What’s Old is New Again: Using Tea in Cooking

Have you ever wondered how the foods we eat found their way into our diets? The need for nourishment was surely the chief impetus for much food exploration. But, think of all the trial and error that took place. After all, some plants are poisonous, so some people died from their explorations. And, with all the leaves on all the trees and shrubs that could possibly be used for food, what prompted early civilizations to experiment with leaves of the Camellia Sinensis or the tea plant?

While no record exists of the exact first date that tea was consumed, the existing records do indicate that tea had made its way into usage in China before the fifth century. By AD 780, Lu Yu had written the Book of Tea or Chajing, the first book written about tea and its uses.

Jerry C. Y. Liu published a very interesting essay “Between Classical and Popular: The Book of Tea and the Popularization of Tea-Drinking Culture in the Tang China” in 2011 in The Journal of Popular Culture that explains, “The tea leaves were believed to have been picked for food by people in ancient China. As Lu Yu recounted, up to the Wei dynasty [220 – 265 AD] tea was brewed with millet and condiments such as spring onions, ginger, and tangerines; and it was boiled to a porridge-like consistency” (115). The inclusion of the tea and the other condiments with the millet added flavor to a normally bland staple food item.

With all the flavors of various teas, it’s surprising we do not use tea in the same manner that we use spices. However most people reserve tea strictly for drinking.

While it may seem foreign to us to include the actual tea leaves in food, some modern foodies have already moved beyond the experimental stage with this procedure.

Chris Cason, who describes himself as a “self-proclaimed chef and aficionado of all things culinary,” writes about using tea in recipes on the teamuse.com website. The options are as limitless as using different spices in recipes. To read Chris’s entire article, as well as check out some recipes, click here

Once most people get past the idea that tea is strictly for drinking, they can open up to ideas of enhancing food flavors with tea. However, most people have no idea where to start.

To begin experimenting with tea in your recipes, it helps to know about the natural flavors of tea, which vary as greatly as different spices or wines. The best place to start is your local tearoom. Speak with the tea master about your ideas and schedule a tea tasting. Tea masters have undergone many hours of training and are great sources of information about the best teas to use to enhance the flavors of different foods.

Plus, a tearoom carries high quality tea. Different qualities of tea vary greatly in taste and strength, so your results can vary widely just because of the tea.

So, as we see so often, what was old is new again. And, tea is finding its way into our food after many years of being classified as a beverage.

Happy Tea Times!
Lady Kelly