Photos and story by Julie Van Rosendaal

Not counting water, tea is the most popular beverage on the planet; it’s the focus of rich cultural traditions worldwide, and though most buy the leaves to steep and drink, it has huge potential as a culinary ingredient.

All true teas come from the same tea bush — Camellia sinensis — and are categorized as black, green, white or oolong depending on the processing method. Anything else — herbal teas and roiboos, for example — are technically not teas at all but tisanes that are steeped and drunk in the same manner.

These basic teas are then used as canvases; often scented, flavoured or blended with other ingredients — Earl Grey is created by adding oil of bergamot to black tea leaves, and jasmine is scented by layering dried tea on screens between screens of jasmine flowers to infuse the tea with its scent. Non-tea ingredients like citrus, dried fruit, flower petals and spices are frequently added to tea leaves, and “chai” blends typically contain cinnamon, cloves and cardamom, though chai translates to tea. Some tea leaves are altered during processing; lapsang souchong, for example, is smoke-dried over pinewood fire, giving it distinctive campfire smokiness.

Both the loose leaves and steeped tea have potential in the kitchen — cooled tea is acidic, making it a great base for marinades (try strong black teas such as Earl Grey, Darjeeling and smoky lapsang souchong for beef and pork, light herbals, green teas and citrus blends for chicken and seafood), in place of water when cooking rice (try citrus blends, Jasmine, lemongrass) or oatmeal (try chamomile, chai blends, soursap), or along with or in place of stock as a soup base — tea is a brilliant vegetarian or vegan option. Tea makes tasty hot and cold cocktails, and if you like to plump up raisins and other dry fruit before you add it to your baking, you can use tea instead of hot water or booze.

Dry loose tea leaves can be added to shortbread, cookie or scone dough, or used to infuse cream you intend to whip and dollop over pie (imagine a strawberry-rhubarb pie with Earl Grey-infused cream) or turn into ice cream, panna cotta, crème brulée, even rice pudding. But though you can start with dry leaves in baked goods, adding them as you might add a dry spice, waking them up in a ramekin with a splash of boiling water will soften the leaves and help them release their flavour before you add them to a recipe.

Julie shares four recipes using a variety of teas. Check out the other three here: Earl Grey or Lavender Shortbread, Black Tea Panna Cotta and Chai Butternut Squash Soup with Apples.

Pulled Pork with Lapsang Souchong

Lapsang souchong is smoke-dried over a pinewood fire, giving it distinctive campfire smokiness — this translates well to marinades, but will also give your food a smoky flavour without having to resort to artificial flavours or open flame.
Servings 10
Author Julie Van Rosendaal


  • 3-4 lb boneless pork shoulder, cut into large chunks
  • 3 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp brown sugar
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1 onion, halved and thinly sliced
  • 2 cups steeped lapsang souchong (any temperature)
  • bottled barbecue sauce, to taste
  • soft white buns or biscuits for serving


  • Drizzle some oil into a heavy, ovenproof pot set over medium-high heat. Place the pork shoulder in a large bowl and toss with the chili powder, paprika, brown sugar, cumin, and enough salt and pepper to suit your taste.
  • Brown the meat in batches, transferring it to another bowl or plate as you go.
  • Add the onion to the pan and cook for a few minutes, until it starts to soften and loosen any browned bits in the bottom of the pan.
  • Return all the pork to the pan and add the tea — there should be enough to come about halfway up the side of the meat.
  • Cover and cook at 300˚F for 2½-3hours, or until the pork is very tender.
  • Pull the meat apart with two forks, adding just enough sauce to moisten. Serve on soft buns or biscuits.