Turning a new leaf with Kolkata-based specialty tea company 'Karma Kettle'

Tea time is not fixed anymore. Coming to a boil is the trend of tea-inspired food and drinks.
Dhiraj and Priti Sen of Karma Kettle
Dhiraj and Priti Sen of Karma Kettle

Artisanal tea blenders Dhiraj Arora and Priti Sen of Karma Kettle, a specialty tea company based in Kolkata, have got brewing down to a T. They wish tea-infused beverages such as black tea toddy, hibiscus tea margaritas, green tea vodka and gin teas would find a place on bar menus in India.

Despite being a healthy substitute for synthetic mixes and syrups in cocktails, bartenders shy away from experimenting with it, laments Dhiraj.How does one create a strong tea tincture base? “Steep tea leaves in hot water for at least six to eight minutes. Don’t add too much ice or sugar to prevent the flavour from being diluted,” is his counsel.

To get the most out of the concoction, use immediately after bringing it down to room temperature. The result is a full-bodied tea with a fresh aroma. There is a nutritional angle too, explains Chennai-based nutritionist Deepalekha Bhattacharjee: “Preserving tea for long periods messes with its taste. The oxidation slowly diminishes the robustness turning it bitter. Store it for up to four days in the refrigerator, in airtight containers to get the best results.” There is another advantage: Bring down sugar consumption by replacing sweet fruit juices with tea brews with smoothies and drinks.

Salmon with Orange Canton Tea Sauce
Salmon with Orange Canton Tea Sauce

Cook it up
Tea is versatile, both in leaf and infusion forms. It can either be sipped or eaten. For instance, Matcha tea can go beyond just a sprinkle in the milkshake. “Powder the leaves and mix it with marinades for grilling meats and vegetables,” suggests Bhattacharjee. Green tea tastes a lot like spinach. “Tea salad dressings are exciting. Green tea leaves complement oregano and thyme beautifully. You can powder the leaves and mix them with butter, oil and a dot of lemon juice.

Try using black tea and Oolong in cooking and baking. “Lapsang souchong or a smoked tea works well for meat rubs and marinades, smoking meat, fish, mushroom, tofu, salad dressings or adding an extra smoky umami touch to broths and sauces,” says Arora.

He feels citrus-flavoured teas are good for dressings. Try mint or lavender for a zesty bouquet. Black teas are robust, well-bodied and perfect for making marinades and grilling sauces. Chai blends make for scrummy dessert sauces. Use malty Assam black, Japanese genmaicha, Formosa Oolong, or masala chai in cookies and cakes.

“Remember this: For your tea to be the star dish, use it in recipes that are not crowded with spices and herbs,” advices the tea master.

Tea infusions apart, the brewers advise, “Use tea leaves instead of tea bags. Beware, tea bags contain fannings (tiny pieces of leftover tea leaves remaining after the better ones are collected to sell) and tea dust along with pieces of blended tea leaves, blended from a variety of sources. Tea bags may quicken the process but the essential oils that make the tea tasty and fragrant, evaporate fast. “Most nutrients in the sachets are trapped in the mesh instead of getting infused in the brew,” says the tea master.

Now you know a cuppa is more than a cuppa; it comes in many forms.

Tea muse
● Hibiscus tea can be used in place of water for boiling, stewing, or making soups
● Oats and quinoa can be boiled in a tea brew to rev up antioxidant value
● Boil noodles in tea brew to induce sweetness of hibiscus or jasmine
● Mix tea leaves in flour or bread crumbs, while coating, dredging and frying foods.
● Tea brew can be added to marinades and cake or salad dressings
● Hard-boiled eggshells can be cracked and soaked in tea brew to get the marble egg with a flavourful taste

Tea marinade
Combine 1/3 cup of matcha green tea, two tbs dry mustard, two tbs garlic powder, one tbs black pepper, two tsp smoked paprika, two tbs kosher salt, one tbs dried thyme, and one tbs cayenne. Rub it on your choice of protein.

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