When I visited the new Leaf & Kettle in Del Mar to see what the former owner of Halcyon Tea in South Park had created, I had no idea that not only would I be taking home my favorite sencha variety of tea, but also a bottle of culinary oil made from a plant is related to the one that is the source of tea leaves.
Tea seed oil derives from a small tree called Camellia oleifera. As such, it's also known as camellia oil. The tree is widely cultivated in China and its seeds are cold pressed to produce an oil that has a sweet, nutty flavor with a high smoke point.
The variety I found at Leaf & Kettle is produced by a California company called Arette. They have three basic varieties: an original, slightly pale version, a "Natural flavor" version, and one with "enhanced green tea aroma." Then there are several flavor-infused oils, with sundried tomatoes, chili pepper, basil and garlic oil; one with rosemary and sencha green tea, and a third with garlic oil and black pepper--all of which Leaf & Kettle carry.
I tasted the two unflavored oils Leaf & Kettle sell. Both are lovely and a little understated. The original is quite neutral and perfect for when you just want the benefits of cooking oil, but don't want to add additional flavors. I was more taken by the "Natural" flavor, which had nuttier, more pronounced tones to it, not unlike a good mellow olive oil. That's the one I bought and have been enjoying. It works beautifully incorporated in a vinaigrette, used to sauté fish and other seafood, and at high heat to stir fry vegetables.
If you're looking for a way to make some little changes in your diet, tea seed oil is a good one, given that it has no cholesterol and is high in vitamin E.
Leaf & Kettle is located in the Del Mar Highlands shopping center at 12925 El Camino Real, Suite AA4.