Vancouver ice-cream maker infuses tea leaves into ice cream in search of unique flavours

With flavours of rare Korean oolong, freshly harvested Shincha leaves from Japan, and even Chinese herbal cough syrup, a Vancouver-based ice cream maker is creating tea-based ice creams that offer something a little different than the usual chocolate or vanilla.

“A lot of the ice cream stores I go to don’t have the flavours I am looking for,” said Kevin (Kebs) Liu, owner of Kebs Makes Ice Cream. 

Not finding what he wanted, Liu says he decided to come up with some flavours of his own. But getting them into ice creams turned out to be an uphill battle.

“I failed and failed, and it became a source of challenge, and I really wanted to make it happen,” Liu said. 

After multiple failures, Liu says he decided to turn to Asia for inspiration. 

“Tea in ice creams is something that came based on my travels in Asia,” he said. “They have a lot of tea-centric things, tea-centric cocktails, tea in their food and something about that exploded my taste buds.”

While tea-based flavours like London Fog are quite popular, they are still quite rare in the West, according to Gregory Lui, a tea expert and a food and beverage consultant in Vancouver. 

“You can get coffee ice creams everywhere, but exotic tea-crafted ice creams are much rarer,” he said.

Kebs Makes Ice Cream offers different flavours using ingredients such as Chiran Shincha, Korean oolong and even Chinese herbal cough syrup. (@thejennsessions)

Although a long-time chef, Liu didn’t know much about tea, so he sought help from O5 Rare Tea + Kombucha Bar, a tea shop in Kitsilano that provides artisanal teas from around the world.

“Folks at O5 are very knowledgeable when it comes to tea, and a lot of my flavours are based on their recommendations,” he said.

Tea leaves at O5 are sourced from remote farms in Bhutan, Nepal’s Himalayas and India’s northeast, but Geoff Sugiyama, the manager at O5, says they don’t want to be too precious with their teas.

“Yes, the teas are rare, but if someone wants to make excellent ice creams, cakes, we are excited to see new ways of extracting and infusing tea,” he said.

Finding the right ingredient balance 

One of the most popular ice creams at Kebs is the Chiran Shincha. Shincha, or new leaves in Japanese, are the first spring harvest of tea, and according to Sugiyama, the O5 sources them from the Chiran region in Kagoshima on Japan’s Kyushu Island. 

Another crowd-pleaser is Korean oolong, fermented tea leaves from the Gyeongsangnam province in South Korea, the flavours of which are reminiscent of cacao, charred oak and buckwheat honey. 

Both Korean oolong and Shincha aren’t well distributed and extremely rare in the North American Market, says Lui. 

Even rarer is an ice cream that tastes like cough syrup.

As a child, Liu liked the taste of the Pei Pa Koa, a Chinese herbal formula cough syrup, so much he says that he used to deliberately let out a cough in hopes that his mother would feed him a spoonful. The cough syrup wasn’t as popular with other kids his age, though, so their mothers would put Pei Pa Kao in milk, which ultimately gave Liu the idea to do the same, but with ice cream. 

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“Ice cream is basically milk, so I thought it would be a great idea to infuse Pei Pa Kao with ice cream. 

Crafted ice cream makers like Kebs have begun appealing to more mature palates with flavours that are unique and complex, says Lui.

“Their ice cream offerings, while not revolutionary because these products are mainstream in Asia. They are singular, timely and on-trend in Western Canada,” he said.

Liu says that more unique flavours will be offered in due course. 

“It means a lot to me that I can utilize these lesser-known ingredients and make something delicious out of it,” he said.

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