It’s that time of year to rethink how to pair teas with my two favorite foods: Cheese and chocolate. (I’m presenting these learning opportunities at the Devan Shah International Tea Festival this month).  Often the most unlikely pairings turn out to the most memorable and provocative. On the savory front, there are some terrific American-made artisanal cheeses that pair very well with teas—green, oolong and black.

The relatively newly-recognized Bitaco teas from Colombia — grown 6000 feet above sea level — are ones that are currently at the front of my tea cabinet. I reach for all of them often and especially when I am enjoying a cheese course at the end of a summer meal. The Colombian green has a bright yellow color, is low in astringency, sweet and nutty, and perfectly matched to a fresh young goat cheese. My dairy choice here would be from Capriole, made in Indiana, though any fresh soft goat cheese should work as well. Some flavorful crisp grapes and stone fruit would round out a tasting plate perfectly. 

Moving onto oolongs, I would choose Ti Quan Yin and here I would pair the tea, served tepid, with a triple crème cheese from France such as Brillat Savarin, Explorateur, or St. André (all readily available at good markets nationwide). Each of these have high butterfat content, should be served at room temperature, and complement the floral notes in the tea to a T. With its buttery mouthfeel, this tea rounds the fruity edges of the cheese. If you can find those tiny champagne grapes (which are not made into champagne, but rather when dried are the basis for dried currants), serve them. You won’t be sorry. Super sweet points of juiciness, these grapes harmonize with both the tea and the cheese. For an extra special treat and an exciting contrast of temperatures, freeze them solid and then pull them out of the freezer just a couple of minutes before serving the pairing. 

Last but by no means least, bring out a Chinese black tea such as Yunnan Golden Tips (or any other Yunnan) whose flavor hints at chocolate, baked bread, honey and stone fruits. A bit earthy, it pairs particularly well with a soft creamy domestic blue cheese from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Company (Marin County, CA). Crusty dark bread, even toasted, makes a perfect contrast to the creamy cheese. The tea’s sweet and earthy notes cut through the cheese well. 

Next course: dessert. Why not make it a chocolate tasting: A flight of chocolates with a flight of teas. Pair your favorite green teas with white chocolate. Then move onto milk chocolate with a higher than standard (about 31%) cocoa solids percentage such as 40% or so (which indicates a lower sugar content and more cocoa flavor). Pair this with a Longjing oolong. Finally, brew up some Chamraj Golden Tips (a black tea from south India) to pair with a well-balanced dark chocolate (perhaps 65%-70% cocoa solids and cocoa butter content—this number will appear on the label). To find your favorite, buy small bars from 4 or 5 manufacturers; do the hard work of tasting each with the same tea.  Then decide. What sweet delirium this will be!

Photo “Two Chocolate Bites on Top of Brown Table” is copyright under Creative Commons 2.0 Generic License to the photographer Marta Dzedyshko and is being posted unaltered (source)

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