Turning tea into ice cream

About a month ago during a staff meeting, someone mentioned that it was National Coffee Ice Cream Day. Tea is often considered a counterpoint to coffee, so it got us thinking ... what kind of tea would turn into a great ice cream flavor?

This was the perfect question for our Facebook fans, we thought. Phil Edelstein, marketing director, and I were both convinced the answer was Tropical Goji Green, for its deliciously fruity flavor. My second pick was a nice, creamy yet spicy ice cream made from Mountain High Chai. After batting it around the office, we went online and asked. Chris Lacke, Kris Smith and Alicia Collopy Benesh responded by suggesting Alpine Berry, and we admit, our reaction was "Of course! Why didn't we think of that?"

And then there are our Organic Peppermint devotees, like Chris Fernandez and Nicki Stine Cooper, and that also seemed like a great suggestion. A number of fans like Kim Moore, Suzanne Pleau Kinnison, Kathy Heaps Wolf and Tucker Clark thought that a variety of our green teas would make great ice cream, and we agree -- we've had some of that after dinner at Japanese restaurants, often made with matcha (powdered green tea).

So let's make some tea flavored ice cream

Perhaps, though, you're like me (and as tea drinkers, there's a good chance that you are) and want to actually taste something with your own tastebuds, rather than just sit around and theorize about it. My mission was clear: figure out a recipe, and find someone with an ice cream machine.

My chosen recipe was stolen (or borrowed?) from another blogger at "Mac & Cheese Review." Back in 2008, it seems this Delaware-based, vegetarian blogger named Taylor published a recipe for Earl Grey Tea Ice Cream, and I found the whole thing quite believable. On top of that, our customer service rep Kelly Hayes was willing to ask her dad if I could borrow his ice cream machine. With that loan secured and a trip to the grocery store for ingredients, I was ready to go.

The Results

turning tea into ice creamHere's the thing about ice cream made with tea: You don't actually just brew tea and add it to your cream, milk, sugar, and eggs. Who wants any water content in a good, creamy ice cream, anyway? The solution is steeping tea directly in your milk/cream/sugar mixture. Check out the recipe below for details. But the beauty of the whole leaf tea from two leaves and a bud in our sachets is that you don't have to add loose tea and then strain the whole thing once it's been steeped; you can just steep our big sachets, give 'em a squeeze to get as much flavor in there as possible and toss 'em.

Well, my two-year-old loved this project. She watched that ice cream maker churn out batch after batch with great anticipation and delighted in licking the container after my samples were safely in the freezer.

But the real critics, I knew, were in the two leaves office. So I took in samples of Organic Peppermint, Organic Mountain High Chai, Jasmine Petal and Alpine Berry and we all stood around with spoons. Most of my coworkers agreed that the chai was a winner, since the spices in the tea make it taste a lot like pumpkin pie. My husband had convinced me to add some crushed chocolate chips to the peppermint ice cream, and while we all liked it, Richard was slightly concerned that the strong chocolate flavor may have masked the peppermint a bit much.

Jasmine Petal reminded most of us of other green tea ice cream we've had in the past, although one or two people felt it had a bitter aftertaste. As for Alpine Berry, results were mixed: you can't just expect and any average, berry-flavored ice cream while tasting this one, since the ingredient list for the tea includes unusual elements like hibiscus and rose hips.

I also must note that this tasting was influenced by my choice to make this first batch with half-and-half, rather than heavy cream. And as we all know, heavy cream makes anything taste better.

The next steps, and the recipe

I had a bit of an epiphany when my friend Ross came over for dinner one night, and tasted my attempts at tea ice cream. Ross is the kind of fellow-foodie who likes to talk about things like Cooks Illustrated and chimney starters with me, and when he tasted these ice creams, he was truly complimentary. Some of these flavors might be the perfect accompaniment in small doses to great dessert dishes in restaurants, he noted ... I just need to find a chef with some ideas who might share that vision.

I realized: Those of us in the two leaves office drink these teas all the time, so creating ice cream out of it wasn't nearly as eye-opening as I'd hoped. What I'd need is a local chef who is willing to submit his or her tastebuds to my samples (remade with heavy cream) for a brainstorming session. And I'm happy to report that I'm now playing phone tag with Ryan Hardy, the well-respected chef of Montagna at the Little Nell in Aspen, who is also a leader in the local slow food, locavore movement. So, stay tuned for more.

And please, if you try out this recipe with your favorite two leaves tea, let us know how it goes!

Tea ice cream (makes about 1 quart)

1 cup whole milk

2 cups half and half (or use heavy cream for richer ice cream)

3/4 cup sugar

5-6 tea sachets of your chosen flavor

5 egg yolks

Warm the milk, cream and sugar in a saucepan. Remove from heat, place tea sachets in the pan, cover and steep at room temperature for an hour. Remove the sachets.

Rewarm the tea-infused milk. Whisk egg yolks together in a separate bowl. Slowly pour the milk mixture into the bowl with the egg yolks, whisking constantly.

Return the milk and egg mixture to the saucepan, and cook over medium heat, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan constantly until the mixture thickens to a custard and coats the spatula.

Cool the mixture, and freeze in your ice cream maker.

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