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Cooking with Tea

If you think tea is only for drinking, think again! You’d be surprised at how cooking with tea can enhance the flavor of foods, making a meal truly memorable.

The many varieties of tea, whether green, white or black, and flowery, earthy or spicy, contribute subtle aromas and delicate flavors to many wonderful but not necessarily complicated dishes. You can use brewed tea in place of water in many recipes and you can also use tea leaves directly in your dishes.

Before beginning your culinary adventure with tea, remember these few simple tips:

  • Trust your palate! Make sure the tea smells good and sounds appealing with the type of food you are preparing (fruit, grains, meats, salads, etc.).
  • Never use a variety of tea that you would not want to drink with the meal for a recipe.
  • Remember, there are thousands of varieties of tea from all over the world, each with their own unique characteristics. Green and white teas tend to be on the mellow side while black tea is strong and full-bodied. Many teas have added flowers, spices, herbs or fruits, offering a range of flavors and aromas including flowery, earthy, grassy, sweet, spicy and smoky. Take this into consideration when choosing the right tea for your recipe.

Here's an assortment of our favorite tea-loving ideas and recipes:

  • Grind tea leaves in a spice or coffee grinder, or a pepper mill; add to spices and herbs and use as a rub for meats, tofu or tempeh. Try this Green Tea and Tamarind-Marinated Tofu with Vegetables.
  • Add a favorite tea bag to melted butter, warmed oil or melted clarified butter (ghee). Cover and steep for several minutes before removing the tea. Delicious with grain dishes, soups, stews, fish and vegetables.
  • Add tea leaves to cookies, muffins, scones, quick breads and cakes. One of my favorites is Earl Grey Shortbread Cookies.
  • Use brewed tea in place of water when cooking grains like this Jasmine Tea Rice.
  • Add brewed tea in place of water when making soups and stews, baking breads and quick breads, or poaching fish like this White Tea Poached Salmon.
  • Save that leftover brewed tea! Use it as a marinade for meats or an addition to sauces or gravies. Here’s a recipe for Green Tea Marinated Sirloin Tips.
  • If you’re a fan of spinach or chard, green tea is similar in flavor. Enjoy adding the leaves to vegetables while cooking or, once brewed, chopped and added to salads or stirred into eggs before scrambling or making an omelet.
  • Add a sprinkling of green tea leaves to chicken, beef, shrimp or tofu stir-fries.
  • Steep white tea in chicken stock for up to 10 minutes before using in a recipe.
  • Add minced or finely chopped tea leaves to flour or bread crumbs and use as a coating for meats and vegetables.
  • Poach dried fruits, apples, peaches and pears in tea for breakfast, snack or dessert, like in these Ginger and Jasmine Tea Poached Pears.
  • Substitute tea leaves for wood chips when using a smoker.

Remember, brewed tea leaves make great plant food, too. Use them to feed your compost pile and as mulch for indoor and outdoor plants.

You can even water your plants with leftover brewed tea. They love it! For a general guide to a great cup of tea, check out our Tea Brew How-To.

Do you cook with tea? Got a favorite recipe? Let me know.

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Alex Zorach says …

I have yet to cook with tea, and to be honest, it doesn't really appeal to me hugely. That said, there are quite a few herbs that are mainstays of herbal teas that I use regularly in cooking, inculding spearmint and the lemon-scented herbs. Maybe though it's that I'm already so into tea and so into cooking, I just feel like there's a limited amount that I can handle. For me, tea is a drink. I do really like your comment about using brewed tea leaves for compost though, that's great advice. When I had a garden I composted all my tea leaves, and it made great compost, and the finely-broken tea I used directly as mulch or to mix directly in with soil.

Gina says …

Is anyone gonna mention that the tannins in tea reduce the absorption of iron? (might just be non-heme iron, not sure). So don't do this (or drink tea) at every meal because of that. I believe I heard this on Vegetarian Food for Thought by CP-G.

Angela Cunningham says …

Hi, We are a premiere tea retail shoppe located in St. Simons Island, Georgia. We have been cooking with tea for the last 5 - 7 years. There are many recipes on our website from Masala Chai pears poached with Bourbon soaked raisins and spun sugar topping on Dulce de Leche ice cream, to Lapsang Souchong as a smoked tea used to smoke foods and recipes in www.SouthernDistinction.com magazine March or April issue. March was tea and spices for a no sugar, no salt bbque sauce. Our teas are all imported all fresh ingredients and all beautiful. We are getting ready to print the Dosha's and the foods and spices and have the teas in Tulsi with Apple Pear is one of our new ones, which when served cold, put in a martini shaker with ice, creates a head like beer and slight bubbles, fill the glass with different apples and ice and slice cold pear and brie on the side. Our Tea Society cookbook we are hoping to debut in about 1 1/2 years and would love you all to send recipes. We have drinks with and without alcohol. And, fruit fusions for the best Sangria's and exotic fruits in them on the market. Picture a Merlot with star anise, cinnamon, and dragon fruit, kiwis, pitted white cherries, mango, lychees. It is amazing, and we like to put a drop of Grand Mariner on the top. Or take your wellness tea and just shake it up and pour into a martini glass. Make your own green tea vodka or gin by infusion Three tea green into the liquor for 24 - 48 hours. It is aromatic and amazing. Serve with some pomegranate rials. Or try a Very Berry Breeze cocktail or Iced with frozen berries put into the glass and served to your dear friends and family. We have Watermelon Divine and more and more and more. Cooking with tea is brillant since they are filled with fresh cardamom, cumin and more. But, you must by REAL TEA with REAL decorations as they are known. Ours are. check us out www.SerenityHouseTea.com Enjoy Namaste.

rz65j8 says …

Chinese drink tea and use tea leaves or liquid for several thousand years for a reason, tea is not just good for your health, it tastes good, welcome to the new/old world !

mary vincent says …

I make a salad dressing with Earl Grey tea, It is great. I didn't know you could do all of those other things with tea, other than drink it. I love Tea.

Ainee Beland says …

I like tea. There is not much left for me to like these days. In saying this; I like reading news on cooking with tea. At times suggested recipes look fantastic and are depicted beautifully. I have sampled (eaten tea leaves) after brewing tea with them; this was when I was crazed and reviewing teas daily on Steepster.com; I have since then reduced my visits to this website to weekly or longer. I concur that tea is indeed a drink!

Zach Ware says …

I have cooked with tea leaves several times. I really like using black tea leaves, lemon, garlic, and black pepper on fish. I have a celery root, white radish, black rice and chicken soup with darjeeling leaves in the crock pot right now. What a coincidence!

Sarah Price says …

These are really great ideas... Tea can be used in so many different ways! I've melted Lapsang Souchong into butter, for a smokey flavor that can be incorporated into fish dishes (mmmm!). There are LOTS of good ideas and an interview with a Chef on this podcast, called "Tea, the Ingredient": http://www.steepingaround.com/show104/

Fran says …

Is there a problem using oxygen bleached tea bags? I know there was concern over chlorine bleach. Thank you. Fran & Dave

Stacy says …

As a gourmet cook, I use tea all the time in my cooking. Numi has some amazing vegetable teas that really add a dimension of flavor to cooking that is incomparable. Water often dilutes flavor but tea intensifies the flavor and the aroma subtly yet completely. Most of the guests don;t know why a dish tastes better all they know is that it does! That is the secrret of tea.

Iris Welch says …

I starting drinking and cooking with organic tea during chemo. I wanted my new cells to get off to a great start. I then in 2011 started BrewLeaf Organic Tea to share my nutritional and health knowledge. So, if you are not a big drinker consider cooking with tea thaat provide the health benefits you are needing for a better body and spirit. You can also pair tea with food the same as wine. Try It! www.brewleaf.com

Tami Halliman says …

We cooked with tea all the time when I owned a tea room. I even spoke at the World Tea Expo on "Tea as a Culinary Ingredient" a few years ago. Occasionally I share some of our recipes on my blog, the lasted one was my Quiche recipe found here: http://www.teasbytami.com/happy-sipping/quiche People loved so many of our recipes and it was very easy to add a flair to our cooking with tea. I encourage you to try it.