How to use your leftover tea leaves.
One of the most common questions I get from people who drink a lot of loose leaf tea is, ‘What can I do with all my tea leaves after?’ This tea salad is a treat we made all the time at the tea farm I worked on in Japan. It only takes a couple of minutes to make and is packed full of all the nutrients of the tea leaves.
I make this tea salad using ‘kabuse sencha’ (かぶせ煎茶), or shaded sencha. Shaded sencha is covered with black netting just after the leaves begin to sprout. The shading reduces sunlight by up to 85%, making the leaves ‘fight’ harder to survive. This causes the roots to send more nitrogen and other nutrients to the leaves, turning them a deep blue-green. It makes the leaves become wider, thinner, and much more chlorophyll-rich.
Here's a Japanese tea field with black netting on the right-hand side. It's currently pulled back, but you can see the bushes that have been covered are a much deeper shade of blue-green, compared to the brighter green bushes on the left that haven't been covered.
After being picked, the leaves are steamed for 40 to 50 seconds to stop them from oxidizing and keep their fresh, green flavour. They then go through several rolling processed until they achieve the thin, needle-shaped Japanese teas are known for.
If you’d like to learn more about how Japanese tea is processed, you can check out this tour I made of what happens inside a Japanese tea factory.
Tea Salad Recipe
Use nutrient-rich tea leaves to prepare this healthy and quick salad.
- 4 tbsp high-quality Japanese green tea (gyokuro or kabuse sencha)
- 2 tbsp toasted brown rice (genmai)
- 1 tbsp soy sauce
The first thing you’ll want to do is to make your tea. If you’re brewing kabuse sencha, I recommend you use a nice, big teapot. I’m using a traditional Japanese kyusu here, but it will work just as well in a standard North American one.
The nice thing about this recipe is that you get to enjoy a cup of tea while making it! Prepare your teapot, and then drop in a generous portion of your tea. The measurement I use when making this is one shot glass just less than full of tea for a large teapot or 500ml kyusu.
For kabuse sencha use water that is around 75˚ for your first steep and only steep your tea for about 1 minute before pouring off all your tea. Then, do a second steep with your water around 90˚ and a short steep of around 20 seconds and pour off all the tea again.
Open your teapot! Inside you should have a nice collection of tender, twice-steeped tea leaves that are still packed with flavour and nutrients.
Take the tea inside the teapot and using chopsticks, pull it out and plate it. For this amount of tea, you can get either two small salads, one large salad, or four ‘taster’ sized salads.
After you’ve extracted the tea, sprinkle a bit of toasted brown rice on the top. This is actually the same toasted brown rice you can find in genmaicha, or brown rice tea. After that, add just a few drops of soy sauce. The key here is not to drown your carefully crafted salad and turn it into a salty mess. You can always add more soy sauce.
And that’s it! Ready to eat in less than five minutes. Or longer, if you want to draw it out and take your time drinking the tea.
When you drink tea, you’re normally only getting about 30% of the nutrients that dissolve into the brew. When you’re eating tea, or drinking matcha, you’re ingesting the whole leaf, so you’re getting a lot more of the catechins (antioxidants), theanine (amino acid), vitamin C, caffeine, plus a little bit of dietary fibre as well.
I’ve had people ask how much caffeine is in it, and I find it comparable to drinking a bowl of matcha.
This recipe is made with kabuse sencha in mind, but any high-quality Japanese green tea that can be steeped a few times will work great. The rolled needle shape of the kabuse sencha means that it takes a few steeps to fully unfurl and release its flavours. That makes it a perfect candidate for this tea. Chinese green teas are also good candidates for this recipe. Black tea or finely cut tea will likely not work as well, but if you find otherwise, I’d love to hear from you!
TEA SALAD OPTIONAL ADD-INS
Here are a few other assembly items that work well in this recipe. Maybe try it with your family and have a few pinch bowls full of each so everyone can decorate their own tea salad.
- sesame seeds
Mel Had Tea Newsletter
Join the newsletter to receive the latest updates in your inbox.