Written in September 2012
At Chinese restaurants during our childhood, my sister and I consistently refused to drink tea. We were the fussy Americans that demanded icy glasses of water—happily gulping a cold liquid that traditional Chinese believed to upset the yin and yang of the body. Sympathetic servers discreetly discounted the table of tea tax (at dim sum, each diner is charged $1 for tea)—a simple mark on our check that there were only 4 diners when there were 6 warm bodies cowered around a lazy susan.
Of course, my taste as I grew up changed and pur-eh tea reminded me of dim sum. The memories of my parents getting the sweet dishes for my sister and me—the pork buns, the egg tarts, the fruit jelly dishes. These were the memories of being in a crowded restaurant where numbers were called in the waiting room, but we were special because they us by name. Dim sum, to me, was my experience of being Chinese…and American—it was at dim sum that I got a taste of how life was like in Hong Kong contrasting my desire to be Americanized.
A few years ago, during a tour in Saigon by motorbike, I demanded that my guide take me to a tea shop (after a disappointing visit to a market filled with useless touristy trinkets and the never-ending stench of mothballs). There at a tea shop, I set upon buying the tea so reminiscent of my childhood. The nutty and earthy flavor immediately recalls moments where the Cantonese voices somehow seem louder than any voice I could remember. So on this day, I decided to make ice cream with what I had in my cupboard which was the tea from Vietnam.
Interestingly, this tea tasted a lot like chocolate. With the inherent nuttiness of the tea and contrasted with cream (not common for pur-eh), it was a rich flavor that some tasters thought that it was chocolate!
2 cups whole milk
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup pur-eh leaves (the 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 the tea leaves 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 and place over medium heat. Stir frequently. 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.