"Chocolate and tea," Nienhaus tells the audience. "It is not the most obvious of pairings, I grant you, but they marry very well."
Her workshop is one of the more popular sessions at the Expo -- what with people's passion for tea, and their passion for chocolate, the class is a concept squared.
People (and by "people" I mean a roomful of women and three men) are so passionate about tea and chocolate that they are fit to riot when Nienhaus, who is based in Fort Myers Beach, Florida, takes her sweet, sweet time giving us the go-ahead to eat the bits of chocolate in front of us. First she talks about the chocolate wars of the 1990s. The wars have something to do with the European Union and the percentage of cocoa butter allowed in the chocolate bars. I didn't quite catch the details. I was distracted by the yummy bits of dark chocolate on the piece of paper in front of me.
Then she talks about how to host a chocolate-and-tea tasting party: Consider displaying the chocolate in trays around the room, or the more formal method of a structured, seated tasting where you tell people what to eat and when. Either way, some characteristics to consider when evaluating how the chocolate tastes, are:
1. Aroma. Is it weak, or simply delicate? Is it intense or penetrating? Can you detect vanilla, spice, caramel, or tropical fruits?
2. Flavor. Is it deep? Is it bitter or sweet? Is it buttery? Fruity? Floral? Peppery? Or grassy?
3. Texture. Does it feel smooth like velvet? Or like gritty particles of sand.
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Oh, and if you're worried about cost and are doing a casual "stroll around the room" tasting with squares of chocolate in trays, she suggests forgoing tongs in favor of itty, bitty spoons. When you provide only tiny spoons, people tend not to gorge on the chocolate. Shame is a potent thing. Also: never give plates (it speeds up the chocolate consumption). Only give napkins. Itty, bitty cocktail ones.
Finally, malty Assams and Keemuns pair well with dark chocolate. White teas cannot hold their own against the formidable power of chocolate. Neither can green tea. "Except for one special kind of green tea," Nienhaus says. "Can anyone tell me what that is?" A woman in the middle row mutters something.
"That's exactly right," says Nienhaus. "Very good. The only kind of green tea that holds up to dark chocolate is matcha."
"Actually, I said, 'Not so much,' " the woman confesses.