Whether you like to relax with a soothing cup of tea or find yourself doing a little stress-baking these days, Chef Laurie Bell offers some tea history and tea-infused recipes to make your day.
Tea. Do you prepare it from loose leaf? From a teabag? Drink it plain? With milk, sugar or lemon? Do you drink green, oolong or black tea? There are so many styles of tea and ways to drink it. And there are lots of ways to cook and bake with tea, too!
Let’s explore the origins of tea and see how tea can be used as an ingredient in recipes.
There are over 5,000 years of tea history to explore, so this is just a drop in the teacup.
Around 2700 BC, Emperor Sheng Nong was sitting under a tree waiting for his water to boil. He was also known as the Divine Cultivator and credited in China for developing agriculture and herbal medicine. So, it is no wonder that he knew boiling water made it safer to drink. When a leaf fell into his water pot, an amazing aroma drifted through the air as the water turned a spring green hue. After tasting this intriguing infusion, tea was discovered!
In China, like most countries through history, as tea was introduced, it was originally quite expensive and rare, so it was consumed mainly by the rulers and the royal court. It was used as a form of medicine, a form of nutrition, and a form of money.
Tea originally was also blended with herbs, spices and vegetables as a form of nourishment, and today’s flavored and blended teas have a basis in that ancient tea history.
Tea was an integral part of Buddhist monks’ prayers as this beverage kept them awake for their long hours of meditation and also kept them calm and serene. It was this aspect of tea that Japanese monks studying in China took back with them to Japan around 800 AD.
It was the early 1600s when Europeans first started trading tea with China and to a lesser extent, with Japan. Trade with western Europe was originally by sea while trade with Russia was overland – the Silk Road trading routes by camel caravans.
The Dutch and Portuguese were the first western Europeans to trade tea with China. Of course, this was green tea. Oxidation to turn green tea into oolong or black tea had not yet been discovered.
It was the Dutch who first introduced tea into the American colonies – at their colony of New Amsterdam – which eventually became New York.
But now – let’s explore ways to use tea as an ingredient in recipes.
Tea can be used in cooking and baking in several forms: ground dry as a spice or herb (in brownie and cookie doughs, cake and muffin batters, in truffles, cream cheese, fruit spreads, in brining liquids, spice rubs, smoking meats, to flavor mayonnaise, etc.); infused into a liquid (for sauces sweet and savory, ice creams, distilled spirits, fruit and wine punches, etc.); brewed (used as a brine, stock for soups, deglazing, sauces, cooking rice and pastas, as a poaching liquid for tea marbled eggs, seafood, poultry, fruit; in syrups, sorbets, etc.).
Here are two recipes to get you started: Crazy Chocolate Tea Cake and Tea Shortbread Cookies. Both can use grain stone-ground at historic Colvin Run Mill.
Author Chef Laurie Bell is a Certified Tea Specialist at Great Falls Tea Garden, LLC. She regularly presents tea-related programs at the Park Authority’s historic Colvin Run Mill. Visit her website at www.greatfallsteagarden.com.