Inspired by my recent tasting of pu-erh teas gracefully led by Linda Louie (Bana Tea company), I fell hard for a Denong wild ripe version (2010) from her offerings which added layers of complexity to a number of dishes prepared that day. Not only pairing the tea with the following savory dishes, also using them in cooking in a number of different ways: we started with a medley of tea smoked mushrooms, and then moved onto  a lightly smoked chicken (bone-in thighs) finished in the oven and then sauced by deglazing the pan and reducing the resulting liquid. And then to finish the meal on a sweet note, I poached several varieties of locally grown plums in a puerh tea syrup flavored lightly with cinnamon, ginger and star anise.

Tasting a mini toucha (2012), a Denong commemorative from 2016 and a gold medal winner from 2006, I sensed how chocolate would pair beautifully with any one of these teas. Following my hunches, I made a tea-based chocolate torte, almost flourless and only lightly sweet, glazed with a tea-infused dark chocolate ganache as a velvety rich cover.

Several hours and many cups of tea later, I realized that this is just a beginning with so many more pairings and opportunities to use these teas as grace notes in sauces, salad dressings, as a steaming liquid for rice, as a sauce for roasted vegetables, particularly eggplant, and in frozen desserts, dairy based and otherwise.  Stay tuned for more tea cuisine as the caravan gains traction.

Making great use of stone fruit now available at many farmers markets, here’s a simple point of entry in to the puerh adventure.

Puerh poached plums

Serves 4-6 as a dessert in and of itself, or over high quality vanilla ice cream or a bittersweet chocolate torte

2 lbs. ripe but not soft plums, halved and pitted (purple or yellow fleshed varieties would make a good mix)
1 quart of brewed puerh
½ c. granulated sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
1 3-inch long piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and sliced into ¼ inch coins

Place all ingredients in a heavy saucepan and simmer uncovered until the sugar is fully dissolved, stirring occasionally. Be careful not to break up the fruit. Remove the fruit to a bowl and then bring the poaching liquid to a rapid boil bowl and continue to cook over medium heat until reduced by half. Watch it carefully as it reduces to avoid burning it. Remove from the heat and allow the liquid to cool to room temperature. Remove the cinnamon stick and star anise, pour the cooled liquid over the plums and then refrigerate until ready to serve. These are delicious either warm or cold.