It might come to a surprise to some of you finding out that spent tea leaves of certain types of Japanese teas can be enjoyed in multiple ways after having used them to make a delicious brew.
Seriously? How is that?
I found this out during my first visit to a Japanese tea farm & I thought it was a great idea. Not only because it is said that only a certain percentage of some of the components contained in the leaves are released during the hot brewing process. But also because they don't have to be thrown away but they can be used as any other ingredient in our pantry. It is always nice to find out that the Japanese tea leaves are an eco friendly ingredient since they generate little to no waste. During the cold brewing process of the tea leaves, more of the components are being released since the steeping time is longer. Yet the leaves can still be reused. Can I eat the leaves of all the Japanese tea types?
Unfortunately, no. I mean, you can if you want yet I have tried to eat them myself & some of them aren't pleasant. For example, black tea leaves, they are tough & don't taste good. Sencha, bancha, houjicha, genmaicha... If the leaves are of a high grade sencha, they could possibly be ok, the leaves of the other tea types don't taste so great. Still, the tea leaves that cannot be eaten, can be still used for something else. Keep reading! Usually, the tea leaves that are eaten after brewing them are from high grade teas such as gyokuro, kabusecha & shincha teas since they use very young & tender leaves. I have also used genmaicha made out of sencha successfully, the ones made with bancha aren't so great. If you intend to eat the leaves after having enjoyed a nice brew, make sure that they don't become bitter. Otherwise you salad will have an unpleasant bitter taste. Unless you enjoy the bitterness, then is of course fine. I prefer mine smooth & fresh, with a pleasant vegetal taste.
Do you eat the tea leaves yourself?
Yes, I do. From gyokuro, kabusecha or shincha teas since the leaves are young, tender & fully packed with polyphenols.
If for any reason I don't feel like eating them, I use a technique called shiozuke to lightly ferment them in brine. Then, I can use them as a n ingredient in other dishes. Or I add them to sponge cakes, biscuits & many other sweet dishes.
How do you eat them then?
There are multiple ways to enjoy your spent Japanese tea leaves. Here you are my own recommendations, there might be other suggestions outhere as well:
Salad: with some ponzu or soy sauce, if you don't like any you can use your own salad dressing.They can be eaten alone or added to a salad made using other ingredients as well.
Dressing: you can make your own salad dressing by mixing the tea leaves with a bit of salt, honey, vinegar or any other ingredients of your choice. Shiozuke: lightly fermented in brine at a room temperature, you can also add other ingredients, yuzu, chilli, pepper... Cakes/cookies: slightly sweetened using some sugar or syrup, then added to any cake or cookie dough. Omelette: adding them to the egg mixture & making the omelette as usual.
Ochazuke: as a topping for white rice topped with fish/shellfish, wakame... & some green tea poured over (I have also used them over a couscous dish.)
Topping: seared in the frying pan with some oil & sesame seeds until they become dry, they can be added to a number of dishes. Spread: draining the leaves well, then mashing them & adding them to spreads, creams, cream cheese... Curry: adding the leaves to the curry or any other type of stew.
Risotto: adding the leaves towards the end of the risotto making process. Tea eggs: boiling eggs using a mix of herbs, tea leaves & other condiments. Miso: spent tea leaves can be added to the miso soup or can be mashed & mixed with the miso paste to marinate vegetables, fish & meat. Toast: dressed or as is over a toast, some spread could be added to the toast before placing the leaves on it. Filled eggs: with mayonnaise, egg yolks & tea leaves. Gyoza: as part of the filling itself.
Pasta: as part of the sauce or the ingredients in the sauce. Those tea leaves that are tough & cannot be eaten, can still be reused: Infusing: to infusion milk, cream, vegetal drinks to be consumed as milkshakes, boba milk tea, to make desserts with infused milk such as pannacotta, mousse...
Flavouring: they can be added to pickles, used to marinate meat, to add flavour to a roasted chicken (using a bag so the leaves don't spread everywhere)... If you don't want to eat them, you can also used them in other ways: Fermentation: in order to make mead a source of tannins is required, tea leaves are an excellent tannin source.
Facial: mashing the leaves to create a paste applying it to the face, leaving them on for 10 minutes, discard (then use as fertilizer.) Deodorizer: drying then after having been brewed, then placing them in places we need to keep odour free (fridge, shoes, bins...) Fertilizer: adding them to the compost heap or to the soil. I am pretty sure that there are many other ways to repurpose Japanese tea leaves I don't know about.
How do you reuse yours? I would love to know.
What are the reasons to do this?
The first reason that comes to my mind is to avoid wasting them. It's often said that tea is a virtually waste free product. While there are still many improvements to be made with the wrapping & packaging, it's true that tea is a product that has a very low waste footprint. Another reason that comes to my mind is because it is said that by consuming the whole leaf, we are not only getting more out of our investment but also we are getting additional benefits. By ingesting the leaves, we take advantage of the remaining components that aren't released during the brewing. From the inside. In addition, we get to use an ingredient we never thought that could be eaten in a creative way. So the tea doubles down as an amazing beverage that can be consumed hot or cold, brewed several times & once we are done with it, we either eat the tea leaves with some dressing or we ferment them lightly to be used as an ingredient in something else. The possibilities are endless, just use your imagination!
If you have any suggestions or make any of the recipes tag me on Instagram so I can see them. I love learning new things from you! Or send the recipe over if you want me to publish it here so others can also enjoy it. I will credit you for it, of course.
Did you enjoy the article? Hit like! You can also find me on Instagram (daily Japanese tea based pairings) & Tik Tok (Japanese tea based drinks.) And the Spanish version of this article should be released at some point on the Spanish blog. Subscribe to the blog if you want to get notified each time a new article is published, one out each Monday.
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Have a nice week, keep sipping on good Japanese teas & see you again next Monday!