Tea and Chocolate: These are a pair of my favorite things.
There is nothing like a vibrant cup of well brewed tea in my favorite translucent-but-strong mug, my fingers laced around its warmth, feet slung over the arm of a chair, nose in a book, to calm me down and make me feel everything is going to be okay.
I feel the same way about a square of really good chocolate. Holding a piece strategically, between tongue and hard palate, just sorta letting it melt inconspicuously, no one ever need know I am not paying attention to what they are saying. In fact, the expression of serene happiness on my face at such times may make the person to whom I am supposed to be listening feel like they have just said something really wise.
So, to mix these two together, letting good chocolate melt into a swirl of hot tea swished around my mouth, sounds like heaven. Or it could be a dreadful clash of flavours, drowning each other’s best qualities into a muddy mess.
Oh, what fun. Clearly, I need to organize a tasting.
Learning from former pairings (I recall our recent foray into scotch and chocolate, where we were awash in eight kinds of chocolate and five powerful scotches – great fun, but I almost had to sleep over!) I have decided to keep this one small. Four chocolates, four teas.
We will be three on the panel: myself, Younger Son and his friend, the 16 year old Tea Master.
I’ve had the good fortune to engage the talents of our Younger Son’s friend, who is wonderfully obsessed and passionate about tea, as our guide to some brews and steeps I have not tried. He arrives with his own teapots, mug and bags of loose tea, procured from his favorite, far-flung hole-in-the-wall tea emporia, on the back of his bike. One such bag comes with a colourful story. It was discovered lying, sealed, on the school gymnasium floor. No one is quite sure how it got there (possibly left behind after an event), but the entrepreneurial young man who found the bag, labeled EARL GREY, sold it to our friend for a trifling ten dollars. Not a bad deal for what turned out to be 5 kilograms of a fine Assam tea. Ah, to be a teenager.
So this has earned its place in our tasting, as one of the two black tea selections, alongside a green and a tisane (herbal tea).
a Japanese, porcelain pot toasted green tea – in appearance it resembles light brown sticks, with a toasty aroma, often served in Japan at the evening meal
- The Mystery Assam:
a “breakfast” tea, grown in India’s Assam region near sea-level, brews up to a bright red-brown colour, a brisk black tea
- Organic Waterfront Herbal Tisane:
from my friend and proprietor of the Great Wall Tea Company, Lauren Bowler. It is a pretty and aromatic mixture of spearmint, peppermint, chamomile, rosebuds, and hibiscus – I anticipate a flowery brew
- Kusmi Tea – Troika:
“a Russian blend of China, Ceylon and India teas with scents of bergamot, orange and mandarin” – this is the description from the tiny tin of this much cherished gift … but it’s time to use it! I am looking forward to what I believe will be an essentially Earl Grey flavour in this Parisian black tea.
I also have procured four gorgeous chocolate bars, from the always helpful, knowledgeable and welcoming Hodie, at my favorite imported/single origin chocolate emporium, Xoxolat (pronounced sho-sho-la):
- Amano Artisan Chocolate – GUAYAS:
made from premium beans from the Guayas River basin in Ecuador, 70% cacao
- Askinosie White Chocolate Nibble Bar:
I love Shawn Askinosie’s white chocolate because it doesn’t taste like any white chocolate I have ever tried – made with goat’s milk and un-deodorized cocoa butter, it is a warm light tan colour, filled with crunchy roasted cacao nibs – 34% cacao
- Madecasse Chocolate – Exotic Pepper:
grown and made in Madagascar, 63% cacao with ‘tsiperifery’ pepper, pink pepper and black pepper – when I looked up ‘tsiperifery’ pepper, it showed results for a ‘voatsiperifery’ pepper, a rare pepper with a strong pine forest scent, native to Malagasy
- Madecasse Chocolate – Milk Chocolate:
grown and made in Madagascar, 44% cacao, a “dark” milk chocolate bar
I was very impressed with my two teenaged tasters. They are both adventuresome and quite accomplished cooks, love food and experimenting with flavours. They took their task to heart. They made fantastic, detailed tasting notes.
Here are our impressions of the teas, the chocolates, then the two together:
Hoji-cha and Amano – GUAYAS
Hoji-cha (steeped for 4 minutes in a stainless steel pot)
aroma: toasted rice, lightly toasted bread, leaves, melted chocolate, caramel
flavour: wood, almond, floral, seaweed, ocean, spinach
aroma: nutty, smoke musky, sharp, white wine, red wine, citrus
flavour: coffee, astringent, wine, acidic, bitter, smoky, slight chalkiness on swallowing
“Ooh, really sour, but sweet at the back of the mouth, lemon! It intensifies the chocolate flavour – success!”
”The tea countered the dry flavour at first, then enhanced the chocolate flavour”
“Intensified lemony flavour – hmm, will have to think about the pairing – quite sour … but no, not in a bad way”
Assam and White Chocolate with cacao nib
Assam (steeped for 4 minutes in a pottery pot)
aroma: fruity yet spicy, Earth, orange, citrus, berry, floral, sweet, grape
flavour: metallic, leathery, soil, astringent, vanilla, coffee, dried fruit
White Chocolate/cacao nib
aroma: wine, goat cheese, yogurt, toast, nutty, peach, leaves, musky, soil, cream, hot chocolate with milk
flavour: chalky, smooth, berry, nutty, creamy goat cheese, mushroom, coffee, café au lait
“Like tea with cream, berry, grape, vanilla – the flavours don’t really come together”
“They did not meld into one flavour but they worked together/separately. The tea brought out the plain white chocolate flavour, with goat’s cheese after taste.”
“Reminds me of tea and toast and yogurt – kind of breakfast-y.”
Organic Waterfront Herbal Tisane and Madegascar Exotic Pepper Dark Chocolate
Organic Waterfront Herbal Tisane (steeped for 4 minutes in a lacquer pot – I think it steeped about one minute too long, or I used slightly too much tea)
aroma: strong mint, chamomile, peppermint, floral, pepper, orange, musky, strong rose
flavour: lavender, overpowering peppermint, oily, grass, wilted salad leaves, rose, fresh after-taste
Madecasse Chocolate – Exotic Pepper
aroma: deep dark chocolate, beer, caramel, red wine, pepper, nutty, earthy
flavour: salt and pepper, burnt wood, white pepper, umami (savoury), clean soil, salty, hickory, cinnamon, apple wood, flavour lingers
“very citrus, sour. I don’t think they work together.”
“The tea eliminates the pepper and replaces it with a sour taste. Not much flavour until you swallow.”
“Salty, sweet, sour, then dry – pepper taste is gone! Doesn’t work together.”
Kusmi Tea – Troika and Madegascar Milk Chocolate
Kusmi Tea – Troika (re-brewed because we feared it had gotten too cold – steeped for 3 minutes, but probably should have done 5 minutes to bring out the full flavours – steeped in a pottery pot)
aroma: hint of berry, “cooked” aroma, extremely light lemon, hickory, floral
flavour: slightly fruity, berry, coffee, slight bitter after taste
Madecasse Chocolate – Milk Chocolate
aroma: silky smooth, lightly roasted coffee, caramel, cooked pudding, milky, mushroom, musky
flavour: super smooth, Kinder Egg, buttery, butterscotch, slightly salty, toffee, burnt sugar, coffee, slightly astringent, milky, cooked pudding
“Like a homemade caramel marshmallow – in a good way!”
“The chocolate removes the bitterness of the tea. The tea enhances the flavour of the chocolate. Can I have another bite?”
“Balances the tea, enhances the flavours. Smooth, sweet and salty. Like hot chocolate with whipped cream and a caramel marshmallow.”
We had such a good time with this tasting, and I was especially impressed with the boys’ appreciation of the subtleties of brew length, the material of pot in which the tea was brewed (pottery versus stainless steel versus lacquer – never plastic!), the age and quality of the leaves. They also really took their time with the chocolates, searching for the perfect word to describe the qualities they were tasting – perhaps that is why so much was eaten!
I think these two fine young epicures are going to be mighty impressive on dinner dates.