India is truly a tea-drinking nation, where the beverage is consumed in massive volumes every day. In recent years, the introduction of the humble drink in upscale restaurants and at the fast-proliferating tea café chains has paved the way for new food and drink recipes with tea as one of the principal ingredients. Owing to their health benefits, taste and aroma, tea leaves are preferred by chefs and mixologists alike, for adding flavour to dishes and cocktails that we don’t usually link with tea.
Several restaurants across Delhi-NCR have embraced this trend and have come up with their own unique tea-infused creations. Chef Vaibhav Bhargava of Molecule pointed out that the trend towards simple and plant-based diets is driving innovation for new formulations throughout the F&B spectrum. He said, “Tea will be prevalent in products ranging from culinary ingredients to speciality drinks and menu items, sparkling beverages and cocktails.” His approach to curating tea-infused dishes is to keep the basic combinations so that the flavours complement, not overpower each other.
So what are the basic guidelines one can follow for tea and food pairings? Chef Bhargava told us that white tea has an extremely subtle flavour, so he recommends that it be paired with only the mildest of flavours, to not miss the sweetness of white tea. Green tea’s subtle, vegetative flavour and aroma are well suited to mild-flavoured foods, such a rice, salads, melon, chicken and seafood. Black tea includes more robust flavours, as well as tannins, so it is well suited to pair with full-flavoured foods such as meat and spicy dishes.
Using tea as an ingredient is a great way to add grassy, herbal, sweet, and even smoky and spicy notes to one’s cooking repertoire. But what all can one do with tea? Chef Anas Qureshi of Molecule gave us some major pointers. Firstly, when it comes to baking cookies, tea complements the buttery, sweet note of shortbread and sugar cookies. Instead of the more traditional vanilla, one can flavour the cookie dough with matcha tea powder, or loose tea leaves that have been ground into powder.
Secondly, infusing dairy products—earthy and grassy sencha (Japanese green tea) can add a savoury note to cream sauce for pasta and rice, while herbal tisanes (rose, lavender and chamomile) are perfect for crème brûlées and sweet ice creams. Thirdly, to flavour a stir-fry dish—nutty-tasting genmaicha (a mixture of green tea and puffed rice and corn) is often used as a seasoning.
Next, we can also use tea powder as a rub in quick-cooking, as well as low-and-slow cooked meats. Working it into pasta is another option—adding green tea powder to homemade pasta dough imbues it with a pretty pale-green colour and a herbaceous flavour that’s ideal in noodle soups. Making tea butter comes next. Then, there’s also the option of swapping stock for lightly brewed tea while cooking grains like rice, barley, buckwheat, or quinoa.
Talking about the health benefits of such dishes, Chef Anas said, “Unlike most other foods, the many benefits of tea are not lost in the cooking process. Both black and green teas, the unfermented version, are good for health. They deliver anti-oxidants, are good for the heart, and have many other health benefits.”
For best combinations, chef and owner of Decode, Piyush Jain, advises that we start thinking of tea as a spice. Every different kind of tea provides a unique flavour profile that can add a touch of exotic essence to dishes. He told us that young people are more interested in fruit and flower range, i.e. herbal teas, such as Cranberry Apple, Apple Cinnamon and Strawberry Cream. Unplugged Courtyard has infused tea in Mutton Kebabs, which lend the kebabs a juicy and spicy flavour. A range of such tea dishes is available at the restaurant.
The Drunken Botanist also offers tea-infused dishes like Green Tea Chicken Noodle Soup and Cold Tea Noodles with Japanese Tea Hojicha Base etc. Desserts featuring tea include Earl of Grey Cookies, Mango Tango Citrus Tart with a Filling of Mango Tea Leaves Steeped in Fresh Lemon Juice, Meditative Crème Brûlées and more.
This fairly new trend in restaurants has been long been followed in regional cuisines across India. Chef Ravi Tokas of Prankster said, “In India tea leaves are cooked with lamb or pork in any tribal communities of Northeast India. In north India, we use dried tea leaves to give colour and aroma to choley [chick peas].” Tea-infused offerings at Prankster include Jasmine Rice, Black Tea Infused Smoked Potatoes, Tea Rubbed and Grilled Salmon, Matcha Cheesecake, Green Tea and Tequila Mousse and more.
Tea is savoured by us Indians as an energy and comfort drink. In addition to being popular in food recipes now, tea is being paired with various alcohols in bars. Mixologist Sanchayan Jana of Pra Pra Prank regards natural flavours and bitterness of tea as reasons behind the success of tea-based cocktails. One can take it as a straight drink with chaser like soda, tonic etc., or use tea as a base in cocktails. The venue serves Early Morning Gin Sour, made with Earl Grey Tea-Infused Gin, Dry Lavender, Orange Marmalade and Lime.
Philtre, a restaurant in Gurugram has recently introduced Rising India, an in-house concoction of Masala and Darljling teas mixed with vodka, gin and orange liqueur garnished with Earl Grey tea fumé and dehydrated orange on the side.
So be it in food or accompanying drinks, tea has now become a part of the square meal, as opposed to its longstanding status as a beverage consumed between meals alongside snacks.