February 07, 2020

How to Pair Tea and Chocolate

How to Pair Tea and Chocolate

Tea and chocolate have a lot in common. Both require careful, controlled oxidation to draw out their full flavors, and growing conditions (terroir) have a significant effect on the end product. To explore these parallels, we collaborated with Megan Giller—a chocolate journalist and book author as crazy about cacao as we are about tea—to create four unique pairings of small-batch teas and chocolates.Our first tasting event was such a hit that we’ve scheduled more sessions for later this spring; keep an eye on our events page for the latest listings. (You can also join our NYC-exclusive mailing list to be the first to know about events in our tasting room; sign up here!) In the meantime, check out a few of our favorite combinations:

Ceylon Orange Pekoe + Ritual Chocolate, 100% cacao

Malty black teas are natural matches for chocolate, but it’s important to consider the relative sweetness of the tea and chocolate together. Dark, woody teas bring out rough-and-tumble astringent flavors. But 100% cacao bars are just that: pure chocolate, with zero sugar to tame their bittersweet bite. Giller says she likes to begin tastings with these uncompromising bars, then progress to sweeter ones, to help mitigate palate fatigue.

As soon as we tasted this Ritual bar, we knew a naturally sweet tea would be just the thing to highlight the cacao’s inherent sweetness. This high-grade orange pekoe is full of tippy buds, which contribute a bright body and sustained sweetness. The flavor is reminiscent of toasted walnuts and fresh baked pastries—the perfect pairing.

Blessed Forever Daxue Bingcha + Askinosie Chocolate, 62% Dark Milk with Fleur de Sel

Dark milk chocolates are a relatively new development: milk chocolate bars (at least 10% milk solids) that also contain high amounts of cacao. This Askinosie single-origin bar, made from beans grown in the Philippines, is a well rounded expression punctuated by flakes of sea salt.

A chocolate like this calls out for balance, which is just how we describe this sheng pu-erh. Picked and pressed in 2009, this tea is just approaching middle age; it’s lost the vegetal bitterness of youth and is developing flavors of sweet hay and sour plum that blossom through repeated steepings. This is a pairing to linger on; re-infusing the leaves won’t just draw new nuances out of the tea, but also from the chocolate.

Anhui YellowChocolate Naive, Ambrosia Dark with Bee Pollen

Giller introduced us to this unusual bar from a chocolate maker in Lithuania who not only makes single-origin chocolate, but also blends in unexpected ingredients like porcini mushroom and fermented kefir. The Ambrosia is a 65% dark chocolate with the texture of a fine milk chocolate, thanks in part to the addition of honey foraged from the Lithuanian forest. The addition of bee pollen makes for a heady, honeyed experience.

A light but complex chocolate like this needs a tea to match, and after some trial and error, we settled on an equally idiosyncratic brew: a yellow tea from Anhui Province. Yellow teas are similar to green teas but with a few extra processing steps—including slow drying over charcoal for days, while the leaf slightly oxides. The result is akin to a green tea filtered through toasted hay: bright and floral, like the chocolate, with similar hidden depths.

Assam, Kachibari VillagePatric Chocolate, Triple Ginger

Another dark milk bar, currently sold out from a quixotic chocolate maker: It contains not just chunks of candied ginger, but also ginger sugar and ginger essential oil (along with a touch of lemongrass oil). It’s an approachable but surprising chocolate that punches above its weight.

That’s the same way we feel about the perennially popular Assam Kachibari, made by our farmer friend Tenzing. Assam is one of the largest black tea production regions in the world, where quantity usually trumps quality. This organic tea, however, is deep and layered, including a spicy gingerbread character that really popped out when paired with the chocolate.

When it comes to pairings of any kind, we try not to be too dogmatic. The best pairing is something you enjoy alongside something else you enjoy; your pleasure in consuming each brings out just as much as any intrinsic characteristics from the pairing.

But pairings are often instructive: They reveal new ways to think about favorite foods and drinks, and they can help us learn about new ingredients and specialty productions through the lens of something familiar. We’d love to hear about any enlightening pairing experiences you’ve had lately—drop us a line over email or leave a comment on Instagram or Facebook. And don’t spare the details!

Photo of chocolate journalist Megan Giller courtesy of Inka Terra