From black tea leaves, good old teh tarik to funky-flavoured bubble tea, tea drinking has been a part of Malaysian culture for centuries.
It’s hardly surprising then, that over a thousand hectares of land in the rolling landscape of Cameron Highlands is devoted to tea plantations, producing four million kilos of tea per year.
Such a ubiquitous ingredient to Malaysian life can’t be ignored, which is why The Star’s award-winning R.AGE team is featuring it in its food documentary, The Local Kitchen.
Each episode of The Local Kitchen features a different ingredient, and this week’s took them up to the Cameron Highlands, also known as “Malaysia’s Green Bowl”, to highlight the leaf that unites us all: tea!
And one person who would love to see tea takes its place in the limelight is Bharat Tea plantation manager, Francis Xavier.
“We are being inundated with so many new drinks now, all of them competing with tea for consumers’ love,” he said. “If we don’t do something, tea might just slowly fade away.”
“The Local Kitchen can help us raise awareness that there’s much more you can do with tea,” he said. “Tea is so much more than just a drink, it doesn’t just have to taste one way.”
Xavier’s passion for the tea leaf is apparent.
“Tea has stood the test of time,” he said. “It’s full of antioxidants and it tastes great too, of course!”
To produce this episode, The Local Kitchen host, chef and restaurateur Nurilkarim Razha is challenged to use tea in a different way in cooking.
He rose to the challenge, using tea to flavour food not by brewing it into a drink or adding tea directly to a dish, but burning the leaves and allowing the escaping smoke to flavour the meat!
Enter the delicious tea-smoked chicken with mint tea sauce.
A whole, butterflied chicken is first seasoned and then delicately smoked over a mix of tea leaves, rice and spice, then finished off on the grill and served with a minty tea-based sauce.
“I was very excited when I heard about Nuril’s plans for tea,” said Xavier. “Everybody thinks tea is just a drink; they don’t realise it can be used in so many different ways.”
For the full story, plus recipes, go to Exploring Malaysia’s Hidden Gems, the first in R.AGE’s new The Local Kitchen series. But first … check out the video.