Sometimes an afternoon walk through London can lead to an entirely new direction in life and, sometimes, business.
An instant affinity was born between Albert Chau of U.K.-based Fifth Dimension Chocolates (5D) and Chau-Jean Lin, founder of Marulin teas in London and a teacher at the U.K. Tea Academy, which has turned into one of the more innovative beverage-and-chocolate tastings around: Tea & Chocolate Pairing conducted by Chau.
This chocolate tasting session has only been held five times: twice in London, twice online during the pandemic and at the recently held Dallas Chocolate Festival. It’s likely to happen again, though, and should be a strong contender for any fine chocolate lover’s tasting chocolate bucket list.
A Chance Meeting
Chau had delved into the much more common chocolate pairing of chocolate and wine many times, but tea and chocolate came about nearly by accident.
“A few years ago, we were thinking about making a tea-flavoured chocolate,” says Chau, speaking of fellow 5D co-founder Russell Pullan. “We came across a tea shop, Marulin, a U.K.-based company sourcing many of their teas from Taiwan. The owner has family there that has been growing tea for generations.”
The two started discussing how to meld tea with chocolate, a tricky endeavor since you can’t just infuse the tea into the cream because it weakens the flavour, so tea powder is a must—but if not ground fine enough, it can give the chocolate a gritty texture. Chau and Pullan sampled Marulin’s tea powders that day, then months later, Lin approached them about working together to pair teas with 5D chocolates for a U.K. Tea Academy event.
First, they grouped all of the chocolate company’s offerings to teas into batches, then began tasting chocolate and tea to nail down the best, often most unexpected combinations. From that initial session, the Tea & Chocolate Pairing was born. The first offering, featuring six teas and six chocolates sold out and a second was scheduled to meet demand.
It’s a bit unusual and I hadn’t seen it before, which is how we like to run our company. Tea has always been part of my Chinese culture. I drink gallons of it every day. Oolong tea, black tea, green tea, and English breakfast tea. The more I drink, the more I find out, the more I appreciate it and want to drink more.Chau
“Tea drinking has always been part of my daily life, even while traveling,” he says, holding up a bag of assorted teas he carries with him while traveling.
Chau is currently on a five-week work trip in the United States with the Tea & Chocolate Pairing at the Dallas Chocolate Festival being only one stop on his working tour of the country. Our video interview found him in Phoenix, Ariz., with Los Angeles and Palm Beach behind him, with visits to San Francisco and New York City coming up next.
I drink a wide range of tea, but my favorite is probably oolong tea, which is very different in China compared to Taiwan, but we decided to base the pairing exclusively on Taiwanese tea because that’s mostly what Marulin offers.Chau
We’ve traveled there and are familiar with their tea, then to meet Chau-Jean at Madulin, it just made sense, but we might explore other tea regions someday. Different roasting processes can produce very different flavour profiles, something to keep in mind.
Pairing Tea And Chocolate
Looking to do your own tea and chocolate pairing? It’s important to have people on both sides of the equation with specifically trained palates, a shared understanding of technical terms, and different ways of thinking.
As a team, you have to be able to appreciate both sides of the pairing. It’s important to speak a common language, to understand that even within tea what’s called acidic varies greatly between Taiwanese and Japanese teas, for example. What you think of as umami might be very different for someone who’s grown up with a much different flavour palate.Chau
While Chau found the tea person that complemented his own palate, as mentioned before, that came about by chance. Don’t be afraid to research (Google is your friend!) experts in fields other than yours, then read and learn about them to determine whether a collaboration makes sense. For Chau, his internal tasting mechanisms are very much his own, and he wants to keep it that way.
“Many chefs use a flavour wheel with very strict definitions of taste, aroma and other chocolate tasting parameters, but my color wheel is quite blurred,” he says. “I slightly organize my thoughts by words like sweet, sour and acidity, but I know how to pay attention when the lights in my head start flashing. Chefs don’t usually work with chocolate tasting parameters, but have a similar wheel in mind for designing their dishes where they may want to balance the sweetness with some acidity in a dish.”
Tea & Chocolate Tasting: Pairings
Here’s Chau’s breakdown of the current offerings in the Tea & Chocolate Tasting. You can purchase all of these chocolates and teas on the 5D and Marulin websites.
All of the 5D chocolates are named after geographic locations that have influenced their development and/or are home to key ingredients.
“It was a very fun process,” says Chau. “We have 25 chocolates in our collection and had to choose only six, so we split it up into specific areas and then narrowed it down to what we felt was the best choice.”
Pairing #1: Uncle Lin’s Four Season Oolong & Akureyri Arctic Thyme Caramel
This tea and the Akureyri chocolate are both floral in nature. Though sometimes similar flavours can crash horribly when paired, the chocolate in this case has more of a lavender floral note due to its origins in the northern part of Iceland where the flowers bloom for five to six weeks in July and early August.
Our provider there takes great care in how he sources product, which we usually receive dried in the U.K., but we were able to visit his land in season and experience the essence of lavender, which I think comes through in our final product.Chau
We like to experience the ingredients in their natural state and meet the people who grow and collect them.
Lin and Chau tried a range of chocolates with Uncle Lin’s tea and settled on the Akureyri with their Kagoshima Yuzu & Pink Peppercorn being a strong alternate pairing selection.
Pairing #2: Alishan High Mountain Handpicked Jin Xuan Milk Oolong & Grytviken Whisky (Water Ganache)
Speaking of traveling the world in the service of fine chocolate, Chau and Pullan had hit six of seven continents when a friend joked that they wouldn’t be able to find any flavours in Antarctica, which they took as a challenge. So, in 2006, they traveled to South Georgia island in the South Atlantic Ocean (near the Sandwich Islands as well as the Falkland Islands) for a second time (after visiting in 2006).
“There are no cities there. It’s a sub-arctic region, but there is Grytviken, an abandoned whaling station where the explorer Ernest Shackleton spent time and is buried,” Chau recalls. “We knew he loved whisky and that it worked with chocolate, so we started developing this chocolate then, but we returned for another visit around five years ago.
On our return to London, we started looking for a whisky to go with it. Russell went to a local whisky shop and tasted until he found one that worked.Chau
They first tried making a normal, cream-based ganache, but through experimentation, found that water ganache works better, creating a brighter flavour that works well with the milk oolong, which doesn’t have any dairy in it, but does have a creamy note to it.
Pairing #3: Dark Roasted Ding Dong & Sydney Mint & Miso
A boldly-flavoured tea and light-style chocolate make this pairing work, the tea paired with 5D’s Sydney Mint & Miso. Made with a bold dark chocolate, the miso and the mint are strong flavours, as well.
“The chocolate ingredients need to stand up to the tea, but not overpower it,” says Chau. “They are equals and you can taste that in the balance of this pairing.”
Pairing #4: Honey Red Oolong—Handpicked & Orleans Raspberry & Chambord
The Orleans Raspberry & Chamboard has been offered since the founding of 5D in 2013. A raspberry liqueur, the Chamboard provides a light touch without adding a strong taste of alcohol to the chocolate while the Honey Red Oolong tea has a sweetness. The flavours complement each other thanks to honey notes in the oolong that works well with the red fruit in the chocolate.
Pairing #5: Sun Moon Lake Red Ruby #18 Apple Black Tea & Hong Kong Soy Caramel
The most surprising pairing for Chau, this tea has been and is his favorite tea of all time with a slight apple flavour, which seemed to call for pairing with the New York Apple & Calvados Caramel, but then “We thought, ‘Let’s go a bit off piste,’ and try something very different that may or may not work,” says Chau. “The Soy Caramel works due to the slight saltiness and umami flavor from the soy sauce that compliments the apple notes in the tea, and these are all brought together with the sweetness of the caramel base and also the milk chocolate.”
While it might sound bizarre, in cooking, you can put soy and apple together and it works. “When we first tasted it, we were almost surprised. It’s a great example of a chocolate pairing that shouldn’t work, but does,” says Chau. “When it comes to pairing, when you hit on something like that, you get so excited about it and if there’s one pairing that people remember, that’ll be it.”
Pairing #6: Hakka Tea & Beipu Sesame & Peanut
One of the most interesting teas in the tasting comes with its own unique texture. Hakka tea is almost like a porridge, kind of thick, and Chau and Pullan’s first experience came at a tasting at Marulin.
They had this black tea that was unlike anything we’d ever tried. It’s made by the Hakka people throughout Southeast Asia and consists of tea, sesame, peanut, beans, rice and many other ingredients in a powdered form all ground together by hand with a larger mortar and pestle.Chau
The two intrepid chocolatiers visited the Hakka village of Beipu in Taiwan in 2020 and were able to experience the grinding of the tea themselves. “There’s nothing easy about it,” says Chau.
The tea, the chocolate and that hands-on experience are savoured by Chau and Pullan all the more because it’s becoming a lost cultural tradition. Following that experience, the two were in the midst of developing a range of cremino (an Italian classic) products and decided to put their own twist on it, so they created two layers using the base ingredients of hakka tea: peanut paste with milk chocolate and a black sesame paste with white chocolate. In the end, it’s an Asian version of an Italian cremino.