Now that we are in full holiday mode, it’s time to think of how tea can take its rightful place on your menus for entertaining. Whether you wish to pair each course you serve with a different tea or do a tea and cheese pairing at the end of a meal, there are ideas galore to bring your favorite beverage front and center. Not wishing to forsake wine as the beverage of choice to accompany a long braised holiday ragout, I like to lead into the last courses of a meal by featuring small cups of tea, properly brewed, as accompaniments to a flight of cheeses, ripe and at room temperature.
Here’s the strategy: start with the mildest and creamiest one (perhaps a French cow’s milk-based triple crème such as Explorateur, St. Andre or Brillat-Savarin) served with a grassy green tea, and then move onto a bolder sheep’s milk variety such as Manchego or Idiazabal (easily obtainable in most markets nowadays), washed down with a lovely oolong. For the finale, I usually choose a goat’s milk cheese (California artisanal producers stand out here), served with either a Lapsang Souchong and an array of dried fruits (figs, dates, tart dried cherries). You will find that coupling cheese with tea changes both of them with the hot tea making the flavors of the cheese bloom and the tea is complexed when enjoyed with bites of the cheese.
And if that procession of brews doesn’t satisfy your craving for tea, make up a batch of the following Assam chocolate truffles a few days in advance of your dinner. Keep them refrigerated until about 30 minutes before you wish to dig in and the music of the spheres will surely be heard by you and your guests. And even if not, the harmony of flavors between the deep dark chocolate and the Assam tea will surely be sensed.
Makes approximately 20-24 truffles
8 ounces bittersweet dark chocolate, finely chopped
6 ounces heavy cream
½ ounce of your favorite whole leaf malty Assam tea
Milk as needed
Dark cocoa powder to coat the truffles, as needed
Chop the chocolate and set aside in a heatproof bowl.
Bring the cream and the tea to the boil. Remove from the heat and allow to stand for about 5 minutes, or until the tea flavor is clearly discernible in the cream. If you cannot taste the tea in the cream, allow to stand for an additional 5 minutes or so.
Pour the mixture through a fine-meshed sieve, set over a bowl. Measure the strained cream and add enough milk to bring the mixture back to the original 6 ounces.
Bring the tea/cream/milk mixture to the boil again. Pour over the chocolate and stir until the chocolate is fully melted and the mixture is smooth.
Chill for about 1 hour until the truffle mixture is firm. Using a teaspoon, scoop the mixture into rough balls. Place on a parchment lined sheet pan. Chill to firm again. Sift dark cocoa over the truffles and remove from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before you wish to serve them.