5 Sweet & Savory Ways to Infuse Your Recipes with Tea

published Oct 22, 2015
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(Image credit: Faith Durand)

Tea might be the second most-consumed beverage in the world, but we often overlook these fragrant leaves when it comes to cooking. Think of tea as a spice, and this throws open the pantry doors of possibility. Each different kind of tea provides a unique flavor profile and personality that can add a touch of exotic essence to familiar flavors of your favorite dinners and desserts.

(Image credit: Emily Han)

A Quick Guide to Teas

How to Cook with Tea

Tea can really be used in so many ways in our everyday meals. You can use cups of brewed tea as a broth for soups or as poaching liquid, or you can infuse tea leaves directly into things like the milk for panna cotta or ice cream.

At first, it can feel a little strange and intimidating to take your favorite morning tea and use it for dinner, but that’s what gaining confidence as a home cook is all about! Just think about the dish overall, and how the flavors of the tea will play with the flavors of your dish, and go from there. Start by adding just a small amount of brewed tea or a pinch of finely ground tea leaves in tea bags. As you get a feel for using tea as an ingredient, try increasing the volume of brewed tea or finely ground tea leaves.

(Image credit: Emily Han)

Brewing the Best Tea for Cooking

When brewing a few cups of tea to use in a recipe, remember to brew it according to its particular style and specifications. There are more details in the links above, but here are some general guidelines:

  • Black teas should steep in boiling water for four to five minutes.
  • Green teas require a shorter steep time of two to three minutes and a bit cooler water, around 170°F to 180°F.
  • Herbal teas don’t actually have tea in them, and can include flowers, herbs, and spices. Brew herbal infusions in boiling water for five minutes or more; they won’t become bitter with time, but will instead become stronger in flavor.

5 Easy Ways to Add Tea to Your Next Meal

1. Use tea instead of stock for soups.

Sometimes the desire for soup comes on strong, but the pantry or freezer is short on stock. Have no fear; get busy steeping! Dragon Well green tea and Lapsang Souchong black tea are the two types of tea to keep on hand for brewing your own substitute stock. The green tea works well with vegetables, fish, and poultry, lending its savory, more mellow notes. The black tea offers a smoky flavor that pairs well with beef, mushrooms, and more hearty flavorful ingredients. Rooibos is a caffeine-free infusion that would lend its earthy, honey-toned notes to soup too.

Try making butternut squash soup with rooibos, and chicken soup with Dragon Well green tea. It will add savory, herbaceous flavor that would match up well with the chicken and could even be the base for a white chili.

2. Turn tea into a spice mix.

Think of tea bags as convenient, pre-portioned spice packets. When ripped open, the finely cut leaves resemble oregano or basil and can be sprinkled into recipes just like those herbs. Stir a teaspoon or two of tea from bags of Moroccan mint green tea into Greek yogurt with other spices to make a dip, or add the leaves to a veggie-filled quiche custard.

3. Add tea to poaching liquids.

Brewed tea works wonders when it comes to poached dishes. It imparts subtle nuances that infuse into both aromatics and protein while cooking. Try poaching portobello mushrooms in smoky lapsang souchong black tea, or some fish in a broth of jasmine green tea with fresh ginger and onions.

4. Cook your beans and grains with tea.

Swap out water for brewed tea when cooking your next pot of beans or rice! Lapsang souchong black tea imparts a hint of smokiness to beans, while matcha green tea gives rice a grassy green color and flavor.

5. Infuse tea into dessert.

Whole-fat dairy and tea marry well together. Infuse puddings or custards with the subtle flavors of tea by steeping tea in warmed milk. The tea-infused milk dresses up desserts with a bit of intrigue — try infusing Earl Grey tea into chocolate custards, or some chai spice in a batch of pudding pops.

Do you cook with tea? How do you like to cook with tea?