Guest Contributor, Virginia Utermohlen Lovelace, MD, is the author of “Tea: A Nerd’s Eye View”  and owner of PairTeas.com

Chocolate is a favorite for Valentine’s Day: it’s sweet, it’s warm, it’s delightful, and it can be fiercely expensive, just like true love.

While bonbons and flavored chocolate bars can be outrageously delicious, to get the full experience of a fine chocolate, you need to taste your chocolate plain, just as you would sip a delicious high-quality unflavored loose leaf tea.

What do I mean by a fine chocolate bar?

For me, a fine chocolate bar has to be composed exclusively of chocolate and cane sugar. While many chocolatiers will add vanilla to make the flavors of their bars more uniform, the particularities of the chocolate’s origins will be masked.

You’ll lose a special moment of surprise and discovery as you taste a new bar for the first time, and the adventure of choosing which specific tea will go best with that specific chocolate.

How to experience fine chocolate

Here’s how I experience a piece of fine chocolate:

First I snap a piece of chocolate about the size of my thumbnail from the bar — enjoy the snap because it’s the sign of a well-tempered chocolate and a good omen for deliciousness to come!

Then I put it in my mouth. At this point, chocolate connoisseurs will tell you to savor a piece of chocolate by simply letting it melt in your mouth. I confess that I chew it into smaller pieces first.

By chewing, flavor volatiles are released from the chocolate to give you your first burst of flavor. This first burst is not chocolatey, but rather reflects chemicals in the chocolate that come from the bean’s origin. Some chocolates have a woody, grassy slightly citrus quality, like a sencha; others may bring to mind a raspberry or a sour cherry, like a Keemun; still others may offer a dark rich winey quality reminding you of the finest Darjeeling. I keep these flavors in mind as I go forward.

Next comes a short pause in flavor development, as saliva increases and I distribute the chocolate fragments in my mouth with my tongue.

Then all of a sudden my mouth fills with a smooth intense feeling of chocolate that overwhelms the previous sensations.

Finally, after I swallow the chocolate I am left with a slightly dry aftertaste, the intensity of which increases as the cacao percentage of the bar increases.

Now I am ready to figure out which tea to choose to match this particular chocolate.

chocolate bars, teacup and white teapot

How to choose a tea to pair with your chocolate

Success in pairing comes with trial and error. Fortunately chocolate bars are relatively large, and they do last if kept sealed, cool and dry, so you can sample a small amount of your bar and gain an understanding of its flavor profile.

Incidentally, as a bar gets older it will develop whiteness on its surface. That’s just cacao butter surfacing, and doesn’t affect the flavor.

To choose the best pairing of a tea with a bar chocolate, let’s assume that you know what your teas taste like, and have just obtained a new chocolate bar. The key to picking a pairing, then, is to try a small piece of the bar, savor it, and bring to mind the flavors of the teas you have.

Is the chocolate more vegetal or lemony? Then a green tea would probably work well.

More winey or more floral? Think oolong, and when thinking oolong consider how oxidized it is: the more oxidized, the better it will go with a more winey chocolate.

Is it fruity or spicy? A black tea should be the answer.  Not surprisingly, the more spicy the chocolate, the better it will go with a strong tea such as an Assam.

Again, it may take trial and error, but pairing a fine chocolate with a fine tea can result in an explosion of deliciousness that is greater than the experience of each alone.

Enjoy!

Virginia Utermohlen Lovelace, MD, author of “Tea: A Nerd’s Eye View”

I’m a nerdy physician-scientist, tea-lover and teacher . . . which is why this tea book is different: in her are the science of tea (made easy to understand), a dash of tea lore, and a lot about some very special teas.

Virginia Utermohlen Lovelace MD explores the flavors of teas, how they come about, and how you experience them in your mouth, nose, and brain. Her interest in tea (and wine and beer as well—these will appear in future books!) stems from her experiences a highly sensitive taster.

These experiences led her to delve into the details of our taste systems and how they interact with the compounds in tea—for example, why one tea tastes refreshing while another tastes warm and comforting. That exploration led naturally to wondering what these compounds are, and how the plant, the leaf, the tea-maker and you, all work together to create deliciousness in the cup.

Virginia grew up in New York City, with time spent in Uruguay and Europe, gaining language skills and drinking teas along the way. She earned a French Baccalauréat with honors in “Sciences Expérimentales,” an undergraduate degree in physics from Washington University in St. Louis, and a medical degree from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons. She credits her phenomenal teachers in all these institutions with giving her the tools to explain complex science in a clear and straightforward way.

Although Virginia is a Board-certified pediatrician, her love of science and teaching brought her to the Division of Nutritional Sciences at Cornell University, Ithaca, New York, from which she is now retired.

She is the author/co-author of numerous scientific papers on a wide array of subjects, but is most proud of the teaching awards she earned at Cornell, including the State University of New York’s Chancellor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching.

She carries her award-winning teaching style to her books. In them, the science of tea and the underpinnings of your flavor experience become straightforward and easy to understand—they bring you knowledge that will help you expand and enrich your delight in tea.