Depending on the kind of tea you use, your spicy tea sauce can have notes of cinnamon and clove with a hint of sweet orange, or remind you of Mexican mole choose one with rich cocoa essence or bean.
For this batch, I used Oregon Breakfast black tea made with orange peels and hazelnut essence. It goes beautifully with the dark cherry flavors I always include in my barbecue sauce. Other great options would be Golden Cacao herbal tea with wonderful spices like turmeric, ginger, cocoa, black peppercorns, aniseed, and fennel or The Spice of Life black tea with cinnamon, clove, and orange peel.
This spicy tea sauce is incredibly versatile. You can use it as a marinade for chicken or slather it over a rack of ribs. Try it smeared on a barbecued cob of corn or add a small bowl of it to a cheese platter for a unique dipping sauce for pieces of fried halloumi.
How to Make Spicy Tea Sauce
I like to start my barbecue sauce with a big onion diced and cooked long and slow until it's caramelized and sticky sweet. It provides an excellent base to add layers of flavor to as you make your sauce.
While that is cooking, I strain some cherries preserved either in juice or syrup, then bring the juice to a quick boil before pouring it over tea leaves to steep. You could also use water to make a strong tea to add to your spicy tea sauce, but I find that it makes the sauce too watery and requires extra cooking time to get it nice and thick. Besides, the cherry juice adds wonderful flavor and color to the sauce.
Once the onion is cooked and the tea steeped, I add all the remaining ingredients to the blender and puree the mixture until it's thick and smooth.
The remaining ingredients include homemade apple cider vinegar that's tangy and fragrant and brings balance to the sweet and spicy sauce. I add two kinds of tomatoes, canned, diced tomatoes, and sun-dried tomatoes. You could use tomato paste instead of sun-dried tomatoes, but I just love the extra richness the sun-dried option brings to the sauce. Just be sure to drain the tomatoes well so the sauce isn't too oily.
I love a sweet barbecue sauce. Not sugary, just sweet, so I add preserved cherries, dark honey, molasses, and dark brown sugar. I start small and add more until it achieves the level of sweetness I love.
I'm also fond of a smoky barbecue sauce, so I add liquid smoke to my recipe. If you aren't a fan of smoky foods, leave it out. The sauce will still be good.
Sometimes I go a bit wild with the spices adding extra cinnamon, cloves, and fresh ginger, maybe some Tasmanian pepper berries, and a small piece of star anise.
But this time I kept things simple so I wouldn't overwhelm the tea infusion. I just used Hungarian smoked paprika, because you can never go wrong with the taste and color of that fabulous spice, two garlic cloves, fine sea salt, and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper.
After the ingredients are blended, I pour them into a cast iron pot over medium heat and simmer the mixture for 20-30 minutes until it's thick and glossy and a dark, rich color. At this point I carefully taste the hot mixture, adding more of whatever it needs, then remove it from the heat and either use it right away or bottle and seal it in sterilized bottles.
This recipe makes about three cups of spicy tea sauce, so there's plenty for immediate use and stocking your pantry.
For more tea-inspired barbecue ideas, try our Spicy Tea Marinade for Chicken, Tea Brined Chicken Wings to Up Your Grilling Game, or Summer Sweet Tea Rib Rub for Grilling Goodness.
Spicy Tea Sauce
- 1 large onion, diced
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 teaspoons loose-leaf spiced tea
- 1/2 cup cherry juice or syrup
- 1/2 cup preserved cherries, drained
- 1 (15 oz) can diced tomatoes
- 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
- 1/3 cup dark honey
- 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes, drained
- 1/2 cup molasses
- 1/4 cup dark brown sugar
- 1/4 cup Worcestershire sauce
- 2 teaspoon liquid smoke
- 1 1/2 teaspoon Hungarian smoked paprika
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1 teaspoon ground black pepper
Heat olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat, add onions, and cook long and slow, about 20-30 minutes until onions are caramelized. Add a bit of water as necessary to keep the onion from sticking. Set aside.
Place tea into a heatproof mug and set aside.
Place cherry juice into a small saucepan over medium heat and bring just to the boil. Remove from heat and pour over tea leaves. Steep for five minutes, then strain and throw away tea leaves.
Add all ingredients to a blender and blend until smooth.
Pour mixture into a heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium-high heat and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer 20-30 minutes until thicker and darker. Remove from heat. Taste carefully for seasoning.
Pour mixture into sterilized glass jars, seal, and let cool on the counter. When cool, store in the fridge until ready to use.