Unlike expresso with chocolate, tea and cocoa are not a common paring... or should it be?
Over the last weekend, I have had the pleasure to meet with a wonderful author who celebrates healthy and finer things in life. Bringing up tea as my natural subject of choose, she rewarded me with a private commissioned chocolate bar made with 70% cocoa.
"I have travelled all over the world to find the best tasting dark chocolate made with the finest ingredients. The result is this handcrafted Belgian Chocolate produced with tremendous love and care in small batches in a remote beach village in South Africa... Enjoy!" ~ Rose.
Sounds familiar? It is the same vision as to my obsession with tea.
Although I am not an advocate of fine chocolate, this beautiful bar do carries a healthy oily sheen, rich and dark brown, it looks robust and piquant. But once in the mouth, the silky exterior starts to melt, releasing full, buttery, oily texture. Nutty and savory, with a kiss of citrus tangy at the roof of my mouth, followed by a breath of clean, fresh, salty ocean breeze. Waves of pure coco floral bouquet coated my palate, smooth but still maintaining the chewy true texture of its ingredient. I am pleasantly surprised by how subtle and balanced the profile is on the aftertaste of this 70% dark chocolate.
What's better than to pair it up with a Wuyi Red tea! The warm, refreshing brew melted the chewy nutty chocolate and washed it down smoothly, adding a dash of floral to the cocoa and in return, it balanced back with a hint of salt to the honey liquor.... Salt baked Kumamoto oyster came to mind with a dash of Oliva Novello on top. Heaven! How the chocolate helps the red tea to blossom into floral fragrance and the tea cuts back its mellow pungent espresso crema character. It is as equally interesting as Italian high roasted espresso paring with semi-sweet chocolate.
Many Chinese red tea I've sampled over the years have shared a distinctive characteristic: Hints of cocoa or baker's chocolate. From Yunnan Gold, Keemum red, Yixing Kung Fu to Lapsang Souchong, all are fine examples of traditional Chinese red tea. Until I found a 'new-old' breed of Wuyi Red Yancha: Jin (Gold, meaning of premium grade) Jun (location, summit name, using wild old bushes) Mei (shape, like an eyebrow).
Created in 2005 by Master Liang to resurrect a style of tea long lost from the region. The production of this rare tea is extremely labor intensive. Harvested from wild old tea bushes growing above 1200-1800m in the Wuyi protected national park, it takes around 60,000-90,000 buds to make a pound (depending on the grade and time of harvest), 1 bud one leaf style. That's why only 1000 kg are produced annually and it's the most expensive red tea (US $1300/pound and up) in the current market. Understandably, 90% of Jin Jun Mei on the market is fake. Many tea noobs will call it a Chinese Nouveau Riche tea, but until they have a deeper understanding of what good tea is, 'Breakfast at Tiffany' is always more a convenient truth.
I have been testing 4 grades of Jin Jun Mei since last year. Most of the grading depends on the harvesting date, the highest grade so far is from March 2010. The earlier the picking, the more golden hair from the tea buds you get and the more baby buds it needs to make up an invoice. This came to my understanding of finer things in life.... The more refined something is, the more attention and love it receives or needs. But to understand these subtle refinement, a individual must continue to educate and strengthen his/her palate and mind.
It is all about ratio, the volume of tea to water, the size of the vessel, and how long the brew is.
Many people choose to brew tea the easy way, the safe way, and foolproof way....To me, using less tea leaves and longer steep is like brewing tea bags, you can not go wrong, just lesser steepings and muted taste. Perhaps 30% of the tea true flavor?
The whole idea of Kung-Fu tea brewing is to maximize full potential of a good tea, pushing its limits, extracting the best essences and energy. Comparable to brewing coffee, how a master coffee brewer could pull a cup of espresso out from a fine machine with the right pressure, temperature and crema. You will never see them using less or underfilled coffee grind for a proper serving, that's like making diner's coffee! My point is, if its not challenging, why Kung-Fu? All good tea should be challenging, it is an adventure, they need full attention and mental focus. It is the least we could give back to them.
Finding the right balance of this practice is just the beginning. Pushing its limit, improving the skill, educating the palate, and listening to the brew is a life long dedication. The reward is both physical and mental harmony.