Cooking with Tea

After water, tea is the most-consumed beverage in the world. There are also many culinary uses for this versatile herb. In the Asian countries of China, Japan, and Vietnam, tea leaves are traditionally used to flavor, tenderize, and color food. In the West, many chefs have begun to experiment with tea, adding it to everything from ice cream to poaching liquids for fish and fruit.

Loose-leaf tea may be simmered with rice or stuffed into fish or chicken before roasting. Tea leaves can be finely ground in a coffee or spice mill and combined with other herbs to make a dry rub for meat and poultry, or they can be added to the dry ingredients for sweet shortbread or tea cakes. Tea oil, which is made from cold-pressed tea seeds, is a sweet, herbaceous addition to vinaigrettes that can be drizzled over salads, steamed vegetables, or delicate seafood.

Black and green teas are the most commonly used varieties in cooking. Unfermented green tea contributes a grassy, herbal, astringent flavor; fermented black tea adds full-bodied dimension to soups and spice rubs. To make tea for cooking, brew 2 teaspoons of loose-leaf tea per 1 cup of liquid (water, stock, or milk). Steep the tea in below- boiling water for 20 to 30 minutes. Strain the mixture before using it in any recipe.

Tea is so versatile a culinary ingredient that you can enjoy its flavor and health benefits from break-fast through dinner. Begin your day with a green tea smoothie: Blend chilled green tea, plain yogurt, cubed mango, banana, and a few ice cubes until smooth. Top with a dash of freshly grated nutmeg. For lunch, top a spinach, cucumber, and flank steak salad with a dressing made from peanut butter, cooled black tea, soy sauce, lime juice, and mint.

For dinner, make a flavorful rub for grilled salmon steaks using loose green tea leaves, green and black peppercorns, and cardamom. Use a mortar and pestle to grind the spices into a powder, lightly coat the salmon with oil, and then apply the rub. Tea leaves are the secret ingredient in many fabulous desserts, too. Add a teaspoon of smoky lapsang souchong leaves to a chocolate glaze for an out-of-this-world chocolate mousse cake. Or finish the evening with chocolate ice cream made with green tea–infused cream.

Unfermented green teas, such as sencha (right), give desserts and vegetables a grassy, herbal flavor; oxidized black teas, like Darjeeling (left)

Unfermented green teas, such as sencha (right), give desserts and vegetables a grassy, herbal flavor; oxidized black teas, like Darjeeling (left), add full-bodied flavor to meat marinades, poaching liquids, and dry rubs.


The flavorful world of tea goes well beyond the familiar black blends and varieties. Explore different teas to add subtle smoky, fruity, or spicy flavors to foods, including vegetables and grains, meats and fish, and desserts.

Assam Medium-bodied Dessert infusions and sauces
Darjeeling Full-bodied Dessert and savory infusions; dry rubs; marinades; smoking poultry
Earl Grey Astringent, fruity Dessert infusions; chocolate desserts; marinades
Keemun Smooth, spicy Dessert bases, poaching liquids and sauces; savory infusions for poultry and shellfish
Lapsang souchong Smoky, strong Chocolate desserts; dry rubs; smoking poultry
Yunnan Astringent, peppery Savory infusions; poultry sauces
Genmaicha Smoky Fish and rice infusions; smoking poultry, fish, and shellfish
Gunpowder Fresh, grassy Dessert bases and infusions; shellfish sauces, infusions, and broths
Matcha Light, sweet Dessert bases; vegetable infusions and sauces
Sencha Astringent, sweet Dessert bases; vegetable infusions and sauces