Pairing teas with chocolate is a difficult proposition, and becoming more so every day. The proliferation of chocolate origins, not to mention the multitude of ways that a given chocolate bean can be treated, can make your head spin! Add to that the equal plethora of teas…how does a person decide? Do we have to resort to trial and error? When high quality chocolate is now coming in at $8 or more a bar, mistakes can become quite expensive!
Pairteas has been devoting some thought to this question, the more so because we (my friend Marzi Pecen and I) may be presenting tea and chocolate pairings at World Tea Expo next year. Marzi has training as a perfumer—you may have experienced her expertise at our workshop on oolongs at World Tea Expo this past June. (In this case, “our” consists of Donna Fellman, Marzi and I). So one aspect of pairing will be to understand the aromatic components in chocolate and teas, and how they interact.
An example of two chemicals in both tea and chocolate that differ among chocolates of different origin, and differ among teas as well: linalool and phenyl acetaldehyde. The chromatograph below shows the difference in concentration of each of these compounds in the Venezuelan (top) versus the Ghanaian (bottom) chocolate, with linalool concentration at the green arrow, and phenyl acetaldehyde at the purple.* [Note that this is just one study—the study of chocolate aroma compounds (volatiles) is really in its early days, so whether my conclusions apply across the board is subject to the results of further study.]
If you just look at the peaks, they seem to be roughly the same size, but in fact they are not. The red arrow shows the internal standard—it’s what you should use to compare the size of the peaks. The Venezuelan chocolate’s internal standard is quite tall compared to that of the Ghanaian, so the levels of linalool are actually quite low compared to the levels in the Ghanaian. The same is true for phenyl acetaldehyde.
So what does this mean for pairing with these particular chocolates?
Linalool has a citrus, floral, sweet, bois de rose, woody green, blueberry aroma, and binds to the cool/cold receptors (http://www.thegoodscentscompany.com/data/rw1007872.html#toorgano). It is abundant in all teas, but it stands out in green teas, so as a guess you will find that this Ghanaian chocolate will pair better with green tea than other chocolates.
At WTE this past June we sniffed phenyl acetaldehyde—it activates the warm receptors—and discovered that Bai Hao has quite an abundance of this aroma. It's described as “honey, floral rose, sweet, powdery, fermented, chocolate with a slight earthy nuance” (http://www.thegoodscentscompany.com/data/rw1009932.html#toorgano). Again, oolongs will probably go better with this Ghanaian chocolate than with this Venezuelan, given that the peak is higher.
So what will go better with this Venezuelan chocolate? That will be the subject of another blogpost—and more experiments!
* A. Cambrai, C. Marcic, S. Morville, P. Sae Houer, F. Bindler, E. Marchioni. Differentiation of chocolates according to the cocoa's geographical origin using chemometrics. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 58 (3) (2010), pp. 1478–1483.