Earlier this year we were delighted to spend time with the expert tea tasters from Whittard, tasting their fine loose leaf teas and sharing some of our favourite bars. It was fascinating to learn so much about the origins of different teas, and all the care and attention that goes into preparing the perfect cup. Perhaps it was inevitable that we would eventually find ourselves trying out different pairings of teas and bars.
Along with the fantastically knowledgeable Bethan Thomas, Tea Buyer & Manager at Whittard, we presented our three favourite combinations at the Chocolate Show London in October 2016. We were delighted to share our pairings and hear other people’s notes on the teas and chocolate. You can also discover each combination for yourself. Read on to find out more. Mao Jian & Marou Ba Ria, £18
Mao Jian & Marou Ba Ria £18
For those looking for a more robust taste to their green tea, this famous variety from China’s Hunan Province might be just the ticket.
The elegant blue-grey leaf takes its colour from the silvery buds picked early in the spring, while the infusion itself produces rich, roasted notes and a vibrant nutty complexity. There’s even a floral sweetness to the finish, far from the bitter, tannic taste which you might associate with lesser green teas.
The name itself is a reference to the quality of the leaf: ‘Mao’ refers to the youthful, downy quality of the barely opened buds, while ‘Jian’ refers to the peaked tip of the young leaves, delicately picked and gently rolled by hand.
Ba Ria is a rich and fruity chocolate, made with beans from the Bà Ria province of south eastern Vietnam. This bar is a sublime and intense chocolate experience that tastes as good as it looks. This is the kind of chocolate that makes you look twice at the ingredients to see where the intensely fruity flavour is coming from. Of course, there are no added flavours, and the deep, red fruit notes in this chocolate come entirely from the south Vietnamese Trinitario cocoa beans.
When tasted together, they transform the separate flavours in a most unexpected way. Whittard’s tea expert said “We’d always considered our Mao Jian as a typically ‘nutty’ fired green tea, but it transformed into something altogether more floral when set against Marou’s intense 76% Vietnamese dark chocolate.”
Keemun Mao Feng & Solomons Gold £18
Keemun Mao Feng – aromatic notes of sweet plum and smoked pinewood.
This smokey pairing brings together a Keemun from China and a dark chocolate from The Solomon Isles.
One of our most prized Chinese teas, we’ve sourced this exceptionally high grade of Keemun from Anhui Province, the home of Chinese black tea. While ‘Keemun’ refers to the region of ‘Qimen’ where this tea was first produced using specialist techniques learnt in AnHui, ‘Mao Feng’ gives a clue to the superb quality of the young spring leaves. Skilfully picked and processed by hand, the result is an extraordinarily smooth, plummy sweetness, tinged with a subtlest touch of Lapsang-style smokiness.
Comparable to a fine Burgundy in the tea-tasting world, this is the sort of tea connoisseurs dream about. We’d recommend using slightly less leaf, brewing lightly and drinking without milk to bring out the notes of plum, black pepper and smoked pinewood.
Perhaps one of the most interesting chocolate phenomena, this ‘smoked chocolate’ note is something we are seeing more of. There are a number of cocoa-producing islands in the South Pacific and many of the bars that hail from them have a similar profile. At the same time, each different plantation and islands’ own micro-climate has a huge impact on the beans’ flavour. So far Solomons Gold has the most pronounced smokiness of any bar we’ve tasted.
This is a seriously intense and savoury dark bar. The chocolate has little to no fruit but instead is infused with a seriously smokey aroma. The flavour is not so much nutty or roasted as a big blast of wood smoke.
Imperial Puerh & Pacari Sea Salt & Nibs £12
Imperial Puerh – Strong and earthy, yet clean and refreshing.
This pairing brings together a fine Puerh from China and a dark chocolate from Ecuador.
Our Imperial Puerh is a particularly fine variety from the home of puerh tea, Yunnan Province in China. Unlike many lesser quality puerhs which tend to be heavy and musty, this is a clear-tasting and richly flavoursome tea, substantially full-bodied without a hint of heaviness. You’ll find the earthy notes are beautifully balanced by a fresh, clean sweetness, and the result is surprisingly refreshing.
There’s no tea quite like puerh. It’s the only tea to be fermented alongside the usual oxidation process using healthy microbes and microflora: the bacteria required for a healthy digestive system. As a result, puerh has long been viewed as an aid to digestion and weight loss – over the centuries, it has been claimed to reduce cholesterol, combat ageing, reduce the risk of heart disease and help with circulation, to name but a few of the reputed benefits. However, a good puerh is far more than just a medical brew.
The unroasted dark chocolate has an earthy green flavour and unusual grainy texture. The Ecuadorian nibs give a satisfying crunch bar and further bring out the wooded vegetal notes in the chocolate. The hints of salt give a distinctive contrast, refreshing the palate.
Ecuadorian cacao is known for its earthy profile, and tasting this alongside the highly aromatic yet earthy Puerh makes for a satisfying and somewhat savoury pairing.