The pairing of gourmet chocolates and specialty teas can create a wonderful taste experience. While ultimately taste is subjective, following are some suggestions that can enhance the experience.
To begin with, chocolate comes from the cacao bean. The pods grow on cacao trees and are now cultivated around the world. The four varieties of cacao are Criollo, Forastero (which provides between 80-90% of world cacao production), Trinitario, and Nacional.
Like tea, chocolate differs in flavor and quality depending on the type of cocoa bean used, its terroir, fermentation and roasting process, etc.
The types of chocolates include white, milk, semisweet and bittersweet or dark.
Although white chocolate does not contain cacao liquor, it contains a minimum of 20% cocoa butter, milk, milk fats and sugar. This gives white chocolate its whitish-ivory color, its sweet taste and creamy texture.
Milk chocolate contains anywhere from 10-40% cacao, milk fat, milk solids and sweeteners. Milk chocolate is usually mild and sweet, but can have more of a chocolate flavor with higher percentages of cacao liquor.
Semisweet chocolate has a strong chocolate flavor, containing anywhere from 15-65% cacao, and has a balanced sweetness.
Dark or bittersweet chocolate has an intense chocolate flavor with a minimum of 35% cacao liquor. Some dark chocolates contain little to no milk content thus can be quite bitter, yet complex in taste.
Match quality chocolates with quality teas and use your senses!
Consider the appearance of the chocolate. Is it glossy, waxy, or dull? What about the color? Are the edges smooth, crumbly or layered? Is it even textured?
Breathe in the aroma. Our sense of smell is stronger than our sense of taste. Is it fruity, nutty, earthy, intense or weak? Does it have a sour smell to it? Does it smell musty or burnt?
When breaking off or biting into the chocolate, does it snap? Well-tempered chocolates and those with higher cacao content will have a nice snap to it. Although white chocolates may not be as brittle, they can also produce a more gentle snap.
Consider chocolate’s mouthfeel and taste. Place the chocolate on your tongue, and gently slide your tongue across the top of your mouth. Allow the chocolate to circulate in your mouth and taste it with all your taste buds. Good chocolate will melt in your mouth. Does it coat your tongue? Is it gritty or smooth? Does it feel dry or heavy on the palate? Chew the chocolate. What does it feel like? As it melts, think of the flavor and aftertaste. Does the taste or flavor evolve? Is it bitter, tart, acidic? Is it delicate or well-balanced? Are there distinctive flavors revealed? Does the taste linger or not?
First examine and smell the dry leaf, then do the same with the wet leaf. Inhale the tea’s liquor. What notes stand out? Taste the tea. Note its flavor profile and mouthfeel.
PAIRING TEA and CHOCOLATE
It is important to note that taste is subjective; it all depends on each person’s palate. When pairing, consider the taste and flavor profiles of both your teas and chocolates. Match quality chocolates with quality teas. It also helps to start from light to dark teas and chocolates. Between tastings, have plain crackers, cold water, or green grapes to cleanse your palate.
With that being said, following are suggested pairings to enhance your tea and chocolate experience. As you go through this, consider whether a particular pairing complements, enhances, or contrasts with each other. Pairings that complement each other can have different characteristics or flavor profiles, yet when combined they balance each other nicely. An example that we used was white chocolate and kukicha green tea. The creamy sweetness played well with the grassy, woody and nutty notes of kukicha.
Enhanced pairings have similar characteristics or flavor profiles and when brought together it improves the taste. In our pairing, we tried White Peony (Bai Mu Dan) with a hazelnut truffle. Both have nutty notes that pair well together.
Finally, look for teas and chocolates that contrast each other. Although, initially it may seem like the pairing would be off, actually there are similarities that can be drawn usually from a culinary sense. We like the grassy, vegetal taste of matcha paired with milk chocolate (although matcha and white chocolate is also very good!).
Again, there are no right or wrong tastes. It’s what you like. So engage your senses, take notes and enjoy!
Some of our favorite pairings include:
White chocolate with kukicha, Masala chai, Dragon Well green tea.
Milk chocolate with Ceylon Lovers Leap, Pouchong, Water Sprite (Shui Xian), matcha, and chai
Hazelnut Truffle with Assam Reserve, White Peony, Qimen or Keemun
Orange Leaf Dark chocolate with Puer, black Ceylon tea.