Tea Time With Mariëlla Erkens

Tea Time with Mariëlla Erkens

Hopefully you've been around Life is a Box of Mochi for a while and you've come to know me a little. If you're new, though, I'll tell you that I like tea. A lot. Hot, cold, it doesn't matter, I like to drink tea.

I feel like a unicorn sometimes because in winter I often drink tea right before bed, and I've yet to meet someone who does this besides me.  

Anyway... Since I became passionate about Japanese culture and tea—and Japanese people drink tea like it's water—I've wanted to expand my knowledge on the matter, and thanks to Arigato Travel, I came to know Mariëlla Erkens, a Tea Sommelier. If you don't know what a Tea Sommelier is, check out the interview I did with Mariëlla on the Arigato Travel blog.  

Mariëlla also published a book called “Tea, Wine’s Sober Sibling”, an in-depth guide into the myriad possibilities of pairing tea, and preparing tea, for connoisseurs and beginners alike. To celebrate the release of the book in hardcover, I am very honoured and excited to have Mariëlla here today talking about her journey into tea and into writing a book about it. Not only that, but she's brought along three super tasty recipes that I'll be sharing with you today. 

Without further ado, dear readers, let me welcome Mariëlla Erkens to Life is a Box of Mochi!


My name is Mariëlla Erkens and I live in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. I have done a lot of different things in my life, like Art School, Fine Arts, Art Direction, Flight Attendant, traveller, chef of my own restaurant in Brazil, and much more, but currently I am a tea professional. Recently I published a book about tea and food pairing, called: “Tea, Wine’s Sober Sibling”. 

This, because I was introduced to tea and food pairing in 2010 and was flabbergasted by the effect tea can have on food. It can enhance and deepen the flavors of any dish or ingredient, bring balance to a dish or even alter some flavors, just like wine can. Actually, tea often combines better with food than wine, as it lacks the dominance of alcohol and acidity. It is much more subtle than wine in that aspect.

After that day of my tea revelation, I decided to learn more about tea and soon discovered that there is a whole world out there that I had no idea of. After reading as many books about tea as I could find, I decided that I needed to learn more about the practical side and signed up for a tea sommelier course in The Netherlands. The entire program lasted 3 years, but even in 3 years one cannot learn all there is to know about tea. Not even in 30 years, as a matter of fact. It is a very complex, versatile and fascinating product, with a myriad of flavors, aromas, sizes and provenances. 

Many books have been written about tea, but I couldn’t find a book that could clearly explain how food pairing works and why one would pick a particular tea for a specific dish. There were some high brow, cheffy books, with complicated recipes and gorgeous pictures, but not enough background information. So I decided to write the book myself. 

Tea Time with Mariëlla Erkens Quote
Image courtesy of Mariëlla Erkens

Easier said than done, but after 6 years of studying, tasting, analyzing my piles and piles of tasting notes, I came to the first draft of my book to be. It took 5 more drafts before I had the right content and the proper tone of voice and then the editors started eliminating at least a third of it. ;-D

Which was for the better, as it made the book much easier to read, clearer as well.

I wanted it to be a book with several layers, interesting for all kinds of readers: for those new to tea, but also for more advanced tea lovers and tea professionals, restaurant staff, hobby chefs and cooking schools.

This, because I want the world to know how good tea can taste, on its own and in combination with food, and how versatile it is. But to achieve that, people first need to know the basics, especially how to steep tea correctly. For if you don’t, you lose most of what the tea could taste like, with a disappointing, maybe even boring result.

So the basics had to be well explained, with a key role for the quality of water. No matter the kind of tea you drink, be that tea bags or high quality loose leaf tea: if the water is not right than you waste the tea. 

I also wanted to use simple recipes, easy to cook, with some challenging recipes for advanced cooks, and lists with examples of dishes with their possible tea matches.

The link with wine in the sense of mutual effect on food, flavors and aromas, soon occurred to me when I started analyzing teas and drinking tea with every meal. I was stunned by the many similarities and started to compare teas and wines. I thought it would be helpful to include an overview of tea and wine buddies, to make it easier for people to decide on which tea to drink with their meals. 

The recipes in the book are my very own, and I tried to make them as useful as possible, with options for vegetarians, vegans, pescatarians and omnivores. I also included recipes with tea as an ingredient. Three of those are included in this blog.

I do hope you will discover the world of tea and its many possibilities, for it will enrich your life, of that I am sure.

I wish you lots of fun with discovering the magical world of tea.


Tea Time with Mariëlla Erkens: Fennel Salad
Recipe image courtesy of Mariëlla Erkens

Serves 4 - 6


  • 2 fennel bulbs
  • 3 oranges
  • 1 red onion
  • ½ tbsp olive oil
  • 5 g (0.17 oz) granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • 75 g (2.64 oz) unsalted, peeled hazelnuts
  • 18 kalamata olives, pitted
  • salt and black pepper

Tea dressing:

  • 3 g (0.10 oz) Dong Fang Mei Ren dark oolong
  • 1 tbsp each orange zest and juice
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • ½ tsp honey
  • salt and white pepper

Preheat the oven to 175℃ (347℉).

Tea dressing

Place the tea in a small bowl. Pour over 100 ml (3.4 fl. oz) filtered water at 95℃ (203℉). Cover and steep for 1½ minutes. Strain over a small jar. Add the honey, cover and cool to room temperature. When cool, add all other ingredients, close firmly and shake vigorously. Cover and set aside.


Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, add the hazelnuts and roast until golden. Cool at room temperature a plate, then chop roughly.


Wash and dry the fennel, remove the thick outer skin, cut off the stalks and remove the leaves; keep those for decoration if needed. The thick outer skin may be frozen for later use in soup. Cut the bulb into 4 wedges. With a mandoline, shave the wedges lengthwise into very thin slices. Add dressing to taste, mix in carefully, cover and allow to marinate for at least 1 hour.


Peel the onion and cut horizontally in two. With a mandoline or shaving tool, shave the wedges lengthwise into very thin rings. In a heavy skillet, heat 1 tbsp of olive oil, lower the heat, add the onion rings and fry slowly until soft, golden and with dark edges. Add sugar and vinegar and reduce over high heat till the vinegar has almost evaporated.

Orange segments

With a very sharp knife, cut off the ends and skin of the orange, including the white pith. Cut the wedges loose from the membranes over a bowl, catch the juice. Keep the wedges in the juice.


With a slotted spoon, scoop the fennel out of the marinade and transfer to a large bowl. Add the drained wedges of orange, the olives and half of the onion rings. Mix carefully and divide over 4 plates. Sprinkle with chopped hazelnuts, the rest of the onion rings, the fennel greens and maybe one more drizzle of dressing. 


Earl Grey
black tea, scented, blend

The tea becomes sweeter, deeper, enhances the flavors and the freshness of the salad, adds floral notes to it.

€€ Dong Fang Mei Ren
dark oolong, Taiwan

The tea becomes brighter, lighter, its honey notes stronger. All flavors of the food are enhanced and intertwine, the salad becomes softer, sweeter

€€€ Ruby #18
black tea, Taiwan

The tea acquires umami, depth, flavor, makes the food deeper, more intense, sweeter, smooth. All flavors are enhanced, intertwine, but are still distinguishable. The salad becomes sweeter, deeper.

Tea Time with Mariëlla Erkens: Fish Burger
Recipe image courtesy of Mariëlla Erkens

Serves 2


  • 250 g (8.7 oz) skinless firm, white fish fillets, like cod, or haddock
  • ½ tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tbsp bread crumbs, like Panko
  • 1 tbsp toasted sunflower seeds
  • 2 tbsp roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • salt and white pepper
  • 1 fennel bulb
  • 2 hamburger buns
  • rocket (arugula) leaves


  • 1 tbsp each of orange zest and juice
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ tbsp tarragon, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp honey
  • salt and white pepper


  • 4 tbsp mayonnaise
  • ½ tsp Matcha
  • 1 tsp tarragon, finely chopped
  • 1 tsp orange juice
  • salt and white pepper

Preheat the oven to 200℃ (392℉).


Add all ingredients to a jar, close firmly and shake vigorously.


Blend all ingredients except for the Matcha. Sift the Matcha over the mayonnaise. Stir well until evenly bright green. Season to taste.

Fish burgers

Chop the fish fillets very finely, transfer to a large bowl, add a splash of olive oil, the bread crumbs, the sunflower seeds, the parsley and salt and pepper. Mix well, divide in two portions, knead into patties. Cover and place in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.


Remove the thick outer skin of the fennel, cut off the stalks and remove the leaves; keep those for decoration if needed. With a mandoline shave fennel bulb lengthwise into very thin slices. Place the slices on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, drizzle lightly with olive oil, salt and pepper and roast until soft, with golden crispy edges. Transfer to a plate.


Cut the buns horizontally in two, place in the oven until slightly toasted. At the same time, heat a lightly greased heavy skillet or grill pan until piping hot, add the fish patties and fry until golden on both sides. Drizzle some of the dressing over fennel slices and rucola. Spread Matcha mayonnaise onto the buns, place some rucola and fennel slices on top. Add the patties, top off with a dab of Matcha mayonnaise, place the top part of the bun on top or sideways. Serve with some extra Matcha mayonnaise in a separate little bowl.


Replace the fish with drained white beans, add more bread crumbs and seeds.


Replace the fish with turkey or chicken thighs.


green tea, Japan 

The tea enhances the food, but  itself needs a few more sips to recover. It then tastes deeper, softer and sweeter. 

€€ Tieguanyin
oolong, China, Taiwan or Thailand 

The tea becomes sweeter, smooth, takes on more umami, adds floral notes to the food, makes it lighter, brighter.

€€€ Long Jing
green tea, China  

The tea acquires more umami and becomes sweeter, enhances all flavors, prolongs the aftertaste.

Tea Time with Mariëlla Erkens: Vegan Tajine
Recipe image courtesy of Mariëlla Erkens

Serves 6


  • 20 g (0.70 oz) Assam, black tea from Northern India (or English Blend), or Shu Pu-Erh
  • 600 ml (20 fl oz) filtered water
  • 6 dried apricots, pitted
  • 6 dried prunes, pitted
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 red onions
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • ¼ or ½ red chili pepper
  • 2 tsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2½ cm (1 inch) ginger, peeled
  • zest of 1 orange
  • 2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 3 aubergines
  • 2 cans peeled, cubed tomatoes 400 g (14 oz) each


  • 450 g (15,84 oz) couscous
  • 400 ml (13 fl. oz) water
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • olive oil (or butter)
  • 50 g (1.76 oz) unsalted, roasted and roughly chopped almonds
  • salt and pepper

Tea extract

Bring 600 ml (20 fl.oz) water to 95℃ (203℉) and pour over the tea leaves. Cover and steep for 2 minutes. In the meantime, cut the prunes and apricots into little pieces, transfer to a bowl. Pour the tea through a strainer over the fruit, cover and set aside. Discard the tea leaves, unless you use Shu Pu-Erh. In that case, keep the leaves for a second steep to drink with this food.


Wash and dry the aubergines, cut into chunks of about 2½ cm (1 inch) each. Peel the onions and cut in half and slice thinly. Chop the peeled ginger finely, do the same with the peeled garlic. Wash, dry and cut the chili pepper in half, remove seeds and membranes, slice thinly. Heat a dry skillet, add the coriander and cumin seeds and roast until fragrant. Transfer the seeds into a mortar and pestle. Add sugar and grind into a powder.

In a large pot, heat 2 tbsp of olive oil, add the onions. When translucent, add garlic, ginger, chili and the freshly ground spices. Sauté over medium heat for a minute, then add the aubergines. Stir well and fry over high heat for about 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes, stir well. 

Remove the prunes and apricots from the tea, cover the liquid and set aside. Add the fruit to the stew, cover, lower the heat and simmer, until the aubergines are soft and cooked. Stir regularly and make sure the sauce doesn’t boil too much.

While the vegetables are simmering, wash, dry and chop the coriander, parsley and mint. Add half of the mixed herbs to the vegetables after 25 minutes of simmering. Add the reserved tea to the vegetables, stir well, cover and simmer for another 10 minutes, or until the aubergines are soft. Season to taste.


Preheat the oven to 175℃ (350℉).

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper, spread out the almonds and roast until golden, about 10 minutes. Shake regularly for even roasting. Transfer them to a plate to cool off. Once cool, chop roughly.


In the meantime, place the couscous into a large bowl. Rinse the couscous until the water becomes clear. Drain well. Bring 400 ml (13 fl. oz) water to a boil, add a large pinch of salt and splash of olive oil and pour over the couscous. Stir well and cover. Set aside for 5 minutes. Add 1 tbsp of oil (or a tbsp of butter) and 1 tsp of cinnamon.


Just before serving, stir the couscous with a fork, mix in a handful of chopped mint. Transfer to a large serving bowl or dish, sprinkle with orange zest, the chopped almonds and half of the remaining chopped herbs. Sprinkle the other half over the vegetable stew. Serve couscous and stew in separate bowls.


Add lamb meatballs. Mix minced lamb meat with chopped onion, garlic and ras el hanout to taste. (Ras el hanout is a Moroccan blend of spices.) Fry in olive oil and add to the stew just before serving.


English Breakfast
black tea, blend 

The tea becomes sweeter, softer, fresher, while the food is enhanced, becomes fuller, deeper.

€€ Shu Pu-Erh

(cooked), post-fermented tea, China Second steep (You could use the first steep in this dish, instead of the Assam). The tea becomes softer, fruitier and fresher, more complex. The earthy notes contrast nicely with the acidity of the tomatoes and combine well with the aubergine and almonds. The stew becomes sweeter, fuller and deeper.

€€€ Da Hong Pao
dark rock oolong, China

The tea acquires more zest and depth, becomes more complex. The food acquires more umami, less sweetness, becomes deeper and fresher.


Thank you so much, Mariëlla for being a guest on Life is a Box of Mochi! I won't stress enough that I find your book amazing and really really insightful, and I'll make it my goal to try at least one of these recipes. 

If you're a tea lover, I definitely recommend you get Tea, Wine’s Sober Sibling as soon as possible (Christmas wishlist, *wink wink), and make sure you follow Mariëlla on her SNS! 

Mariëlla Erkens

Website: www.theesommelier.me
Facebook: @MariellaErkensTheesommelier
Instagram: @me.theesommelier
Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCcbl9tzwJH6KRkvVtMs5Xnw
Buy Tea, Wine’s Sober Sibling: https://www.theesommelier.me/order-tea/ You can get your copy directly from Mariëlla, and also have it autographed!! 

Have you ever had dishes with tea as an ingredient? Let us know in the comments! And if you have any questions for Mariëlla, don't be shy and ask away! 



  1. I've been around YOU for so long that I knew it was just a matter of time before a wonderful post like this came along! ❤️ Thanks Fran for putting together such an interesting post, and thank you Mariëlla Erkens for sharing these recipes, I think I'm gonna make good use of them :D Of course, I'm going to add the book to my list, too!

    1. You know me so well, Silvia!! I had the pleasure of checking out the book when I interviewed Mariëlla for Arigato Travel, and I was amazed because there is so much I didn't know about tea! It's very informative, so I definitely recommend adding "Tea, Wine’s Sober Sibling" on your wishlist.

  2. I have only recently discovered myself how varied tea can be, and how tea can be paired so well with food like wine. And I love her reason for writing the book! The link between tea and wine sounds fascinating, and those recipes!

    1. The recipes look so yummy, don't they?? "Tea, Wine’s Sober Sibling" is absolutely a book one must get to expand their tea knowledge!