It is only recently that I have become more adventurous when it comes to tea. Growing up, the only time I drank tea was when I was sick and my mother forced me to (now I do the same thing with my husband). In the past few years, however, I have come to have an appreciation of tea and the different flavors. While I will always choose coffee first, I enjoy green tea, ginger tea and other rich flavors. Cooking with tea is one of those ideas that I wonder why it never dawned on me. After all, tea bags are little flavor packets and tea leaves are really no different than other herbs. Why not use them for other things than steeping them in water? It’s brilliant! We all know teas are healthy but tea can also add subtle aromas and light flavors to both sweet and savory dishes. Here are some ideas on how to use tea as an ingredient when cooking.

1. Add to a Spice Rub

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Tea leaves are essentially herbs so why not treat them as such? Grind tea leaves in a spice or coffee grinder and add them to your other favorite herbs and spices to use in a spice rub for tofu, tempeh or seitan. Choose teas that you like for drinking and that would go well with savory foods – think green tea, Matcha, Darjeeling or Earl Gray. A tea spice rub can be as simple as mixing ½ tsp. salt and ¼ tsp. black pepper with 2 Tbs. of ground tea. Read How to Make Your Own Spice Blends and then try making your own spice rubs with tea.

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Try this Matcha Tea Spice Rub that would be perfect on seitan, tofu or veggies: combine 1/3 cup Matcha green tea, 2 Tbs. dry mustard, 2 Tbs. garlic powder, 1 Tbs. black pepper, 2 tsp. smoked paprika, 2 tsp. kosher salt, 1 tsp. dried thyme and 1 tsp. cayenne pepper. Use it on these Seitan Steaks, Baked Tofu or any dish where you want lots of bold, spicy flavors.

2. Use in Place of Water

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The most obvious way to cook with tea would be to use it in place of water. Brew the tea and let it cool to room temperature. Then use it in any recipe that calls for water. Try using tea to cook whole grains like rice, quinoa or millet or use black or oolong tea to poach fruit such as peaches or pears. Add the tea to stews and soups like this Miso Green Tea and Ginger Zucchini Noodle Soup with Tofu. Use tea rather than water to rehydrate foods like dried mushrooms or texturized vegetable protein. Rather than buying specialty noodles, cook pasta in green tea to make these Green Tea Soba Noodles with Roasted Vegetables and Herbs yourself. Have tea for breakfast when you add it to the water to make this Superfood Matcha Porridge.

3. Infuse Butter, Oils and Salts

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Add your favorite tea bag to melted vegan butter in a saucepan. Cover the pan and steep for several minutes before removing the tea. Then you have infused vegan butter to use in your vegetables and other dishes.

If you go into a specialty gourmet shop, you can spend a fortune on products such as herb-infused oils and flavored salts. The good news is that it’s simple to make these very impressive items yourself for a lot less money and you can use tea to make them. Read How to Infuse Your Own Olive Oil with Herbs and Spices for the simple instructions and then make olive oils flavored with lemon and your favorite tea blends. Put the infused oils in pretty bottles and tie ribbons and a couple of tea bags onto their necks for gift-giving.

To make your own specialty salts, all you have to do is choose a salt and then choose a flavor of tea. You can use any coarse salt such as kosher salt, sea salt, fleur de sel, or Pink Himalayan salt. Using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder, mix in 1 tsp. of tea for every ¼ cup of salt. Try mixing Matcha green tea powder into sea salt for a colorful and healthy finishing salt. Store the flavored salt into an airtight container and let it sit for 24 hours before using. Present the salts in pretty labeled jars tied with ribbon for an impressive gift.

4. Use as an Herb

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Tea leaves are essentially herbs and they can be used as such. You can add the leaves directly to dishes while they are cooking or you can brew the leaves and then chop them up and add them to dishes. Green tea is especially good for adding to vegetable dishes since it tastes similar to dark, leafy greens like spinach and kale. Use them however you would dried herbs such as oregano or thyme. Try adding some green tea leaves to your next tofu scramble, vegan omelet or stir-fry. Mix them into bread crumbs or seasoned flour for dredging and frying foods. Add chopped tea leaves or brewed tea directly into sauces and glazes. Mix it with chopped nuts as in these Pistachio and Matcha Truffles and Raspberry Matcha Bliss Balls. Don’t forget to also use it as a garnish.

5. Use in Marinades and Dressings

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Tea can be used in marinades and dressings to add a special, unique flavor. Simply add brewed tea to marinades and use it to marinate tofu, tempeh, seitan or vegetables. Check out The Ultimate Guide to Making Flavor-Packed Marinades for Plant-Based Dishes. Try this Orange Pekoe Asian Marinade the next time you make a stir-fry  combine 1/3 cup tamari, 1/3 cup orange pekoe tea, 2 Tbs. brown rice vinegar, 1-inch fresh grated ginger, 3 or 4 minced garlic cloves and ½ tsp. Chinese 5-Spice Powder. Make it sweeter with 1 tsp. agave nectar or spicier with 1 tsp. Sriracha hot sauce. Read 10 Ways to Make Amazing Salad Dressings and 10 Delicious and Creative Ways to Flavor Raw, Leafy Greens and add tea to any of the recipes for a fresh, new recipe. You may not think about dressings for desserts but a tea soak is kind of like a dressing. Brew some Matcha tea and use it to soak a luscious dessert like this Passion Fruit Matcha Coconut Layered Cake

6. Infuse Vegetable Broth and Milk

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The next time you are going to use veggie broth in a dish, steep some tea in it first. In just 10 minutes, you’ll have a cooking liquid with a whole different flavor. Use the tea-infused broth for your next soup or stew. Try white or black tea for a strong flavor or Japanese green tea for an umami-rich flavor. Use it to braise seitan like these Braised Seitan Short Ribs or this Slow-Cooker Braised Tempeh with Figs and Port Wine.

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Infuse tea into non-dairy milk and then use that milk in your recipes including sorbet and ice cream as in this Banana Ice Cream with Matcha, Blueberry, and Vanilla Layers. In this Tea and Chocolate Cake with Cocoa Crumble, the milk is infused with chai and black tea. These Matcha Glazed Vanilla Bean Donuts with Matcha Crème Filling have tea infused into the soy cream as well as in the sugar-water used for the glaze.

7. Use in Place of Flour

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Powdered tea such as Matcha green tea powder or tea leaves that have been ground in a spice grinder can be used to partially replace flour in recipes. For each cup of flour, you can replace 1 teaspoon with powdered tea as in these Green Tea and Mango Sandwiches and Matcha Green Tea Chocolate Chip Brownies. These Matcha Green Tea Cupcakes have tea in both the batter and the frosting while these Arnold Palmer Tea Cakes with Lemon-Infused Vodka have black tea in the batter.

We all know that herbal teas are healthy and calming for us and nothing refreshes us like a Café Style Matcha Tea Latte or an Iced Dandelion Latte. Now try cooking with tea to add flavor and nutrition to your dishes. You’ll love it so much tea time will be all the time.

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Lead Image Photo: Matcha Green Tea Chocolate Chip Brownies