EVEN THOUGH we’ve been drinking tea for thousands of years, there’s no real reason to restrict it to the cup. After all, we mostly drink it because we like the way it tastes.
Teas and infusions are made by steeping plant material such as leaves, herbs, spices, flowers, seeds, roots and fruit, so the combinations and flavors are practically endless. And many offer benefits, such as vitamins, that aid digestion or help us sleep or stay awake.
You can incorporate tea into any recipe that involves heating a liquid and even some that don’t. To make tea-flavored ice cream or crème brûlée, bring the dairy in your recipe to a boil, add about 1 tablespoon loose tea to each cup of liquid, steep it, strain it, then continue with the recipe as written. To make tea-flavored caramel, steep the tea and then strain it from the water or cream that will be added to the caramelized sugar at the end. Try adding a spicy or smoky tea to the poaching liquid for pears and serve them with ice cream. You can shake up your favorite shortbread cookie by adding loose tea to the sugar in a food processor and process until fine, then continue with the recipe as usual. You can also use tea to flavor jams and jellies the way Rome Doherty does at Camp Robber Jams. His recent offerings at local markets included earl grey tea jelly, pear jelly with Lapsang souchong and chai jelly with apple.
One of my favorite ways to “eat” tea is in a granita. I often make one with an apple-cider base because my family loves Rockridge Orchards’ apple ciders, so we always have a jug in the fridge. Harbor Herbalist’s minty “Digest” herbal blend includes (and tastes mostly of) spearmint and peppermint, but also has ginger, fennel and dandelion root, which makes this granita the perfect after-meal treat.
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Here in Seattle we’ve no shortage of tea purveyors. You can find the Harbor Herbalist online and at a number of local farmers markets, but also be sure to check out the hundreds of loose teas available at Remedy Teas, Market Spice, Teahouse Kuan Yin, Perennial Tea Room, Teavana and Queen Mary, just to start!
Apple Mint Granita
Makes about 2½ cups
1½ cups apple cider, divided
1 heaping tablespoon mint tea
2 teaspoons sugar
1. Put 1 cup of the cider in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Add the tea, stir to blend, then remove from the heat and cover with a lid or a piece of tinfoil. Leave the cider to steep for the maximum time recommended for your particular tea.
2. When the tea has finished steeping, add the sugar and stir until completely dissolved, then strain the hot cider into a wide dish (I use an 8-by-8-inch glass one). Add the remaining ½ cup cold cider and stir gently to blend. Let the mixture cool in the fridge.
3. Place mixture in the dish on a flat surface in the freezer. Let it freeze 20 minutes, then use a fork to scrape any icy bits that have formed around the edges. Put it back in the freezer for 15 minutes, then use the fork to scrape the icy bits into shards. Repeat this process every 15 minutes until the shards are completely frozen, dry and fluffy (you do not want to stop when the granita is slushy or it will freeze into a solid block). Once the granita is ready, store it in an airtight container (do not pack it down) until you’re ready to serve.
Leora Y. Bloom is the author of “Washington Food Artisans: Farm Stories and Chef Recipes.” John Lok is a Seattle Times staff photographer.