The hottest new dessert ingredient isn’t from some exotic tropical fruit or impossible-to-source spice. Take a peek in your coffee and tea pantry to find the add-in that can perk up even the most mundane dessert with a jolt of caffeinated excitement. Since these drinks became part of the human experience millennia ago, pastry chefs have been reaching for the tea tin or coffee canister when they want to charge up their traditional desserts.
“Tea adds a light flavor to desserts by itself or when paired with fruit flavors like lemon and blueberry,” says Jana Mann, director at foodservice and consumer product goods research firm Datassential. “Varieties with a grassier or smokier profile can add depth and an interesting flavor twist.” In addition, tea’s many health benefits can lend a “health halo” even to desserts that might otherwise be seen as too indulgent. Tea-infused desserts (excluding ice cream) have grown on menus by 47% over the past four years to include green tea-infused cheesecake, cupcakes and even crème brulee.
Chai is another popular twist on the tea craze. The flavored tea, which originated in India, traditionally includes black tea leaves, green cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, ground cloves, ground ginger and black peppercorns. Sandwich chain Pret a Manger offers a Chai Chia Pot, a chai pudding which is a blend of chia seeds, almond milk, crushed cashews and chai tea, topped with fresh pomegranate seeds.
“With coffee consumption and coffee shop popularity at an all-time high, the flavor continues to move from the beverage menu to the dessert menu,” Mann says. “Pastry chefs also use coffee as a hidden ingredient in chocolate desserts to intensify the chocolate flavor.” Italian chefs are famed for tiramisu, an espresso-laden dessert whose name translates to “a pick me up,” and affogato (translation: “drowned”), a coffee-based dessert made from a scoop of vanilla gelato or ice cream topped with a shot of hot espresso.
These days, coffee flavor can be found in ice cream and gelato, brownies, cakes, cheesecakes and crème brulee. The Remington Restaurant in New York’s St. Regis Hotel offers a Cinnamon Coffee Crème Brulee, served in a crisp pastry shell with raspberry sauce.
Caffeinating your menu
“Including tea or coffee in desserts is a great way to upgrade them for folks who want a caffeine-kick,” Mann says. “It’s a good idea for an operation with a significant morning crowd. It can also make a dessert standout with ingredients already in the pantry.”