Tea Drinks Find a Place on Menus All Day

Rachel Safko

English breakfast tea may be a morning favorite for many Americans—second only to coffee—but tea isn’t just for breakfast or high tea service anymore. Chefs all over the country are drawing from cultures around the world to reinvent the brew as an all-day refreshment.

Consider the Laura Palmer at Sqirl in L.A., taking the classic Arnold Palmer iced tea drink a step further by combining a first-rate looseleaf tea with grapefruit juice. This inspired riff marries the unapologetic tartness of grapefruit with a sweet, malty cold-brew black tea from Yunnan, China, invoking chef/owner Jessica Koslow’s signature flair for drawing out concentrated flavors from fruits and botanicals like tea ($5, recipe). And at New York City’s De Maria, Camille Becerra offers a traditional Japanese tisane brewed from soba kernels to complement the earthy flavors of salads like her mushroom-dandelion mix sprinkled with rose petals. The nutty soba tisane highlights the walnuts in the salad, underscoring the subtle power of her elemental, globally inspired cuisine. Clearly, there’s more to tea service and pairings than an afternoon cup with cookies and biscuits.

At Selden Standard in Detroit, tea is more than an option after dessert. “We rotate the teas on our menu along with the seasons,” says partner Evan Hansen. “The menu features lighter teas in the summer and more robust ones during the colder months.” Hansen buys from Detroit’s Joseph Wesley Tea, which sources high-quality looseleaf directly from small farms in Asia via extensive sourcing trips. In the fall and winter, he offers a classic, velvety Chinese Keemun Congfu black tea and roasted Tie Guan Yin oolong, which pair well with Executive Chef Andy Hollyday’s earthy cool-weather plates, such as roasted squash with maple tahini, beets and kohlrabi, and smoked lamb.

Hansen gets tea into his cocktail program by serving an old-fashioned milk punch made anew with tea-infused rum instead of brandy. “[It] was inspired by a strong black tea from Joe Wesley. From there, I added a homemade masala syrup,” he says. “I wanted to make a milk punch reminiscent of a chai or chai latte” (recipe).

Selden Standard also serves tea using the traditional, centuries-old Chinese gong fu cha service, with small cups, or gaiwan, as brewing vessels, versus the Westernized method of a pot and strainer. (The gong fu cha method tends to be a more concentrated brewing method, with more tea, less water and shorter infusions than, say, the classic British teapot.)

Traditional Chinese tea service is meant to be a shared drinking experience, with tea served to many guests through multiple infusions in tiny cups. “Gong fu cha service is a social, interactive way of drinking tea that fits well with the spirit of Selden Standard,” Hansen notes. “We encourage people to share food as if they’re having a dinner party at a friend’s home. The gong fu cha service adds to that shared experience; it’s a natural fit for the vibe we try to cultivate and feels similar to the way a table might share a bottle of wine.”

Rachel Safko could eat toast with Sqirl’s Santa Rosa plum jam all day, alongside a good pot of tea.

Loved reading your words Rachel. I continue to pair puerhs w foods of all kinds including cheese and chocolate

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