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Pairing tea and chocolate

Signe Johansen selflessly reports back from two tea and chocolate matching events during London's recent National Chocolate Week.

National Chocolate Week has been and gone, and what a chocolate bonanza it was! Two consecutive tastings held in London during the chocolatefest featured chocolate and tea matching - an intriguing phenomenon which looks set to be the next big thing for chocolate - and possibly tea - aficionados.

The first tasting, 'Chocolatea', was held at Selfridges and presented by former Fortnum & Mason chocolate buyer Chloe Doutre-Roussel, now a freelance chocolate consultant based in Paris. Doutre-Roussel has spent six months developing a range of chocolate and tea pairings for her company 'Chloe Chocolat.' Each Chocolatea box contains two pouches of loose tea leaves and two delicious chocolate bars: one with plain chocolate and the other with tea incorporated into the chocolate. Although the production and testing of the combinations has been a recent one, as Doutre-Roussel explained to me, her first meeting with a tea expert in France occurred in 1999, so this idea has been - if you'll excuse the pun - brewing for some time.

Often chocolate and coffee are cited as ideal mates, but tea is a 'cleaner', less abrasive match for chocolate, Doutre-Roussel reckons, complementing, rather than overwhelming the distinctive, rich flavours inherent in chocolate. 'Chocolatea' combinations include a Sencha tea (green tea) matched with creamy milk chocolate, a Dung Ti Oolong (partially oxidised tea) with a fruity dark chocolate, and a Keemun (black or oxidised tea) with classic, full-strength dark chocolate.

All three varieties were successful matches, I thought. In particular the Sencha with its crisp acidity really cut through the milk chocolate, rendering the milkiness rather less cloying than without the green tea. The most successful match, though, was the Oolong and fruity dark chocolate - a wonderfully aromatic combination, with the chocolate enhancing the tea and - unusually - vice versa.

The assumption that tea should complement chocolate (rather than the other way round) would be fiercely contested by John Kennedy, of TeaSmith in Spitalfields, who with master chocolatier William Curley and the Academy of Chocolate hosted an evening of 'Tea, Chocolate and Sake' - a fascinating tasting which revealed the breadth of flavours and aromas in all three components.

Curley uses the hightly regarded Amedei chocolate from Tuscany for his chocolates. We tasted a variety, mostly plain to dark, with teas such as green and oolong. TeaSmith's excellent 'Oriental Beauty' Oolong echoed Chocolatea's oolong match. In this instance the tea was paired with Curley's choice of Amedei 9, a fruity match which danced on the palate. The roasted Oolong variety - Teguanyin - infused in Curley's ganache and served with a cup of Teguanyin had a really long finish with roasted, charcoal aromas and made for a particularly robust match.

Curley's injunction to "Let the chocolate be the hero" might be manna for chocoholics, but I'm starting to wonder if Oolong isn't the great, undiscovered match for really exquisite chocolate. I can see though that It will be difficult to persuade those who prefer their PG Tips to fancy tea that investing in a bespoke tea and chocolate match is worthwhile. 'Chocolatea' retails at £15.99, and both Curley and Kennedy sell their - admittedly excellent - products at prices many consumers would baulk at. So whether this sort of rarefied chocolate and tea pairing is sustainable during a recession is hard to predict,

And the sake element? At the end of the tasting Curley served a delicious sake, with a hint of cherry on the nose with an assortment of his truffles and a gorgeous dark chocolate mousse with green tea cream.

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