Evidenced by the response to the sessions I presented at the recent Los Angeles International Tea Festival, there is an unslakeable thirst in the tea-drinking public to learn more about tea. Beyond the china cup, tea presents some wonderful opportunities for pairing with two categories of foods; to wit, cheese and chocolate (not together, I might add). For instance, when serving a properly brewed tea with a properly ripened cheese such as Brie or St. Andre, (where the cheese is allowed to breathe at room temperature), both the beverage and the food gain in complexity when enjoyed together. Here the delicious sum is greater than the whole of its parts.
Given the popularity of putting milk or other dairy into tea, it’s not surprising perhaps that pairing tea with dairy is a logical easy leap. A light, less complicated cheese, such as a fresh young chevre, French or American made ,aligns nicely with a grassy green Japanese tea such as sencha, with the goat-y notes of the milk being transformed by the astringent grassiness of the tea. Richer cheese, such as Brie, works well with a malty Assam such as Sessa or Harmutty; the creaminess of the cheese balanced and even made to seem leaner by the roasted notes of the tea. Of course, temperature plays an important role here. Much in the same way that cheese in a sandwich put on the griddle reveals its true flavor profile, becoming more complex than when consumed as a slice stone-cold from the fridge, the heat of the tea seems to reveal the deeper flavor notes of the cheese. So the next time you reach for the red wine bottle to finish off those last slices of good cheese, think again and open up the tea cabinet and explore the riches contained within to arrive at the serendipity of unorthodox tea and food partnerings.
Chocolate is another matter. Green tea with white chocolate is a marriage made in sweets heaven, where the tea’s slight bitterness is mellowed by the sweetness of the chocolate and the tea serves to moderate the perceived sweetness of the chocolate. As another partner to tea, milk chocolate, particularly those newly popular darker varieties, works equally well (no surprise here) since the caramelly dairy notes in the chocolate transform an oolong such as Ti Kwan yin, underlining its orchidy floral notes in a most pleasant way. Bitter chocolates, with a strong cocoa presence, sing alongside a cup of a smoky black tea such as Lapsang Souchong. This particular pairing led me to create the following chocolate truffle, a treat both for the teetotaler and chocoholic. Try it and let me know.
Yield: approximately 100 pieces
24 ounces dark chocolate, in chunks (Guittard’s 64% Lever de Soleil is what I like to use here)
12 ounces (1-1/2 cups) heavy cream
1 ounce (approx. 30 grams) Lapsang Souchong Chinese black tea leaves
Milk, as needed, to replace the cream that has been absorbed by the tea leaves
4 ounces (scant 1/3 cup) corn syrup
4 ounces (1/4 cup) unsalted butter
1 t. roasted sesame oil
To coat tops of truffles: Approximately 2 ounces (approximately ½ cup) of Sesame seeds, toasted in preheated 350 degree F. oven until fragrant and light golden brown
Optional garnish: 8 ounces Candied (crystallized) ginger, cut into ¼ inch cubes
Place chocolate into a heatproof stainless steel bowl.
Prepare a rectangular mold or pan measuring approximately 6 inches by 8 inches by ¾ inch deep by lining the bottom with an acetate sheet. Set aside.
In a heavy saucepan, bring the cream and tea leaves to the boil. Remove from the heat and allow to stand for about 5 minutes, or until the tea flavors comes through clearly in the cream.
Pour the mixture through a fine meshed sieve, pressing hard on the tea, to force as much of the liquid as possible through the sieve. Discard the tea leaves and reserve the cream. Re-measure the cream and add enough milk to replace what has been absorbed by the tea leaves. You should have 24 ounces of liquid again before proceeding. Reheat the liquid to simmering Add the corn syrup, butter and sesame oil and once again, bring the liquid to the boil. Remove from the heat and now pour the hot liquid over the chocolate in the bowl. Stir until the chocolate fully melts and the mixture is smooth. (If you find that pieces of unmelted chocolate remain, place the heatproof bowl over a pot of simmering water and stir until completely smooth). Pour into the prepared mold and refrigerate the mixture until firm, about 2 to 3 hours.
When ready to cut the truffles, remove the mold from the refrigerator. Invert onto a clean work surface and peel off the acetate sheet.
Remove from the pan and using a heavy chef’s knife, cut into desired shapes and sizes, dipping the knife into hot water and then wiping it clean and dry as needed throughout the cutting process.
Dip the cut truffles into the sesame seeds to coat lightly and then top each truffle with a cube of candied ginger.
Keep chilled until 15 minutes before serving.
Copyright 2013 ©Robert Wemischner
Image credit: Lauren Wemischner