Not steeped in tradition

Annelies ZijderveldAnnelies Zijderveld is a San Francisco-based food writer and creator of the literary food blog the food poet, selected by Alimentum Journal as one of their favorite food blogs. Her passion for working with good food companies started during eight years with Mighty Leaf Tea. She’s turned that tea expertise into a new cookbook, Steeped: Recipes Infused with Tea. (Enter our contest for your chance to win a copy of the book, and visit the calendar of cookbook events to find information on the corresponding book tour.) Annelies talks about her love for and knowledge of tea while discussing her cookbook, which uses tea in dishes both savory and sweet. 


Have you always been a tea drinker?

Growing up, my Dad drank iced tea like water. In the fridge at any given time, he would have several pitchers queued up and full of brisk black tea. I learned how to drink iced tea from him and while I drank hot tea in college, the experience that made me a hot tea drinker happened in India. A friend added and stirred together the ingredients to make a pot of Masala Chai. Watching her brew the spicy, creamy, and slightly sweet tea hooked me. That act of hospitality left an indelible imprint.

How many different types of tea are in your cupboards? Which is the most unusual?

We have oodles of tea at our house from trips, and to be brewed for different occasions. A double happiness porcelain urn holds all the individually wrapped tea bags– if a guest visits and doesn’t know what they want to drink, in goes their arm and out comes a tea bag– see, double happiness. The urn sits on a free-standing cabinet packed to the brim with tins, bags, and boxes of loose tea. A cherished bag of Pu Erh Tuocha pressed tea that I picked up in Portland, Oregon is stashed in the cabinet. The tuochas resemble small bird nests that taste and smell like sweet sticky rice.

Where do you buy your teas?

I tend to collect teas from all over–I recently visited Mexico City and brought back several tins of tea including a rooibos blend with cacao nibs and coconut I’ve been enjoying. Living in the Bay area means great tea is easily within reach at local teahouses, but I also appreciate the convenience of being able to keep my stock of Organic Earl Grey tea pouches full from visiting my local market.

What combinations of tea and ingredients worked really well? And were there any that you rejected?

Matcha and chocolate are a natural pairing–their bold flavors blend well together. I’m obsessed with chamomile and corn. The chamomile amps up the corny flavor and plays up the sweetness. Also, I like to combine Dragon Well and carrot or broccoli. I tried braising eggplant in milk and Lapsang Souchong but it turned out to be better in theory than reality.

Which recipes in the book might people be surprised to find contain tea?

I think Evelyn’s cake would be one where the inclusion of tea will surprise people. Another recipe that comes to mind is the hash.

In your book, do you go into the health benefits of various teas?

I focused on the flavor benefits of tea rather than the health benefits, knowing resources already exist.

As a Brit (we love our tea) I’m horrified by the warm water brought with a teabag in American cafes. Maggie Smith rants about this wonderfully in the new movie, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. What are your tips for making a great pot of tea?

Ah, there’s a topic to rile up tea drinkers. Maggie Smith is always prone to having just the appropriate thing to say at any given moment, isn’t she? I anxiously await her zingers in Downton Abbey. The tips for making an excellent pot of tea every time involve brewing the best tea leaves, ensuring the temperature of the water suits the tea being brewed, and keeping an eye on how long the tea has been steeping.

I’ve been reading your food poetry on your website The Food Poet and it is lovely. Have you always been a poet and have you had any of your poems published?

Thank you! I have been writing poetry since I was young.The Food Poet came about in 2010 as a way to marry my love of poetry with my work in food and see if they might get along. Additionally, I had this idea that everyone loves food but not everyone loves poetry and wondered, what if they were introduced to poetry with a gastronomic persuasion? In this, it’s like tea. When I meet people who tell me they don’t like tea, it makes me think that they haven’t found the right tea. When the words of the right poet fall upon the ears of the right person, it’s hard not to be thunderstruck. My poems have recently been published in the Alexandria Quarterly, EAT / ATE, and Sated Magazine.

Photo of Annelies Zijderveld by Yesica Arrendondo

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  • TrishaCP  on  April 20, 2015

    Would love to know where she got that rooibos since I am in Mexico City now? Sounds delicious!

  • Jane  on  April 21, 2015

    I asked Annelies and she said "Tea Connection and it's in the Condesa part of Mexico City."

  • TrishaCP  on  April 21, 2015

    Thanks Jane and Annelies! I'm headed to Condesa the last night I will be in Mexico City, so perfect timing!

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