Quick and Easy Hot Beverages

By Chef Nancy Berkoff, EdD, RD

Hot beverages can provide hours of pleasure and comfort, but take only a few minutes to prepare. The keys to hot beverages are having the correct ingredients, the proper equipment, and the right technique at your fingertips.

Tea can be prepared quickly. To brew the perfect pot of hot tea, bring water to a rolling boil. While the water is boiling, measure the amount of tea you're going to use into a squeaky clean glass or china container; plastic and metal seem to pick up flavors, so try to use glass if you are able. You'll need different amounts of tea and water for different teas, so read the package directions or ask at the store where you purchased it.

Pour a small amount of boiling water over your tea and let it steep for a minute. Add the remainder of the boiling water and allow to steep to the desired strength.

Don't leave the teabag or tea leaves in to steep for too long, as it will give an acidic taste. If you're using loose tea, strain the leaves out. If you have leftover brewed tea, you can cool and refrigerate it. Brewed tea will keep its flavor for at least two days in the refrigerator, so you don't have to brew it every day. You can quickly re-heat your tea as needed. Keep some brewed tea in the refrigerator to use for cooking, marinades, and to flavor sauces. Tea is a great flavoring for mushrooms, tofu, cooked grains, roasted vegetables, and smoothies.

There are so many teas from which to choose, with lots of varieties of white, green, and black, caffeinated, decaffeinated, and herbal. You can purchase white, green, or black tea and flavor it or purchase pre-flavored tea. Hot tea can be flavored with cinnamon, fresh or dried ginger, fresh or dried mint, lemon grass, lavender, dried rose petals, rosewater or orange blossom water, fresh or dried lemon or orange zest or peel, orange juice, pineapple juice or apple juice concentrate, dried cranberries, dried pineapple... the list goes on! You can pour brewed tea over your flavoring of choice, or you can brew the tea with the flavoring.

If you'd like extra garnish or flavor, place some frozen pineapple (still frozen) or mango into the tea while it is brewing. This will add to the flavor and texture. If there is an international market nearby (or browse the internet), try the following hot beverages:

Roasted corn and roasted barley are sold in the tea section of Korean markets. The roasted corn has a naturally sweet flavor and a delicate yellow color. The barley has a nutty, full-roasted flavor and a golden brown color. Add several teaspoons to two cups of boiling water and allow to boil for 2-3 minutes. Some people like to brew the corn and barley together. While you are at the store, purchase dried chrysanthemum or jasmine flowers to use as a garnish for your hot grain beverage or tea. You can also brew the flowers on their own — they make a fragrant and flavorful hot brew! You can drink your floral teas iced, too. This also works as a cooking liquid for rice, green vegetables, and grains.
Peel and slice fresh ginger, letting several small slices steep in boiling water for several minutes. The ginger tea will take on a delicate, pale green color and have a mild but stimulating flavor. Ginger tea is said to be good for sore throats or hoarse voices and it can warm a crowd on cold nights. Garnish ginger tea with orange or grapefruit straws. (Peel fruit and cut lengthwise into square "straws.") You can also put some frozen strawberries or raspberries in the tea while it is brewing. This will create a festive color and texture. A different spin on this would be a hot lemonade. If you have fresh lemons available, you can wash them, slice them thinly, and steep in boiling water with fresh ginger or frozen raspberries or strawberries (still frozen) and a sweetener of choice. If fresh lemons are not available, you can use refrigerated or frozen (unsweetened) lemon juice concentrate.
South African:
When brewed, rooibos looks like a cup of traditional black leaf tea and has a mild, pleasant taste. Taken from the bark of a tree that grows only in South Africa, rooibos has no caffeine, but lots of flavor. Look for it in natural foods stores. Rooibos also tastes great combined with a small amount of vanilla extract and sweetener, orange zest and coriander, or a small amount of maple syrup and white pepper for a really interesting beverage. Rooibos can be used for flavoring chocolate- and cherry-based desserts and fruit ices.

If you'd like to go beyond tea, combine brewed tea with hot rice or almond milk (soymilk can tend to curdle), cinnamon, ginger, black pepper (yes, black pepper), and green and black coriander to create a "chai latte." This can also be done with brewed coffee. Any leftover can be frozen for a delicious latte ice or latte ice cubes to be served with cold beverages.