Of the world’s three great temperance beverages–cocoa, tea, and coffee–cocoa was the first to be introduced by the Spanish into Europe in 1528. A century later, the Dutch brought tea to Europe. Finally, coffee made its European debut in 1615, thanks to Venetian traders.

From the onset, cocoa, tea, and coffee were afforded only by wealthy families. These exotic beverages were shared exclusively with guests who might appreciate the uniqueness of the newly-discovered drinks. As the 17th century ended, coffee shops appeared in cities such as London, New York, and Boston and all three beverages were offered to their customers.

I frequently design tea and chocolate classes for my customers who want to delve into the similarities these two historic products share. Rather than finding good chocolate to nibble while drinking teaalthough that can be a pretty satisfying experience—my intent is more about focusing our tasting skills.

With so many excellent chocolate and tea purveyors available today, you can easily assemble your own chocolate and tea tasting. I suggest gathering a variety of gourmet chocolates containing varying percentages of cocoa. Look for one or more dark chocolates (70% or more cocoa content) and one milk chocolate. I often work with a local chocolatier, Ruth Hunt Candies, to craft my pairing.

An in-store tea and chocolate pairing hosted by Ruth Hunt Candies in Lexington, Kentucky.

Once the paring is set, cut the chocolate into small portions with just enough volume to allow three or four nibbles.  Prepare the steeped teas and arrange a display of the dry leaves and chocolates for guests to see and smell.

Ask your guests to take a bit of chocolate into the mouth and allow the cocoa butter to slowly melt until it covers the tongue. Next, sip the tea and compare the mouthfeel of the tea to the mouthfeel of the chocolate. Is it thick or thin; sweet or bitter? Take another taste of chocolate and discover how the tea has influenced the second nibble. Does the tea enhance the flavors of the chocolate? Or does the chocolate bring out the flavor notes of the tea? Take a few luxurious minutes to evaluate each pairing and compare your findings.

Be sure to show the dry tea next to the chocolate before tasting. Encourage guests to sniff the aromas!

Here is a starting guide for your tea and chocolate adventure.

MILK CHOCOLATE AND INDIAN CHAI
Chocolate and chai are both enhanced by the addition of sugar and milk. Pay attention to how these two popular products complement each other as they coat the tongue.

DARK CHOCOLATE AND YUNNAN BLACK TEA
It takes a dark chocolate to stand up to the rich earthy teas of Yunnan China.  Be sure to take a long sniff of both before tasting. Your nose will give you an indication of what the tongue is about to experience.

DARK TRUFFLE AND EARL GREY CREAM
The citrus notes of the world’s favorite flavored tea blend perfectly with a delicious hand-rolled truffle. The rich soft center of the truffle is made even more flavorful when paired with this historic English blend.

CHOCOLATE-COVERED CARAMELS WITH SEA SALT AND LAPSANG SOUCHONG
Smokey Chinese Lapsang Souchong black tea stands strong in the face of a rich chocolate-covered caramel laced with a few grains of sea salt. Notice the savory notes of the salt and smoke as the two marry with the sweet caramel melting on your tongue.

This rare tasting experience is too good to be enjoyed alone so be sure to invite a few friends to share your pairing. I’m sure you won’t have any trouble finding eager subjects willing to join you on this decadent culinary adventure.

This article first appeared in TeaTime magazine. Tea Maestro Bruce Richardson hosts several tea and chocolate classes at his tea bar each December. Visit elmwoodinn.com for ticket information.

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