Teatime with Natasha

This is Teatime, a storytelling series that shares people's experiences with tea. Through this series, we hope to create conversation about the history of tea, the role tea plays in people's lives + cultures.
Teatime with Natasha

Q: Name & background

My name is Natasha Pickowicz. I grew up in San Diego, California, but didn’t start cooking professionally until I moved to Montreal in 2010. Since then, I’ve worked in restaurants all over NYC, produced huge fundraising bake sales for organizations like Planned Parenthood, and hosted my pastry pop-up Never Ending Taste all over the country. And I published my first book, More Than Cake, last year! 

Q: What do you do? 

I’m a pastry chef and writer based in Brooklyn, NY, and my inspirations go far beyond the kitchen and into realms of music, art, writing, and nature. I love exploring how we can incorporate unexpected ingredients into pastry and baking — ”blank canvases” like a custard, marmalade, or buttercream are all tempting opportunities to build and layer in even more flavor. I’m drawn to ingredients that bloom inside other things — like spices, tea, coffee, nuts — and strive to find balance and harmony within it all. 

Q: What is your relationship to tea? 

It seems like I drink more and more tea as I get older, especially delicate Taiwanese and Japanese teas, and just a tremendous amount of herbal teas, which are so nourishing on a cold day, help me begin (or end) a long day, and feel restorative and taste delicious. During the summer, I make a lot of tisanes, using herbs, plants, and flowers that I grow myself, like lilacs, rue, and lemongrass. I love saving the deadheads on my passionflower vine for a potent cup — it acts as a mild sedative, and is so soothing right before bed. And of course, I love using tea in baking and cooking! I like spiking a simple vegetable broth with dried chrysanthemums, which is traditional in Chinese hot pot, too. My favorite hangover breakfast is hot green tea poured over rice and seaweed, like Japanese Ochazuke. I love infusing ice creams, mousses, and chiffon cake with floral teas like chamomile, peony, and butterfly pea flower— you can steep them forever and they won’t get bitter. Even though I don’t drink tea with milk, I love how, in a pastry context, tea engages with rich ingredients, like coconut, mascarpone, or heavy cream.

Q: What significance does tea have in your life? In your family? In your culture?

Tea was a huge presence in my life growing up; we weren’t a coffee drinking house at all. Tea wasn’t just how you started your day—it was something you sipped on all day and night long. My mom is Chinese and loves traditional Asian teas like jasmine, oolong, pu’er. Her attitude to tea is very Chinese—she goes through massive amounts of everyday, workhorse Jasmine teas, often pouring warm water over the same spent leaves upwards of 5 or 6 times in a day, usually holding them overnight in the pot and pouring hot water again over it in the morning. She is extremely thrifty and will quite literally drain the last drop, insisting there is still so much flavor left to extract. I realized recently that I do this too—it makes me feel emotional to dump out tea leaves, because I’m convinced there’s another cup hidden in there. But she also taught me how to appreciate and respect high quality, single origin teas, and brings me back beautiful gifts of expensive tea from her travels to Asia, where tea culture is so revered. And she absolutely never would add sugar or milk to her tea, because she thinks they spoil the essence of the brew, wouldn’t you know it—my palate is the exact same way.

Q: Share a tea memory & its significance to your life/family/culture

Growing up, we would eat out at traditional Chinese restaurants all the time. Whether you eat at a grand dim sum hall, a tiny lunchtime canteen, or anything in between, the meal always begins with a small porcelain cup of scalding-hot tea, usually poured from a utilitarian stainless steel teapot (and automatically poured instead of tap water). I love this nourishing ritual, and the way that tea can open up my palate (and appetite) to the rest of the meal, while linking me to my Chinese heritage.