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What makes a meal truly romantic is the amount of thought and love that goes into it. Truffles and lobsters are nice, but all that matters is the joy and adoration infused into your cooking. Tea imparts an energy that warms the heart and soul for this same reason. It takes a lot of care and devotion to produce good tea. Because of its energy and complex layers of flavor and aroma, tea is a powerfully alluring ingredient to cook with. Captivate and delight your partner this Valentine’s day by cooking a romantic dinner with tea that’ll be unforgettable.
The Versatility of Tea
Most people think of matcha powder when cooking with tea, especially in desserts and baked goods. However, any tea can be used in many ways to add a unique element of excitement to a recipe. The most common methods are
- Infusions (dairy, nut milk, or fats such as butter and oil)
- Rubs or marinades for meat, fish, and vegetables
- Broths and poaching liquids
- Ground into a powder and added directly to a dish
One of the best things about cooking with tea is that it blends so well with so many different ingredients. If you can’t find a recipe that calls for your favorite tea, get creative and have fun experimenting with different techniques to see which one works best.
Creating A Romantic Menu
Look at any restaurant’s Valentine’s Day menu, and you’ll notice several common themes: expensive hard-to-find ingredients such as foie gras and caviar and a combination of rich meats with sweet fruity sauces or sumptuous seafood dishes. While many foods, like oysters, are famous for being aphrodisiacs, the main elements that make up a traditionally romantic meal entice all senses. A few things to consider when planning a romantic menu are
- Visual appeal: A mix of colors in a single dish or a variety of colors on the table will spark excitement and build anticipation.
- Aroma: Fragrant dishes make the mouth water before a single bite has even been taken. Tea is especially good for this.
- Texture: Different textures play with the mouth and add an element of surprise. A contrast between silky smooth and delightfully crunchy will keep the momentum of the meal going. For those accustomed to eating with cutlery, food that can be eaten with the hands also adds a sense of mischievous intimacy to a meal.
- Flavor: Too much of one flavor overwhelms the palate. Create balance by playing different tastes off of each other. Rich gamey meats such as duck are often paired with bright, fruity sauces because the sweet acidity of oranges or cherries cuts through the fatty richness of the duck. Consider dishes that give you a combination of salty, sweet, sour, spicy, savory, and bitter.
- Sound: The best part about eating a creme brulee is the wonderful whack you hear as your spoon cracks through its sugary crust. Like with smell, the sound of a dish sizzling or crispy skin crackling also makes you salivate.
When choosing your menu, try to think of dishes that match these criteria. As well as ones that you know you and your loved one will appreciate. Oysters are only erotic to people who like oysters. If your partner’s favorite tea in the world is Earl Grey, you want to include a showstopping dish that highlights Earl Grey.
Tea can be used in any type of cuisine that you love to cook. Here are some delectable recipes highlighting tea’s unique ability to enhance a dish. Various teas and cooking styles are represented to help inspire you to create something magical. Enjoy cooking with your partner and delight in combining your passion for tea and food with love.
Cheese Fondu with Smoked Tea- Nothing sets the mood like leaning over a steamy pot of golden melted cheese and breathing in its tantalizingly smokey aroma. Using a Lapsang Souchon tea from China instead of white wine adds a hint of toasted pine needles that blends beautifully with the creamy earthiness of the Alpine cheese in this recipe. With one bite of this velvety, gooey fondu, you’ll instantly be transported to a wintery mountainside chalet.
Wine and cheese is a celebrated combination. That’s because certain wines contain tannins that have a bitter, astringent taste, leaving a dry sensation in the mouth. When you take a sip of red wine after having a bite of cheese, the fat from the cheese coats the mouth, softens the wine, and slightly changes its flavor. Many teas have tannins as well, which means for the same reason that cheese and wine go well together, tea and cheese do too.
Laphet Thoke (Tea Leaf Salad)– This distinctive and wonderfully addictive salad gets its extra special punch from fermented tea leaves. Grown high up in the mountains of the Shan region of Myanmar, laphet is made from picking the tender top buds of the tea plant. They’re then pressed and left in a dark, cool place to ferment for several months before being coated in oil and packaged. You can order laphet online from The Lost Tea Company and other specialty suppliers.
Traditionally made with a mix of chopped cabbage and softer lettuce, it also gets a special layer of crunch from the fried garlic, and nut mixture that goes into it. Bright, tangy, and full of interesting textures, this salad will awaken the senses and excite the palate for the meal to come.
Tea-Smoked Chicken Wings– The Chinese have been using tea leaves to smoke food for centuries. Originally what started out as a simple method for preserving meat and seafood has evolved into a hypnotically fragrant way to cook and flavor a dish. There are many famous recipes for tea-smoked meats, particularly the renowned Chinese tea-smoked duck. See Cynthia Gold’s informative and inspiring article on smoking foods with tea for more in-depth advice.
What makes smoking chicken wings with green tea such a great addition to a romantic Valentine’s day meal is the fact that they’re marinated in a sweet, and savory glaze that combines with the aromatic tea smoke to make them literally finger-licking good. Plus, eating chicken wings at home allows you to lose yourself in the pleasure of the experience. No need to be self-conscious about the audible moans escaping from your lips or the sauce running down your chin.
Tea-Sauced Scallops with Orange, Soy, and Honey– Scallops are a restaurant Valentine’s Day staple. When paired with the slightly sweet, maltiness of Chinese Keemun tea, their natural buttery, nuttiness becomes more pronounced. The orange juice in the sauce highlights the citrus notes in the Keemun’s aroma, creating a quick yet tantalizing main dish.
Be sure to sear the scallops over high heat to get that gorgeous crispy brown layer before finishing them off in the fragrant sauce. To obtain the perfect springy scallop texture, take them off the heat when they just start to go opaque in the center. You want them to be slightly resilient to the touch but not firm.
Black Tea Marinated Pork Loin*- This black tea marinade can be used on any meat but is perfect for making lean pork loins super succulent and full of flavor. The tannins found in black tea act as a natural tenderizer by drawing out the meat’s moisture. A good strong, astringent Assam tea is perfect for this recipe. Don’t forget to save the marinade to make a rich tea-infused sauce to pour over the pork loin at the end. *See the Black Tea Marinated Pork Loin recipe below
Genmaicha Rice Pilaf- This recipe uses the grassy toasted nut flavor of Genmaicha green tea and earthy umami-packed dried shitake mushrooms to create an aromatic and extremely satisfying side dish. Adding Bhutan red rice mixed into the Jasmine rice adds layers of texture and a pop of color. Perfect to serve with your tea-smoked chicken wings or tea-sauced scallops, this satisfying rice pilaf recipe will bring a subtle balance to your meal.
Black Tea Rubbed Roasted Root Vegetables– A great way to intensify tea’s flavor is to grind it into a powder and rub it directly onto meat, fish, and vegetables. The bold, spicy notes of a good Ceylon black tea enhance the other dried spices in this rub. Together they contrast beautifully with the sweet caramelized flavor of the roasted root vegetables. A humble side dish that could easily become the star of the show.
Jasmine Tea Panna Cotta– The juxtaposition of the silky smooth texture of a panna cotta with that slightly suggestive ‘wobble’ and the heady perfume of Jasmine tea makes this one incredibly alluring Valentine’s Day dessert. Sweet, floral, and fragrant, this recipe is the perfect way to end a meal.
Chai Tea Chocolate Lava Cake– That culminating moment when you dip your spoon into a chocolate lava cake, and a molten stream of melted Chai spiced chocolate fondant comes oozing out is the ultimate pièce de résistance. The only thing better than watching the chocolate lava flow will be the eye-rolling, table-slapping, moan-inducing first bite that follows it. Bon appétit!
The possibilities for playing with different teas and desserts are endless. Cheesecake, ice cream, and all baked goods blend seamlessly with tea. Read Robert Wemischner’s article to learn more about incorporating your favorite tea into dessert.
The love and thoughtful preparation that goes into cooking a romantic dinner for or with someone automatically enhances the end results. By infusing your passion for tea into the meal, you’re doubling down on the excitement and satisfaction that arises from discovering something new. Tea is a special, heartening ingredient that will make your Valentine’s day dinner a true celebration of love and devotion.