Text and Photograph by Bruce Richardson
Of the world’s three great temperance beverages—cocoa, tea, and coffee—cocoa was the first to be introduced by the Spanish to Europe in 1528. A century later, the Dutch brought tea to Europe. Finally, coffee made its European debut in 1615, thanks to Venetian traders.
From the onset, only wealthy families could afford cocoa, tea, and coffee. These exotic beverages were shared exclusively with guests who might appreciate the uniqueness of the newly discovered drinks. As the 17th century ended, coffee shops appeared in cities such as London, New York, and Boston, and all three beverages were offered to their customers.
I frequently design tea and chocolate classes for my customers who want to delve into the similarities of these two historic products. Rather than finding a good chocolate to nibble while drinking tea—although that can be a pretty satisfying experience—my intent is more about focusing our tasting skills.
With so many excellent purveyors of chocolate and tea today, you can easily assemble your own chocolate and tea tasting. I suggest gathering a variety of gourmet chocolates that contain varying percentages of cocoa. Look for one or more dark chocolates (70% or more cocoa content) and one milk chocolate. I often work with a local chocolatier to craft my pairing.
Once the pairing is set, cut the chocolate into small portions with just enough volume to allow three or four nibbles. Prepare the steeped teas, and arrange a display of the dry leaves and chocolates for guests to see and smell.
Ask your guests to take a bit of chocolate into the mouth and to allow the cocoa butter to melt slowly until it covers the tongue. Next, sip the tea, and compare the mouthfeel of the tea to the mouthfeel of the chocolate. Is it thick or thin; sweet or bitter? Take another taste of chocolate, and discover how the tea has influenced the second nibble. Does the tea enhance the flavors of the chocolate? Or does the chocolate bring out the flavor notes of the tea? Take a few luxurious minutes to evaluate each pairing and to compare your findings.
This rare tasting experience is too good to be enjoyed alone, so be sure to invite a few friends to share your pairing. I’m certain you won’t have any trouble finding eager subjects willing to join you on this decadent culinary adventure.
Beginner’s Tea and Chocolate Pairing Guide
Milk Chocolate and Indian Chai
Both chocolate and chai are enhanced by the addition of sugar and milk. Pay attention to the way these two popular products complement each other as they coat the tongue.
Dark Chocolate and Yunnan Black Tea
It takes a dark chocolate to stand up to the rich earthy teas of Yunnan, China. Be sure to take a long sniff of both before tasting. Your nose will give you an indication of what the tongue is about to experience.
Dark Truffle and Earl Grey
The citrus notes of the world’s favorite flavored tea blends perfectly with a delicious hand-rolled truffle. The rich, soft center of the truffle is made even more flavorful when paired with this historic English blend.
Chocolate-Covered Caramels with Sea Salt and Lapsang Souchong
Smokey Chinese Lapsang Souchong black tea stands strong in the face of a rich chocolate-covered caramel laced with a few grains of sea salt. Notice the savory notes of the salt and smoke as the two marry with the sweet caramel melting on your tongue.
Contributing Editor Bruce Richardson is co-owner of Elmwood Inn Fine Teas. Find out more his tea blends and books at elmwoodinn.com.
From TeaTime January/ February 2017
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