One secret to a long life may be the simple daily ritual of tea.
We've told you how Okinawans — who are known to have more than a few centenarians among them — enjoy jasmine-infused tea.
And if you're looking to incorporate this fragrant aroma with a bit of creamy indulgence, pastry chef Naomi Gallego, of the Park Hyatt Hotel in Washington, D.C., has you covered.
"I love the smell of it," Gallego says as she shows me how she's infused a pot of milk with jasmine tea to make a milk-chocolate custard.
"Jasmine is understated and keeps to itself," she says, "but its flavor is not to be ignored." It's delicate and floral.
And when you combine it with chocolate? "I think it's a match made in heaven," Gallego says.
She tops the custard with a whipped cream ganache accented with a bit of lemon — the acidity cuts the heaviness of the dessert and enhances the flavors. "There's something harmonious when you combine the flavors," Gallego says.
If it were just chocolate, after a few bites, it would still taste good. But the jasmine layers the dish with flavor and the lemon lightens it up, resulting in a flavor profile that is greater than the sum of its parts.
Gallego uses a technique that is very familiar to tea lovers — she steeps the tea leaves. But instead of using water in a teapot, she steeps the leaves for 3 minutes in a covered pan of heated milk. (Steeping it any longer, she warns, will result in a bitter taste.) Then she strains out the tea leaves, and continues to make the custard.
Gallego is a big fan of these tea-infused creations, some of which can be a surprise to the palate.
For instance, this bright blue French-style macaron: its mystery ingredient? A smoky tea called lapsang souchong.
"You don't anticipate it," Gallego says of the flavor. She thinks of it as a gray-day treat. "On a rainy, overcast day, it's just the ticket."
The smokiness is very distinctive. And again, the pairing with chocolate is magical.
So are we on to a theme here: the magic of chocolate? Yep. "I could pick any tea off the shelf and it would taste great with chocolate," Gallego says.
Maybe it's because of chocolate's near-ubiquitous appeal. And, perhaps, it's also the mechanics of how the taste of chocolate unfolds in our mouths.
As the sugar blended with cocoa dissolves, the flavor compounds trapped in the cacao are released, chocolate-making guru Ed Seguine explains.
"The result is this harmony of instruments in the symphony coming together to create this concert for our palate and souls," says Seguine, a consultant to chocolate makers.
And as this happens, chocolate seems to accommodate lots of other flavors, too.
There's another way to bake with tea, too. For her berry scones, Gallego blended bits of a black berry tea into her batter. "You can grind the tea very fine in a spice grinder and add it to your batter," she explains. The tea adds a subtle boost of flavor that she punches up with a berry glaze and fresh berries on top.
And to give her old-fashioned doughnuts a sophisticated flare, she's infused Earl Grey into the batter. All the fat (think: eggs, butter and sour cream) helps to disperse the citrusy flavor of the bergamot. "Fat is a flavor carrier," Gallego says.
And it makes for a darn good doughnut — though so rich, maybe it's best shared with a few friends.
Tea Tuesdays is an occasional series exploring the science, history, culture and economics of this ancient brewed beverage.