Why I Write About Food 010: Bonnie Eng of Thirsty for Tea

What happens when you combine a foodie with a love for tea? You get someone who's not only thirsty for tea but also hungry for it. Bonnie writes passionately about tea: the drinking of it, the food pairing of it, and the cooking of it. Don't be surprised to find black tea in her risotto recipe or oolong in a dipping sauce. But do surprise yourself with the simple delight of tea salt!

Tell us about Thirsty for Tea. 
My background is in health education, Asian American Studies, and the culinary arts. Although these interests may seem broad, with tea I’m able to join these passions together into one creative space. I started Thirsty for Tea as a way for me to connect with others who love tea as much as I do, and to broaden the idea of what tea time means.

Describe your perfect yum cha (tea time) session. 
The tea would have to be Pu-erh, because that's all my family ever orders and it always reminds me of my childhood. It doesn't take a lot of dishes to make me happysome siu mai dumplings, a steamed bun, an egg custard tart and I'll be quite happy. 

Why do you write about food?
For as long as I can remember, I've always been a foodie. Food, and tea in particular, is just such an endlessly fascinating topic. It spans through history and across cultures. I love how tea is universally a sign of hospitality and coming together in a positive spirit. My goal is to remind people of what they love about tea, while also inspiring them to look at it in a dynamic way. 

When developing recipes, which one usually comes first: the dish or the tea? 
It works both ways. Most of the time, the dish leads me to the tea. For example, with the Pont Neuf Potatoes with Tea Salt recipe, the dish came first. These are basically like cuter french fries. I thought to dress them up with tea salt because they are a much-loved treat made with very simple ingredients. The tea salt gives them a bump of tea flavor and because there are so few ingredients, the taste of the tea stands out. I like to think that I can somehow find a way to incorporate tea into almost any regular recipe. Sometimes, if a tea is very special or has a particular characteristic, I do work backwards. But with these recipes I tend to keep the ingredient list very simple so that the tea stays as the highlight of the dish.

What are you currently reading?
I love reading cookbooks, especially vintage Asian American ones. I have well over 200 cookbooks, many of them about tea, afternoon tea, Asian foods and baking. I'm currently studying to be a tea sommelier, so I often refer back to The Tea Book by Linda Gaylard, The New Tea Companion by Jane Pettigrew and Bruce Richardson, and Harney & Sons Guide to Tea by Michael Harney as references.

What's your favorite recipe on Thirsty for Tea?
Matcha Pocky. The thought of it is kind of juvenile and cultish, but I like that it's a modern recipe and something people get excited about making (especially with their kids). A close second would be Rainbow Spring Rolls with Oolong Sauce, which is super healthy and features tea in an unexpected way. 

Question from Becky of A Calculated Whisk: How do you manage your time and prioritize tasks so that everything important gets done? (Click here to read Becky's interview)
Especially during winter months, daylight hours are a challenge. I'm not a morning person, and I often prep for a food photo shoot the night before so that I'm ready to go for the next day. I'll often type my recipe into my laptop while I'm actually making it, and in my experience, the text is best written shortly after. The best food bloggers make this look effortless and bring across a feeling of leisure, but it's really not that easy and requires a lot of time management and thought. 

Visit Bonnie's website at www.thirstyfortea.com
Recommended Recipes:

Pont Neuf Potatoes with Tea Salt
Homemade Green Tea (Matcha) Pocky
Rainbow Spring Rolls with Oolong Sauce