As a tea lover and crusader for tea’s versatility, I was thrilled to experience the hush that blanketed the room when I recently presented two seminars at the second Los Angeles International Tea Festival. Instead of talking, the diverse audience was focused, enthusiastically slurping and tentatively tasting chocolate, in the one case, and cheese, in the other case, as they imbibed their tea. Proving again that tea is a great partner to food, the five teas encompassed everything from Genmaicha to Pu-erh. For both of the pairing sessions, the ground rules were simple: Leave your taste prejudices behind and have an open mind and a receptive palate. Come to think of it, for tea tasters in general, these rules leave the door wide open to experience new pleasures in the cup.
For the first session, I paired the teas with a tightly edited collection of chocolates from a number of producers, both large and small. White, milk, and intensely dark chocolates were juxtaposed with the teas. I asked the group to taste the tea on its own, then taste the chocolate by itself, and then enjoy both together, placing a bit of chocolate on the tongue and then carefully sipping some hot tea. With a quiet mind, I asked that they focus on what happens during those pairings.
Next up was an offering of the same five teas with a varied plate of cheeses, including a young creamy goat produced by Laura Chenel in California and a rich Dolce di Gorgonzola from Italy. The reactions to the pairings were varied, but overall positive. With its orchidy personality and sweet aftertaste, the Ti Kuan Yin oolong seemed to be the across-the-board standout based on an informal poll of the audiences. An extra added accompaniment to the cheese was a pear-and-tea pate de fruit, a melt-in-the-mouth celebration of the fall fruit, set by pectin and tinged with some golden Assam tea. For the recipe, go to my website and write me; I will gladly send it along to you.
The goal is to have fun with the process and once ascertaining your favorites, move on to try some more of the hundreds of chocolates and cheeses easily available to us with the thousands of teas. The possibilities are endless and endlessly exciting.
To accomplish a similar tasting at home, refer to the tables below – the first for pairing teas with chocolate and the second for pairing teas with cheese. The XX marks indicate my favorites, but I encourage you to taste each of the chocolates and cheeses with each of the teas.