When I traveled alone in Europe last February, every morning I started the day with tea. It became a ritual. Every day I woke up and declared, “TEA! PLEASE!”
Now mind you, I never needed a caffeine fix in the morning. Typically, I rolled down to the office usually awoken by the usual everyday anxiety (bills? project deadlines?) and the blast of cold San Francisco air while riding my bike.
When I was 20, my sister and I went to our first tea room in San Diego. Having not grown up surrounded by girly things, we were intrigued by this culture of fancy teapots, mismatched tea cups, and dainty desserts of the rainbow (sometimes that tasted too much of fondant than sugary goodness). We wanted to be fancy and elegant—to brag about our exquisiteness and emulate the regularly British tradition. Although my desire to have regular afternoon tea has waned, I still am intrigued by the discovery of Darjeeling in those days. Back then, the tea was described to me as the champagne of black teas. Not to my surprise, it was advertised as such in the Borough Market in London.
“It is the lightest of the teas,” a tea proprietor in a fancy tea room once told us. “I don’t even drink it with milk.”
Yet while traveling in Dublin, London and Berlin, the comforts of tea reminded me of my memorable moments of my sister. The dainty cups, the tea pot, and the mug where I poured the tea. It was a constant balance of trying not to steep the tea too long and drinking while keeping it hot. To my surprise in Europe, I was surprised that in bars, tea was regularly served. Most importantly, it was not served with just a tea bag in a mug. Rather it was a complete set with a tea pot (and leaves), milk, sugar and an empty mug.
In Dublin, after spending an afternoon watching rugby at a bar, a friend and I meandered to a nearby posh bar where we had tea. And there, that’s where we sat for several hours—letting our words take us. An American and a German with so many different lives finding ourselves in a bar in Dublin, Ireland.
That’s what tea time…and darjeeling reminds me.
So in the recipe, I emphasized the tea’s qualities with a balance of milk and cream. After all, darjeeling is great on its own, but certain aspects are emphasized with the right amount of sugar and milk. Unlike my previous recipes, this one, I created on my own based on my experience from creating Thai Iced Tea ice cream. Out of the four ice cream that I served that week, this one went by the fastest, because it was the creamiest (I mastered the art of tempering eggs!) and densest.
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup darjeeling leaves (actual tea leaves)
1 cup sugar
6 egg yolks
In a medium pot, heat the milk and heavy cream until simmering over medium heat. Remove from heat. Steep darjeeling tea in the mixture for at least an hour. Strain out the tea leaves. Strain out once more if any major leaves remain (or leave a bit to give the ice cream hint of the tea within). Back in the medium pot, combine the steeped mixture and sugar. Heat until simmering. Then turn off heat.
In a separate large bowl, whisk the egg yolks. Temper the egg yolks by pouring one cup at a time of the warmed mixture. Whisk after every cup. Return the contents into the pot. Then at medium heat while constantly stirring, place the pot at medium heat. The custard will thicken. Remove from heat when the mixture coats the back of a spoon.
Chill completely overnight in the refrigerator. Churn in an ice cream maker based on the manufacturer’s instructions.
Written in August 2012