Tea's time

The time for tea is here, with tea bars offering bespoke brews and chefs exploring tea-based dishes. Qantas Lounges senior duty manager Geoff Laws, an award-winning but recent devotee to tea, explains why he fell for the versatile herb.

Orange-marinated salmon with herb salad
Orange-marinated salmon with herb salad

It has been a year of transformation for Geoff Laws, the senior duty manager Qantas Lounges in Melbourne. The established industry professional and self-confessed coffee nut has accidentally become something of a tea ambassador, representing Australia in an international contest and brimming with new-found passion for this “versatile herb”.

The journey began in 2014, when Laws joined his colleague, chef Shaun Thomson, in the Dilmah Real High Tea Challenge. Leading tea company, Dilmah is at the forefront of the tea revolution, working hard to push the innovations in tea in the F&B world through initiatives such as this annual contest. Deemed the world’s only tea-based cooking contest, the event requires entrants to create a ‘21st- century high tea’ and explore food and tea pairings in innovative ways.

Geoff Laws and Shaun Thomsom
Geoff Laws and Shaun Thomsom

“Getting my head around the competition was quite interesting,” says Laws of his experience, “as I first had to discover tea and the many different flavours, before deciding on the most effective way to use it.” The exploration unleashed a “passion for tea” and he admits that now “brewing it in just the traditional way is not enough. I enjoy playing around with how I use the herb and how I brew it, just to see how far I can take it”.

Laws and Thomson won the contest and went on to the Dilmah Real High Tea Global Challenge 2015 in Sri Lanka, which provided Laws with a thorough understanding of the herb and an insight into how chefs across the world are exploring the potential of tea.

It is tea’s versatility that makes it so ripe for experimentation, explains Laws; “when using it as a food ingredient alone there are so many options. We have used it as marinades on meat; as huge flavour infusion hits to cakes, creams, and sauces; and as bases to syrups and bitters in cocktails”.

Jurassic Park Egg Sabayon with Ceylon Oolong
Jurassic Park Egg Sabayon with Ceylon Oolong

One of Laws’ favourites is the Earl Grey beef carpaccio created by Thomson, with the meat marinated in cold-dripped Earl Grey and rubbed in a tea-based dry rub before searing. “The flavour of the bergamot in the tea, alongside the sweetness of the beef, really popped!”

The team has also pushed tea drinking to a new level with a 24-hour cold brew infused Champagne with Sencha Tea. “The grassiness of the tea combined perfectly with the dry bubbles. We topped it off with basil foam, and all three flavours were insane together!”

A good starting point is with the tea brewing technique, explains Laws, and he has explored many of the approaches traditionally used for coffee, to good effect. “I encourage anyone to play around with different techniques, as the flavours extracted can be very different to a traditional brew.”

Tea is also stepping up as a food pairing, which Laws approaches in a similar way to wine, carefully considering the body of the tea in relationship to the food. He notes: “high grown teas produce a light and delicate brew, whereas teas grown at low elevations are full of body and really pack a punch. It is important your tea does not overpower your food, or vice versa.”

Flavour and temperature must also be factors, explains Laws, and emphasises that the possibilities are far more varied and interesting than many people realise. “There is so much to work with; it’s a chef or bartender’s dream!”

Laws has clearly transformed from a coffee hound into a full-blown tea fan, and the ease with which he has developed a full knowledge should serve as encouragement to fellow foodservice professionals interested in taking their tea further.

While not everyone is going to be zipping off to Sri Lanka to compete with the world’s best, tea exploration can start small, as Laws explains: “I love cheese and pairing it with tea – it is actually a great way for anyone to start playing around with flavours and pairings”.

“One of my favourite matches is a good quality goat’s cheese, paired with Dilmah Fragrant Jasmine Green Tea,” he adds, a happy convert to Team Tea and an inspiration to those eager to join in the fun.