As Isabelle Haynes, senior brand manager out-of-home at Tetley says ‘the versatility of tea lends itself to a range of applications’ and with the category’s known health benefits plus growing consumer interest in tea, there has never been a better time be creative with it.
Not sure how? Don't panic, BigHospitality has spoken to some of the operators already brewing up some creative ideas to bring you three innovative ways to use tea.
1. Use tea as an ingredient
For many the inclusion of tea in food stops at a fruit cake where its used to steep dried fruit in before the latter is added to the rest of the ingredients.
However, the fact that tea has so many variants offering so many different flavour profiles means that, like herbs and spices, it is a good way of adding flavour to dishes without adding substance.
“Tea-infused recipes give an in-depth balance to dishes, bringing out the flavours and adding a new dimension to the dish,” says Ben Abercombie, head chef at The Queens Arms in Corton Denham in Somerset who has been using black, fruit and herbal teas in a range of dishes for the last couple of years.
“Tea can bring out the floral taste in desserts and enhance the fruitiness while other teas can bring out the smokiness in certain dishes and provide a full flavour without overpowering the other ingredients,” he adds.
Most recent additions to Abercrombie’s menu include a scallop dish which is garnished with sultanas infused with English Breakfast tea, and a Beaumont parfait with orange, pistachio cake accompanied by flowers from the pub's kitchen garden and a lemon and Earl Grey sorbet.
One of his desserts – Lemon and ginger tea parfait with pine nuts, fennel and raspberry leaf tea sorbet – even incorporates two types of tea. To create this dish Abercrombie infuses boiled cream with lemon and ginger tea (he uses teabags for ease) for two hours before adding ground ginger and lemon juice and zest.
The sorbet similarly uses tea bags (raspberry leaf) which are put in a pan with water, sugar, star anise and lemon zest and brought to the boil before being simmered for 10 minutes. Once cooled, the liquid is added to raspberry puree before following the usual steps to turn it into a sorbet.
Tea shows such potential as an ingredient to food that Tetley has partnered with chef Lee Maycock, vice president of the Craft Guild of Chefs. Maycock has been tasked with not only picking dishes that match well with Tetley’s teas, but also with creating dishes that include them.
“With so many different blends available, cooking with tea can introduce a world of unusual flavours to your menu,” says Haynes.
One of Maycock’s dishes is a Tea smoked chicken broth which combines stock, vegetables and noodles with a green tea-smoked chicken breast. "The blend brings an added Asian flavour to the dish and taps into the latest trend for smoked food," explains Haynes.
2. Match tea to food
Wine may be the most popular drink match to food, but as Restaurant Story head sommelier Patrick Frawley told BigHospitality last year, it is no longer the only option with many restaurants now offering alternatives such as beers, cocktails and teas.
As tea encompasses so many different flavour profiles, it has the potential to match a vast range of sweet and savoury dishes. The fact it does not contain alcohol also makes it a viable option for non-drinkers, says Jameel Lalani, founder of Lalani Tea Co who has already worked with a number of chefs including Claude Bosi and Tom Kerridge to devise tea matches for their menus.
"The notion of a drinker/non-drinker is becoming flexible," he says. "Sommeliers will start to figure that they can give the same guest experience with both wine and tea, plus they can increase their drink sales even if someone isn’t drinking on that day."
Lalani recently came up with tea pairings for a six-course afternoon tea menu for chef Anna Hansen's London restaurant The Modern Pantry.
The food menu, comprised of three sweet courses and three savoury, is matched to six teas or six craft beers. Examples include Kashmiri masala beetroot, carrot, potato & spring onion hash, poached quail egg, moromi miso & yuzu hollandaise, toasted seeds matched with Summer Gold 2014 Lakyrsview Garden and Chocolate, peanut butter & miso caramel shortbread matched with 2nd Flush Chardwar Estate 2014 Assam.
Lalani, who has also created a list of single batch and vintage teas (which are served in Riedel glassware as one would serve wine) to accompany the menu at London restaurant Gauthier Soho, believes that tea taps into consumers' current demand for healthier food.
"At the moment, our eating culture is embracing lighter dining, less sugar and alcohol, veg-centric dishes, and functional foods," he says.
"Tea is a drink that answers to the needs of our new eating habits. It has all the flavour complexity and culture of other fine drinks, without the calories and sugar. You can be a very regular drinker and evidence suggests it’ll do you good. Chefs, sommeliers and bar tenders know this and are embracing it with much success."
The most successful tea and food matching comes from finding origin-specific teas rather than using generic blends or herbal infusions, Lalani advises. A view which is backed up by Min Jiang restaurant manager Felicity Hall, who says we should pay attention to a tea's 'terroir' if we want to find the most suitable matches.
"I always treat tea like I would wine, because there are so many different flavour profiles to it," she says. "Green tea is like Sauvignon Blanc. There are so many different varieties out there and it will depend where it comes from as to what it will taste like. A green tea from Taiwan tastes very different from one grown in Japan."
3. Add it to a cocktail
Tea's hot beverage counterpart, coffee has long enjoyed a partnership with booze with liqueur coffees sitting comfortably on restaurant and bar menus for decades, yet until recently tea has kept its distance from alcohol.
Thankfully tea cocktails have more recently moved into the limelight and are increasingly being found on the menus of some of the UK's hottest bars and restaurants, including Indian restaurant Gymkhana which uses Lalani & Co. Darjeelings and Assams in its famous punches. Take Gymkhana's High Tea Punch for example, a mix of Desi spice infused Earl Grey tea with Cognac or the Dalhousie Rose Punch, a blend of Rose tea and Tanqueray gin with sweet lychee juice lime juice and tonic bitters, billed as 'a fruity twist on the gin and tonic'.
“Served both hot and cold, tea cocktails and infusions are a great menu addition all year round. For a fruity, premium twist to classic blends, Tetley Earl Grey tea can be mixed with orange juice to create a zingy burst of flavour or for a more refreshing drink, pair Tetley Green tea with mint for a take on the popular mojito,” suggests Tetley.
While those incorporating tea into cocktails are predominantly using the liquid cold, it can also be used hot as seen at Min Jiang restaurant where hot tea cocktails were introduced to its menu two years ago. Restaurant manager Felicity Hall, a Scot and self-confessed 'hot toddy fan' had been keen to find a bigger stage for tea and give customers items they couldn't find elsewhere.
"I came up with the idea one winter," she explains. "We get a lot of people who come into the restaurant and drink tea, so I decided to try and see if the Chinese teas we have could be mixed with alcohol to create a hot toddy with a twist."
Hall describes the creation process for the restaurant's tea tails as a bit of 'trial and error' with a 'few disasters'. "It was mostly checking that the heat wasn't destroying the flavour of the cocktail," she says. "I was carrying lots of pots of different teas to our bartenders, trying lots of different types before we came up with a few that worked."
Those that did work and have found it onto the menu include the Oolong Tea-tail - a blend of Havanna Club 7 Year Old rum with Malibu Coconut Rum and a slice of orange which is mixed with Spring King Oolong, grown in the Anxi region of Fujian in China and the Green Tea-Tail, a mix of Makers Mark Bourbon, lime juice and sugar syrup served with Bamboo Green tea, a green tea made from leaves harvested in early April from the Mount Er Mei region in Sichuan.
"The tea is served in a pot on the side, so the customer can add as much or as little as they like," explains Hall, who says the tea-tails have a dedicated following rather than being their biggest sellers.
"They're definitely more popular in the winter time, but I'd say they have their market. Some people don’t like to drink hot alcohol, it’s more common from people in colder climates. They see them and think that’s interesting let’s give them a try," she adds.
Sell-out drinks or not, the tea-tails will be remaining on Min Jiang's menu for some time, notably because they give the restaurant a point of difference.
"A lot of bartenders will use tea flavours in their drinks, but the majority of people who go out for cocktails will drink iced cocktails. A hot one is not something they would usually see, so they’re definitely a talking point for people," says Hall.