A hot cup of tea can make you feel cozy in the wintertime, and a chilled glass can cool you down and help you stay hydrated in warmer temperatures. We’re often accustomed to having tea on its own – yet tea is an underrated and very delicious ingredient that can be used in baking and cooking recipes. It can add an interesting flavour and a boost of antioxidants to your creations.
As a tea sommelier, I adore showing clients ways that they can use tea in cooking and baking in unexpected ways. In this post, I’m excited to share my favourite teas for cooking and baking, their health benefits and flavour profiles, and how to use them in recipes.
General Tips for cooking with Tea in Recipes
- If a recipe calls for water, brew up some tea instead! Make tea in large batches and freeze, either in jars or ice cube trays (smaller cubes are great for smoothies!)
- If a recipe has broth or milk, you can infuse that liquid with tea to add extra flavour along with nutritional benefits. Heat the liquid up, infuse your tea and use as required in the recipe.
- One key tip to remember when incorporating tea into recipes is you will need a stronger brew to add flavour. Use 2 or 3 times the amount of tea you normally would use for drinking and keep the same brewing time. If you try to make a stronger tea by steeping the tea longer you might end up with bitter tasting tea.
- You need to make about ¼ cup more tea than needed to allow for the absorption of liquid from the tea leaves. For example, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of liquid, brew up 1 1/4 cups of tea.
- You will want to use quality plain teas with stronger flavours or ones naturally flavoured with things like jasmine or spices. Avoid using teas filled with artificial ingredients and extra flavouring for best results.
best varieties for baking and cooking with tea
Photo: Mirko Stödter from Pixabay
Health Benefits: Contains epigallocatechin gallate (EGCG), a polyphenol that acts as a strong antioxidant combatting free radicals.
Flavour Profile: Chinese green tea is a lighter tasting tea so may be more suitable for baking and cooking. Japanese green tea leaves are steamed in their drying phase, which gives them a grassy taste and might be too strong a flavour in certain dishes.
Photo: Matcha & Co from Unsplash
Health Benefits: Matcha has 10 times the amount of antioxidants over regular green tea. It contains L-theanine, which alters the effect of caffeine to promote calm, mental alertness and improve brain function.
Flavour Profile: Matcha is another type of green tea that is easy to use in culinary dishes. Its leaves are ground into a fine powder, so you are consuming the entire leaf and not just the brewed water from the leaves. Matcha powder is used the same way you would use cacao powder. It can be directly mixed into a liquid or used in a recipe as a powder.
How to Use: This powdered tea can be used in cookie and cake batters, whisked into frostings and icings, added to ice cream. It pairs well with white chocolate items, or added to smoothies and dairy-free elixirs.
Photo: Petr Sidorov on Unsplash
Flavour Profiles: Plain black tea has many different flavour notes depending on the area it was grown and the way the leaves were dried. Different terrains and climates produce different tastes, much like grapes when making wine. Black tea can also be flavoured or contain added spices to create different flavour profiles. Blends such as Earl Grey and Chai are strong options that will add flavour to recipes.
How to Use: Below are 4 different types of black teas that work well in recipes.
Photo: Wendy Behenna
Flavour Profile: A full bodied tasting tea with a rich dark liquor colour, often reddish-brown, and has an earthy taste.
Photo: Wendy Behenna
Flavour Profile: A full bodied tea with a smoky taste. Lapsang Souchong is a black tea that is semidried over a bed of pine embers to give it a smoky flavour.
How to Use: Adds a smoky flavour to dishes such as potato soup, sauces and marinades. This tea can also be ground in a spice blender and added to other spices to make a smoky flavoured spice mix. Great as a rub on chicken or salmon, or use as a seasoning in chicken or turkey burgers or in ground beef. Excellent in nut spreads or hummus. You can also use it in homemade BBQ sauces to add a smoky flavour.
Adding it to a spice mix: Grind 1 Tablespoon of Lapsang Souchong in a spice blender until finely ground. Mix in with other spices. Especially tasty added to taco-type seasonings.
Earl Grey Black Tea
Photo: Wendy Behenna
Flavour Profile: A black tea flavoured with the oil from the rind of the bergamot orange. A full body flavour with a citrusy taste. The purple petals found in Earl Grey tea are blue cornflower petals.
How to Use: Excellent in milk-based desserts – rice pudding, ice cream, crème brulee, cookies, chocolate truffles and cakes.
Photo: Mae Mu on Unsplash
Flavour Profile: Chai is flavoured with traditional Indian spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, cloves and black peppercorns. A traditional chai is often sweetened and made with extra milk. The chai spices can also be used on their own, without the black tea, as a spice flavouring for dishes.
How to Use: Chai lattes, as a base for sweet potato or squash soups, in creamy desserts, cookies, cakes, oatmeal or banana bread.
Fruit Tea (Tisane)
Photo: Bruno/Germany on Pixabay
Health Benefits: Fruit teas or the proper term “tisanes” are a mixture of fruits, flowers, herbs and spices, and don’t contain any tea leaves. They are caffeine-free and the fruits in them provide vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Most fruit teas on the market contain only the natural sugar occurring in the ingredients. This makes them a great alternative to other sugary drinks on the market. Buyer beware: some companies add extra cane sugar so check the ingredients!
Flavour Profile: A light fruity taste depending on the fruit blended. Fruit teas that contain hibiscus are a beautiful pink to red colour and have a tarter flavour.
How to Use: Excellent drink for children. Use to flavour applesauce – cook your apples in a berry fruit tea instead of water to make a berry flavoured applesauce. Use in popsicles, punches and mocktails/cocktails. Flavour your kombucha on the second ferment with tisanes.
Photo: Hiroki Arai on Pixabay
Health Benefits: Rooibos tea is naturally caffeine-free and comes from the leaves of a shrub that grows in South Africa. It is low in tannins, rich in antioxidants and may benefit people who have Type 2 diabetes.
Flavour Profile: Rooibos leaves can be fermented, which creates a red-brown colour with a slightly sweet, earthy smooth taste with a hint of vanilla. It has a full body mouth feel and tastes delicious paired with ingredients like dried fruits, chocolate and other herbs and spices. Green rooibos is not fermented and is grassier and lighter in taste.
How to Use: Use Rooibos as a substitute for liquids in muffins, cakes and cookies. Makes great lattes and elixirs, especially in a pumpkin chai latte. Orange flavoured rooibos tea is a good substitute for orange juice in marinades or sauces.
Recipe to Try: Chicken and Rooibos Tray Bake by SAPeople South African Recipes
Tea is a wonderful addition to cooking and baking, and the best way to get started is to use what you already have in your kitchen pantry! Begin experimenting with baking and cooking with tea – and I think you’ll be pleased with the results.
About The Author: Wendy Behenna
Wendy became a Certified Tea Sommelier in 2014 while working part time at Distinctly Tea in Waterloo, Ontario. There, she taught different courses about tea to customers, wrote the monthly newsletter and created an in-house tea recipe book, Beyond the Teacup.
In 2018 she returned to work full time as a Medical Laboratory Technologist until retiring in 2021. Culinary nutrition has always been a passion! A graduate of the 2021 Culinary Nutrition Expert Program, her mission is to teach and coach others towards a healthier lifestyle one step at a time.