As we enter the new year, I reflect on the annual excitement I feel when leafing through the pages of any of a number of seed catalogues that fill my mailbox. With a mixture of expectancy, optimism, and even a bit of overambition I circle this variety of tomato, or that one of melon, ready to place the order. It’s a wait-and-see game of which seeds will germinate, take hold, and flourish – limited by the amount of space in the garden. A similar sense of anticipation grips me when I peruse the latest tea catalogs—so many teas with so many different flavor profiles, so many flavors, so many often-unrevealing descriptions. But for every one of my old favorites (which are never exactly the same as before, given tea’s mutability as an agricultural product grown in a world with its ever-changing climate), there’s an equal number of new entries on the list from new (to me) tea gardens and new places of origin now supporting growing tea (there’s that climate change again, raising its troublesome head) that I’ve never experienced before. Shall it be tea from Colombia or Mississippi or northern Washington State? Or might I consider teas grown on the Big Island of Hawaii which don’t often enter my radar. There are so many choices but a somewhat limited capacity for imbibing. Let’s resolve to revel in that multiplicity. There’s always another new tea or new hybrid seed on the horizon. So, here’s to all the tea lovers in the land! Vow to taste something new in the new year. And whichever teas you make room for in your tea cabinet, try one of them in the following recipe for a simple Tea-Scented Panna Cotta, a simple but stunning dessert which features the flavor and personality of the tea

Here’s how to do it. 

Yield: 4 servings, approximately 2 ounces each

  • Choose four 4-ounce molds—either foil, glass, silicone (flexible and preferred) or plastic; choose molds that you can dip into hot water to remove the panna cottas when ready to serve
  • 1 c. (approximately 8 ounces) heavy cream
  • ¼ c. (2 ounces) whole milk 
  • 1 T. good quality fragrant tea leaves
  • ¼ c. (1-3/4 ounces) granulated sugar
  • 2 t. unflavored gelatin powder or 1-1/3 sheets of sheet gelatin (whichever you use, you need to hydrate them: For the powdered gelatin, simply place it into 3 T. cold water and stir so that the powder absorbs the water. For the sheet gelatin, place the sheets into ice water and let stand for about 5 minutes, or until the sheets soften but do not dissolve; squeeze out excess liquid from the sheets before adding to the hot mixture below)

  1. Bring the cream and milk to the boil with the tea leaves. Remove from the heat and allow the tea to infuse the dairy, about 10 minutes—the liquid should have a slightly tan tinge.
  2. Pour the liquid through a fine-meshed sieve and press hard on the tea leaves to extract as much flavor as possible.
  3. Now add the sugar. Bring to the boil again.
  4. Remove from the heat and add the soaked gelatin, stirring well to be sure that the gelatin (whichever form you are using) dissolves completely.
  5. Now pour the mixture into the molds, dividing it evenly amongst them. (Note: Depending on the actual capacity of the molds, the mixture may only partially fill them; that’s OK).
  6. Carefully place the filled molds on a level shelf in the refrigerator and chill, lightly covered, for at least 2 hours before serving.
  7. When ready to serve, dip the molds one at a time into hot water for a few seconds. Check to see that the edges of the Panna Cotta are melting slightly, an indication that they will release from the molds cleanly and fully. If not, carefully place the mold back into the hot water for another couple of seconds. (You can always place them into ice to firm up the mixture if, by chance, you have left them in the hot water for too long—it’s a delicate process so be patient and watchful). 
  8. Once the Panna Cottas appear released from the sides of the molds, immediately invert each one onto its serving plate. (It’s always a good idea to have them unmolded and ready to serve in advance of dessert time). 
  9. Garnish each one with a few grapes, berries, pomegranate seeds, tangerine segments, or a colorful combination of the what’s in season as you wish. Enjoy! And be sure to accompany the dessert with a crisp cookie and a cup of the same tea that you used above.

Photo “Spring Darjeeling Tea Panna Cotta, Gaiguette Strawberries” is copyright under Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License to the photographer Lou Stejskal and is being posted unaltered (source)