paradox of choice.
But you want to read about food. So I’ll break down this entry by tea type and suggest how you can cook or mix drinks with each.
Ceylon Black Tea – This Sri Lankan tea is the most versatile and easiest to work with. And I have a boatload in the cabinet for whenever I want to make Hong Kong-style milk tea at home. It’s strong and can stand up to bold flavors like soy sauce, cinnamon, and star anise. One of the easiest and elegant-looking hors d’oeuvres you can serve is Chinese tea eggs with a dollop of caviar (in my case, the recession-friendly Abba caviar from Ikea.) You can steep the eggs beforehand, let them chill in the fridge, and slice just before your party. The Ceylon, soy sauce, cinnamon, and star anise combo works so well for tea eggs, I decided to simmer chicken wings in a similar sauce for my “main course.” I added a bit of brown sugar and the result was phenomenal.
Having had success last fall with tea-scented pumpkin soup, I decided to try a similar carrot soup with Ceylon tea. It was good, until I added ground black pepper, which brought about an acrid taste, for whatever reason. (Black pepper was fine in the pumpkin soup.)
I also made Ceylon tea banana bread (recipe at the end). Yes, it’s more of a breakfast item, but I couldn’t resist. Guests gobbled up most of the bite-sized bits.
Pu’er Tea (also Pu’erh or Bolay) – This Chinese tea from Yunnan province comes in 2 varieties: sheng / raw (only drunken after it has been aged) and shou / cooked (processed to imitate fermentation). I made an eggplant and mushroom dip by roasting the vegetables, sprinkling over with salt and paprika, and puréeing with brewed tea. The Pu’er added a mellow earthiness.
Green tea - This minimally-oxidized tea comes in many forms; in China alone there are at least 20 major regions for green tea. For the party I used Dragon Well (longjing), the well-known tea from Hangzhou leftover from my last trip there. One of my favorite improptu cocktails is mixing up a little sake with Korean crushed pear juice and a splash of chilled green tea. Or make a coconut-mint iced tea like this one (recipe at the end.) Go non-virgin by adding some rum.
My second dessert was green tea mochi, bought from Mochi Sweets. As much as I love cooking with matcha powder, I decided to go whole-leaf for this meal. Of course, I had to get my matcha fix somewhere, and the neighborhood mochi shop was a fine purveyor.
Tea + food + alcohol = a grand ol’ time.
Chai Oatmeal Cookies
Makes 2 dozen
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup (1 stick) butter
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons steeped black tea
1/2 cup instant oats
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
In a mixer, cream together sugar and butter. Slowly add the flour and continue to mix. Beat in egg. Add vanilla extract, baking soda, salt, cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon. Slowly mix in black tea and instant oats until well-combined. Dough should be a little sticky.
Form tablespoon-sized balls onto a buttered baking sheet, lining them at least 1 inch apart. Press each lump down lightly. Bake for 15 minutes, until golden brown. Let cool completely on a rack, and store in an air-tight container.
Ceylon Tea Banana Bread
3 to 4 ripe bananas
1 1/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup melted butter
1/3 cup strong Ceylon tea (easy method is to steep 2 tea bags in 1/3 cup hot water for 5 minutes; wait until it’s somewhat cooled to mix with other ingredients.)
1 egg, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In a large bowl, mash bananas with sugar and mix in melted butter. Stir in brewed tea, then add egg and vanilla. Mix in baking soda and salt. Slowly add flour and mix well unti the white clumps are gone. Pour mixture into a buttered 4″ x 8″ loaf pan. Bake for 1 hour, or until the top is golden brown and a toothpick stuck into the center comes out clean. Cool on a cooling rack, then slice.
Coconut-Mint Iced Tea
Makes 1 drink
1 small handful mint leaves, plus 1 mint sprig for garnish
1/2 tablespoon sugar
2 ounces coconut juice
4 ounces chilled brewed green tea
1 ounce rum (optional)
In the bottle of a sturdy glass, muddle the mint leaves with sugar. Stir in coconut juice, tea, optional rum, and ice. Garnish with the mint sprig.