Tea Writings

A blog about tea from the desk of Cecilia Tan

Tea Creations (Desserts and Cocktails) Tasting

February 25, 2011 By: ctan Category: Tea Books, Tea Reviews

If not for the wonders of social networking, I would have completely missed that Cynthia (Cindy) Gold and Lise Stern were doing a “tea tasting” at Finale last night.

For those unfamiliar with Finale, it’s the all dessert restaurant, and actually they have three locations now. (And amusingly enough, they’ve added non-dessert small plates to their menu which are also quite yummy.) Yes, it’s upscale gourmet food done to a luxurious extreme… I mean, come on, DESSERT RESTAURANT. So of course we love it.

I often feel I need an excuse to be decadent enough to eat there, though, so usually it’s that someone has come to visit from some heathen place where they don’t have dessert restaurants, or it’s a snowstorm and they often offer Internet blizzard specials, like half price on the flights of hot chocolates with purchase of any other dessert. Since corwin and I live walking distance from their Harvard Square location, more than once we have put on our snow boots and bundled up and walked the frozen tundra to indulge.

But about tea. Gold & Stern have recently come out with a book, CULINARY TEA: More Than 100 Recipes Steeped In Tradition from Around The World. The book includes recipes of all sorts, but at Finale they featured five tea-based desserts and four paired cocktails. Ahh, nothing like working all day only to go directly into a meal that will leave you sugar-high and drunk!

Well, all right, we did pace ourselves, the cocktail samples were not too large (nor were they too small) and the tea desserts were heavenly. But I’m really glad we were there early enough to order a snack of meatloaf sliders before the event began, to take the edge off our hunger.

Cindy did most of the talking, mixing the cocktails as we went through each one and discussing what the pairing philosophy was for each. Here’s the menu:

Course 1:

Gimlet 24 — made with Beefeater 24 Gin (which has two kinds of green tea in its botanicals mix to begin with) infused with green tea and lemongrass, blended with fresh lime juice and a green-tea-lemongrass-basil simple syrup
served with White Peony Financiers — a light almond and egg-white based baked good, somewhere between a macaroon and a meringue.

This cocktail was quite summery and is not in the book, but was invented specially for the Culinary Tea Creations tasting at Finale.

Course 2:
The Southern Earl Grey — champagne cocktail with Earl-Grey-infused bourbon, Grand Marnier, orange bitters, and green-tea-ginger simple syrup.
Served with a fruit tart made with jasmine pastry cream.

This was another special cocktail for the book, and it smelled amazing. It was quite tasty, too, but if I were making it at home I would probably use a different sparkling wine and a different bourbon? It wasn’t sweet at all, which was kind of nice, but I think maybe it wanted either a bit more bourbon flavor or just a hint more sweetness. I’ll definitely be trying to create a variation at home.

Course 3:
White port infused with Black Tea, Rose, and lavender
served with Rosy Green Tea Truffles.

This is very similar to the white port that one is greeted with to start the afternoon tea at the Park Plaza Hotel, where Cindy Gold is the “tea sommelier.” I’ve done the tea tasting there and highly recommend it, by the way, for any tea lover who has a few afternoon hours in downtown Boston!

The rosy green tea truffle was amazing. You’d expect Finale to be top notch with the truffles anyway, but wow was that good. As Lise pointed out during her talk, sometimes tea isn’t the predominant flavor in a tea-based dish, but instead is the secret ingredient. “Sometimes the dish doesn’t taste like tea, but it does taste good,” she said. This was one of those. I love rose and tea, but it wasn’t overly rosey or tea-ey. It was incredibly rich and complex, and chocolatey.

Courses 4 & 5
Keemun cream — black tea infused Bailey’s Irish cream, topped with whipped cream and garnished with matcha-style ground keemun tea.
Served with a flourless keemun-cherry chocolate torte and a chai chocolate wafer.

Speaking of incredibly rich and chocolatey without tasting exactly like tea, the flourless torte was flawless, with chewy bits of dried cherry in it. I alternated between the gooey torte and the crisp chai wafer.

Many of the baked goods incorporated tea leaves into their dough, including the crust for the jasmine cream tart and the chai wafer.

One great tip was that while making infusions of alcohol it doesn’t necessarily take weeks to do. Many of the infusions were done for only 45 minutes to an hour. Cindy suggested if you are infusing multiple things into something, put each ingredient into its own tea sac. That way you can pull one thing out but leave another thing in. Keep good notes on how many minutes each thing is in for. Also, unlike some types of recipes, you can continue to adjust a cocktail all while making it, adding more of something and then tasting it as you go along. That isn’t the case with, say, dough that has to be baked and finished before you find out how it came out.

Cindy also spoke about the philosophy of pairing things in order to bring out the undertones. You wouldn’t want to pair a mint dessert with a moroccan mint tea, for example, because that would be the dominant flavor with the dominant flavor which doesn’t really add anything. But what are the underlying flavors of a tea or a dish? Is there a hint of citrus? Vanilla? Smoke? What can you pair with it that will bring up the undertone to give your palate a more complex experience?

She also pointed out that tea is going through the kind of growth curve that wine has gone through. A couple of decades ago, wine choice in restaurants consisted of a carafe of red wine or a carafe of white out of the big jugs in the kitchen. Nowadays most diners would find that barbaric, and expect to be given a choice of varieties and vintages, even in fairly pedestrian mass market restaurants. (I’m thinking of The Olive Garden.) Tea is just getting out of that state where ten years ago even some fairly fancy restaurants were serving Lipton in bags, whereas now at the very least a tea box of assorted Bigelow teas is expected, if not a more upscale brand and selection like Harney & Sons or locally MEM Tea. (They serve MEM Tea at Finale.)

Another point that was stressed was don’t collect and hoard tea. It doesn’t stay good and after a year or so it will be stale. The aromatic oils that provide the most flavor and scent degrade first, so it isn’t just a matter of the flavor “fading” so you have to use more tea if its older, but that the flavor gets out of balance. And also stale. This makes me feel so happily justified in the fact that I often will spend $50 or more from a tea supplier and buy mostly one and two ounce samples. Right now I’ve got a lot of empty cans on the shelf because I’ve been going through my tea so quickly this winter. Apparently, I’m doing it right.

And there were shout-outs to Upton Teas as one of the places that sells very fresh tea at very reasonable prices. “If they got a good deal, you get a good deal,” Cindy said.

So I think I’m going to put in an order for some more Upton teas right now, so I can get working on some recipes and variations thereof. (Yes, I bought the cookbook, but I cook with tea quite regularly already.) The cookbook is a beautiful hardcover, by the way, which seemed like a bargain at $22.95. I’ll write more as I try out the recipes in it.

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