After my Thanksgiving excesses, I needed to atone. I also needed to shake my head clear of the pumpkin-spiced everything clouding my culinary imagination. I needed refreshment, lightness, something completely different. I also needed new tea, so I set out for Chinatown.
Jasmine pearls are some of the most fragrant, flavorful, and seductive teas out there, something I drink on lazy, luxurious Sundays when I want something elegant. Peak-season jasmine petals are dried, sown up with green tea leaves, and gently rolled into pea-sized spheres that unfurl while steeping. It's a time-consuming and labor-intensive process that makes a fruity, grassy tea, which, when brewed right, is balanced and not the least bit bitter. It's subtle but assertive and plays well with a host of other flavors.
And it's perfect for sorbet.
I added rose petals for fruitiness and star anise, my favorite spice on Earth, for depth of flavor. Lime, both zest and juice, provide just enough acidity to keep the sweetness from becoming cloying. The sorbet was as easy to make as a pitcher of iced tea, but much more refreshing. The flavor was intense but clean—I spooned up almost half my batch in one sitting.
But as much as I love a light sorbet, I like my desserts to have a little more heft. So I floated two scoops in a pool of unsweetened coconut milk and dropped in tapioca pearls. It was delicious. And it tasted nothing like Thanksgiving.
When buying jasmine pearls: Always request to smell a sample if you can. You should be hit full on with aroma; if not, the tea may be past its prime. Don't fall for cheap "jasmine tea," which is nothing more than low-grade black or green tea with some jasmine petals tossed in. The good stuff will be expensive—$100 to $150 a pound—but you need less than an ounce for this sorbet.
With frequent drinking, I only go through three to four ounces every two years. To brew for tea, put a teaspoon of pearls in a mug or small bowl and add water between 170°F and 180°F. Let the pearls steep for a minute before decanting or drinking straight from the cup. You can spend an afternoon on a single teaspoon of pearls, steeping them up to ten times before they're fully spent.
Ethan Frisch is the chef and co-mastermind behind Guerrilla Ice Cream. He's traveled around the world (30 countries, 5 continents) and worked as a pastry chef and line cook in some of NYC's great (and not so great) restaurants. He currently lives in London, where he really misses New York City tap water.
Max Falkowitz writes Serious Eats' weekly Spice Hunting column. He's a proud native of Queens, New York, will do just about anything for a good cup of tea, and enjoys long walks down the aisles of Chinese groceries.
- 4 cups freshly-drawn filtered or bottled water
- 1 cup sugar
- 4 tablespoons jasmine pearls
- 2 tablespoons food-grade dried rose petals
- 2 star anise "petals"
- 2 teaspoons lime juice
- Zest of one lime
- Optional additions for serving
- 1 15 oz. can coconut milk
- 1 cup cooked and drained tapioca pearls (about 1/2 cup dried)
In an electric kettle or a small saucepan, heat water to 180°F. Do not bring to a boil now or at any time while making the sorbet, or base will turn bitter and take on a "cooked" flavor.
In a 2 quart saucepan, combine sugar, jasmine pearls, rose petals, and star anise. Pour on water and stir until sugar is dissolved. Put pot on lowest possible heat and let steep for 10 minutes. Pour tea through a strainer into a container and add lime juice and zest. Cover and chill overnight or until very cold, then churn according to your ice cream maker's instructions. Freeze sorbet for an additional two to three hours or until fully set before serving.
To serve with coconut broth, pour 3 to 4 tablespoons of coconut milk into small serving bowls, top with two small scoops of sorbet, and add 1 to 2 tablespoons of tapioca pearls. Serve immediately.
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