How you pair tea and chocolate can be a true art. That’s why we wanted to present some pairing recommendations – both our own and ones that tea connoisseurs (also known as sommeliers and aficionados) have presented. Who knows, you may be inspired to invite over friends and family for a tea and chocolate tasting party!
Why Hold a Tea and Chocolate Pairing Session
The flavors of tea and chocolate can go together very well. Tea is the second most popular beverage in the world besides water, and chocolate is the top of the list of everyone with a sweet tooth. So pairing them seems to be a very popular event. Hot tea helps melt chocolate a little faster in your mouth and creates a silky smooth texture, another reason to pair them but in a way that is pleasurable to you. A pairing session will help you do just that, and by setting the stage, you can having a session that is fun and rewarding. Tasting straight chocolates versus ones with flavors added, such as fruit centers or truffles, is best when starting out. Later you can get more adventurous.
How to Set Up Your Tea & Chocolate Pairing
- Reduce extraneous sensory input: Select a location that has a minimum of bright lights, loud noises, and foreign (non-chocolate) odors.
- Have note-taking items ready: Be sure paper and pens/pencils are available to note your impressions.
- Keep things simple: Professional tasters taste one chocolate type at a time (but often made by different companies). You could approach your tea and chocolate pairings this way (one chocolate with several types of tea), or flip it around (one tea with several types of chocolate).
- Arrange things neatly: Line up teas, labeled with names, along one side of the table. Line up chocolates along the other side, with little labels proudly declaring “milk chocolate,” “semisweet chocolate,” “dark chocolate,” and “white chocolate” or the name of the maker, if you prefer that style of pairing.
- Watch the details: The teas should be served at the temperature that is suitable for them. For example, Assams are great served fairly hot while Oolongs and greens can be more flavorful when they have cooled slightly.
The ABCs for Enjoying Fine Chocolates
Factors such as appearance, smell, mouthfeel, aftertaste, and texture are all important in tea, but also when it comes to chocolates. These steps will help you more fully appreciate chocolate by itself or when pairing with teas (and you will note the similarities between these and how enjoying fine teas is done).
|Appreciate the Appearance: As with fine teas where the appearance of the leaves, before and after steeping, are part of the pleasure, so it is with chocolate. Well-tempered chocolate should be smooth and have a high-sheen, not dull or waxy. Grayish or white areas on the surface mean the chocolate has experienced big changes in air temperature and humidity and fats or sugars have migrated to the surface. The edges should be smooth, not crumbly or layered, and the texture should be even. There should be a tight, fine grain and even-colored showing at cut or broken edges, indicating that the chocolate was well-tempered, and properly cooled and stored. Chocolate colors vary, depending on the chocolate type, the percentage of cacao in the chocolate, the presence and quantity of milk or cream, and the source of the beans from which the chocolate was made.|
|Break that Bar: A well-tempered piece of chocolate will snap when you break it. Give your chocolate (chilled slightly in the refrigerator) a quick break to see how it goes. Naturally, a thicker bar will be a bit harder to snap. You might want it to be a little warm first. Snap depends on the amount and quality of cocoa butter in the chocolate, how finely ground the chocolate particles are, and how well-tempered the chocolate is. White and milk chocolate bars have a gentler snap than dark or semisweet chocolate; their milk and butter fat content make them naturally softer.|
|Caress the Aroma: Our sense of smell is closely linked with our sense of taste. So, take a big whiff of that chocolate and let the aroma caress your nose and your palate. Some will be nutty or fruity, others are earthy. Some are intense and others are weak. Milk chocolates are vanilly, creamy, malty, or caramelly, while dark chocolate is more chocolaty with hints of toasted nuts, roasted coffee, dried fruit, or wine. Some chocolates have floral or fruity qualities; others smell more roasted or nutty. As with, flavor each chocolate brand has a signature aroma. This comes from the blend or selection of beans and their quality, as well as the manufacturer’s roasting and conching methods. The more you smell the chocolate and compare different types, the more you will notice general differences in richness, intensity, sweetness and earthiness. Just as with tea, seriously accomplished tasters are adept at drawing from their own experience and memory, choosing words accordingly to describe what they smell and taste. Practice!|
|Determine the Texture: Texture (also called mouthfeel) is as important for chocolate as for tea. Creamy, velvety, or chalky are some aspects. How quickly it melts in your mouth is another. The snap also tells you a lot (as you discovered when breaking the bar). To get a true sense of that texture, place some chocolate on your tongue, then gently slide your tongue across the top of your mouth. Let the warmed chocolate circulate and impact your tastebuds all around. Look for delicacy and balance, plus any distinct flavors. You may need to taste several pieces of the same chocolate to be able to observe everything, especially if the chocolate melts fast.|
|Evaluate the Taste: The taste will be divided into stages (start, middle, end). They are generally categorized as sweet, sour, salty, and bitter (umami, which is when the taste stimulates your saliva glands especially sharply, does not generally apply to chocolate). Some terms are used fairly commonly to describe the flavors in a piece of chocolate: Fruity/citrus/berry, Buttery/sweet (cashews), Moldy/musty/earthy, Floral/spicy, Brown fruit (raisins/prunes/red fruit), Nutty/buttery (macadamia nuts), Lactic sour (sour cream/cream cheese), Caramel/caramelized or burnt sugar, Astringent (unripe fruit). These terms denote flavors in the chocolate itself, not flavors added to the chocolate. Note if the flavor comes on quickly or slowly, builds and peaks or remains constant, changes from the start to the middle and the end, and lasts long in your mouth (a sign professional chocolate tasters use to determine top quality chocolate).|
Basics of Pairing Teas with Chocolates
Chocolate has a fairly low melting point – your body temperature! And melted chocolate gives a bigger flavor sensation. So, you can pop a piece of chocolate in your mouth, wait for the meltdown, and savor that flavor. Or you can speed things up a little by taking a sip of hot tea for more instant gratification. It’s no wonder, then, that pairing teas and chocolates is becoming such a featured event at tearooms and chocolate shops. And the right combo will give you a heavenly flavor experience. Certain techniques for enjoying that combo will assure you an enjoyable and worthwhile outcome.
Exciting pairings are usually with black teas, black tea blends, oolongs, and herbals like Rooibos (redbush), especially with stronger flavors. Lighter teas, more delicate green teas, and the more dainty herbals should be paired with more delicate chocolates (milk chocolate or white chocolate are best – milder ones made in the U.S. and UK).
Preparing the Tea
No matter how good the tea or the chocolate, the most common thing that spoils the experience is improperly steeped tea. So, here are a few tips to help you start things right:
- Start with freshly drawn cold water in the kettle (or other heating vessel).
- Be sure to heat the water to the proper temperature for the tea you are having.
- Pre-warm your steeping vessel with a little of the hot water.
- Take a moment to appreciate the dry tea leaves’ appearance and aroma.
- Add the proper amount of tea leaves to the steeping vessel (depends on your
personal taste, size of steeping vessel, and specific tea you are steeping).
- Let steep the proper amount of time (also varies by amount, personal taste,
and specific tea).
- Strain the tea into a drinking vessel.
Tip: Have your chocolate ready so you can do the taste pairing right away. Some teas, especially Assams and Ceylons, tend to get a bit cloudy or scummy as they cool. The tea flavors are also not as true.
Using a proper tasting technique will assure the best experience.
- Sip in some hot tea, slurping as you sip to pull in a little air, too, and let the tea wash around the inside of your mouth, then swallow.
- Take a bite of the chocolate – your mouth is a bit warmer from the hot tea, so the chocolate will melt a little faster, helping you savor tea and chocolate flavors together.
- Take another sip of tea when the chocolate is mostly melted.
Tip: If you are tasting a chocolate with high cocoa content, eat some chocolate first, then sip some tea to help melt the chocolate.
© 2017-2021 A.C. Cargill photos and text
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