Should you drink your tea with chocolate? What kind of chocolate works best with which kind of tea? Certified Tea Master and Founder of Cup Above Tea, Alison Dillon shares the ins and outs of tea and chocolate pairing.
Learning how to pair tea with food opens up a whole new way to enjoy exceptional tea. By considering texture, aroma, intensity and flavour you can begin to understand what compliments what. The two share many similar characteristics, from floral, fruity or nutty aromas through to levels of astringency from tannins.
Exceptional tea + high quality chocolate = pure happiness. The answer to this equation is one that few would challenge, and while it looks simple enough, there are some key things to keep in mind when pairing tea and chocolate.
“The craft chocolate scene is growing globally in a similar way to speciality tea. Small batch craft chocolatiers focused on single origin chocolate are introducing our taste buds to far superior products and helping us understands the bean-to-bar journey. When you pair chocolate crafted this way with garden-to-glass focus of Cup Above Tea you can get some sensational results,” Alison said.
“As with tea, terroir plays a critical role in fine chocolate. The altitude, climate and soil affect the flavour of the cocoa bean in similar ways to the tea leaf. The very best tea is created thanks to the skill of the craftsman – the same is true for chocolate. When the best cocoa beans are in the hands of a skilled artisan, the results give you a taste of what you may have been missing out on.
“You can find such a diverse range of styles for tea and chocolate and while there aren’t that many ‘terrible’ combinations, there are certainly many that are better than others. For example I would generally avoid paring a delicate white tea like Silver Needles, or a fresh yellow tea with chocolate as the subtleties that make these teas exceptional will be overpowered. By understanding the principles that create great flavour combinations with tea and chocolate you will be able to identify the congruent and complimentary pairings that really work.”
Fine quality white chocolate is rich, smooth and oh so creamy. White chocolate is made with cocoa butter, sugar and milk with sweetness often being the defining characteristic. The general principle here is to match sweet with sweet but you can find some really diverse pairings with white chocolate too that leverage more bitter flavours.
“Think about the types of flavours you usually find in a flavoured white chocolate for example macadamia nuts, berries, coconut or lemon. Using these flavours as a base guide we find that they translate over to tea styles. Master Wei’s Dragonwell Green tea is characterised by its gorgeous chestnut, hazelnut and macadamia notes and it is an excellent pair for a white chocolate.”
“Tisanes work quite well with white chocolate too. A herbal tisane with a lemongrass base is great because the natural acidity and zing balances out the sweetness of the chocolate and cleanses the palate.”
“An unexpected tea pairing for white chocolate is matcha. Matcha is one of the most ‘bitter’ tasting green teas and this extreme bitter profile directly contrasts the sweetness of white chocolate. When combined, the creaminess of the pairing is spot on and offsets the tanninc bitterness of the matcha, while cutting through the sweetness of the white chocolate. You end up with a really luxurious mouthfeel. It’s a combination that’s staring to gain a lot of traction in the culinary world with chef’s increasingly using white chocolate and culinary grade matcha in desserts.”
Milk chocolate contains anywhere from 10-40% cacao, milk fat, milk solids and sweeteners and is generally mild, sweet and melt in your mouth. It’s probably the most versatile for tea pairing and will work well with a spicy chai blend through to a smokey astringent black tea.
“There are a couple of failsafe options for pairing milk chocolate with tea. Generally any black tea will work well, though I recommend black tea without milk. Asides from the fact that if you’re drinking a high enough quality tea that milk would spoil it, adding the extra layer of creaminess can sometimes mask the nuanced flavours in a carefully crafted artisan chocolate.”
“My ultimate suggestions are a high grown Nepalese black tea – something from the second flush with a sharp muscatel undertone is idea, or seek inspiration from Japan and look to a roasted green tea like Mater Kinezuka’s Houjicha, or even his Genamicha works amazingly well. The Houjicha has warm, toasty notes with a hint of salted caramel which when paired with a decedent milk chocolate can really open up some new flavours. The Genmaicha, which has toasted rice pieces through it, contrasts the milkiness with its mineral, salty and nutty flavours, but then also complements with its creamy buttered popcorn notes.”
Dark chocolate has a high cocoa content and robust cocoa bean flavours. It’s earthier, fruitier and more powerful on the palate than any other type of chocolate. Dark chocolate yields great contrast for sweet and spicy flavours, and will also withstand really bold flavours without being overshadowed.
“Dark chocolate tolerates really bold, tannic-heavy tea. I’m noticing a tendency for green tea and dark chocolate pairings, but my personal view is that this doesn’t really do either any favours. The tendency to pair often comes from the perspective that dark chocolate is the ‘best’ for you and so to green tea. Certainly when it comes to tea, this isn’t necessarily the case and the nuanced layers of a high quality green tea are often too subtle to stand up to a powerful dark chocolate.
“I’d opt for a rich Chinese black tea like an aged puerh or a bud only, earthy black from Yunnan like Master Lin’s Golden Buds. I also really like experimenting with oolong pairings. There is such a broad range of flavour with oolong that it’s always possible to pair something that will specifically suit the extract flavours of the dark chocolate bar you are trying to match to. Dark Roast Sumatra, an Indonesian oolong tea with rich cinnamon notes and an overall bold flavour is perfect with dark chocolate, but so too is something with honey undertones like Master Zhang’s Tie Guan Yin where the fruity, full bodied liquor complements the richness and intensity of an 85% plus cocoa bar.”
Suggested Tea and Milk Chocolate Pairings
One thing to remember when pairing high quality ingredients is less is more. If you have an extraordinary tea or an exceptional chocolate expressing outstanding provenance, terrior and craftsmanship do either the justice of pairing with something of a similar quality level.
“Where possible avoid pairing flavoured teas with fine chocolate. The artificial, and even natural blended flavours will mask what the chocolatier is trying to express through the bar. You don’t want too much going happening on the palate, and you don’t want overwhelming aromas. This will let you focus on texture, mouthfeel and the nuanced flavour layers. Experiment and play around and you will quickly come to realise what will compliment and contrast and your own personal preferences when it comes to tea and chocolate partnerships.”
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