Art of Tea, Cacao Market NYC, Chado Tea Room, chocolate malt cake, Cocoa Runners, Imperial Puerh, Manufaktura Czecholady, Mariage Freres, MarieBelle, MEM Tea Imports, Momofuku Milk Bar, Palais des Thes, Rose Cascarilla, tea and chocolate, World Tea Academy
Think of all the things you love about chocolate. (Rich, earthy and sweet all come to my mind.) Then put that into a layer cake with chocolate frosting, fudge sauce, white chocolate malt crumbs and charred marshmallows. I knew I had to take the chocolate baking class at Momofuku Milk Bar the moment I saw the ad: I’d had their chocolate pretzel milkshake and birthday cake truffles on one occasion and found myself floating on what I can only describe as a psychedelic dream cloud on roller skates.
The class exceeded my expectations by starting off with a Good Fellas-like walk through the industrial Williamsburg kitchen, filled with vats of cookie dough, cornflakes and rainbow sprinkles. (I might add here that Milk Bar is known for its cereal milk ice cream dusted with cornflakes.) We were asked to wear hair nets for about thirty seconds, then given Rosie the Riveter-style head scarves that made me feel like we’d stepped into an I Love Lucy episode, only adding to the magic. The neon lights helped set a 1940s galactic diner mood, as did a sign which read: “It gets wild in here when we turn on the mixers.”
We were frankly saved from the work of making the actual cake, but taught instead how to build layers. Much as I enjoy getting into the bones of doing things myself, I liked how this freed me up to experiment. (The fact that I now know how to make a foot-high layer cake could be dangerous.) I unveiled the final masterpiece on a Monday morning in my house, to the astonishment of my 4-year-old son and husband. Is there a better way to start the week? The cake truffles we made in class were eaten before I had the chance to photograph them.
Chocolate drinks, chocolate everything
I like to immerse myself in things, so the last few weeks have very much been about chocolate for me. (I found myself flashing back to a science and engineering summer camp I went to in high school up at Penn State. One of my best friends applied, so I did. A far more serious scientist, she was assigned to the course in polymers. I think they knew I wouldn’t cut it in polymers, so I miraculously ended up in a month-long course on the chemistry of chocolate, wrapping up with a bonus class on ice cream.) Sadly, I was pining for one of the boys there who already had a girlfriend, so took great comfort from my chocolate lessons. As it turns out, I’m knee deep back in the business of food chemistry via one of my World Tea Academy sommelier courses about the organoleptic experience and how we process taste, smell and flavors. I did quite a few deep tastings of chocolate for one of the experiments (thanks to my Cocoa Runners subscription and nearby Cacao Market) and discovered some new things beyond the more classic Assam and milk chocolate combo.
White chocolate isn’t usually my thing, but it’s fantastic with many green teas, which give the very sweet white chocolate grassier depths. I especially like it with Rishi’s Kukicha; the creamy, buttery notes in both the tea and chocolate complement each other well. I suspect it might also pair well with some of the greener, more floral oolongs. One wouldn’t necessarily think of trying a puerh with a pure white chocolate. But I did find a glorious match between Art of Tea’s coconut cacao puerh and a white pistachio bark from Cacao Market, the new sister location of New York’s MarieBelle, known for its chocolate and teas. (They also serve hot chocolates like a matcha white, with boozier blends to come such as dark chocolate with cognac.) The bark and puerh blend proved to be a complex match that worked on a lot of levels, culminating in the marriage of sweet and salty, light and dark: the coconut and white chocolate on one hand, the puerh and pistachio on another. More traditionally, earthy puerhs can pair beautifully with darker chocolates. One of my favorites was a dark and smoky 70% Java bar from Manufaktura Czecholady, Poland’s first and only single origin chocolate maker and introduced to me via Cocoa Runners alongside a classic Imperial Puerh from Palais des Thes. It’s a dark, rich and velvety combination, with a little bit of sweetness in the chocolate rounding out some of the animal notes in the earthy tea. Gorgeous for late fall and winter nights.
Sometimes I need a break from eating chocolate and cake; I simply move onto chocolate teas or cocktails. Chocolate and rose is a famously romantic combination for a reason: it’s voluptuous and sexy. If the thought of chocolate tea has never crossed your mind for a night cap, consider MarieBelle’s Dark Obsession Chocolate Rose, a Ceylon tea scented with chocolate extract and blended with roses. The smell alone takes me right to the dreamy, intoxicating shop. (I’m a regular.) MEM Tea Imports offers Rose Cascarilla, a spicier and more robust take on the genre, with actual roasted cacao shells. I’ve been given a few other gorgeous chocolate teas in what I regard as the French perfumed tradition: a Mariage Freres Wedding Imperial with the added richness of caramel, and bestowed upon me by the gracious mother of one of my son’s classmates. The other is a Lupica The au Chocolate from Chado Tea Room in downtown Los Angeles, with cacao nibs and cocoa powder. I hold it especially dear because it was given to me by fellow writers and friends when I left my job in finance late this summer to take up freelance and be with my son as he starts preschool. My former company’s headquarters are based in downtown LA; I regret that I somehow never made it to Chado, despite my many visits to the area over the course of ten years. But was given this bittersweet gem as a token of friendship and well wishes. I hope to make it back there for tea someday.