Tequila and Chocolate: An adventure in tastings

Tequila and chocolate pairings are becoming the trend these days.  More and more restaurants are offering some kind of combination (hot chocolate with tequila, tequila infused truffles and a top seller at Tipsy Scoop is the “Tequila Mexican Hot Chocolate Ice Cream” using Patron’s XO Café Incendio).  There are a growing number of tequilas with chocolate, which one liquor store owner described as being more like a tequila version of Bailey’s.  I found a chocolate store in California that offers monthly tequila and chocolate tastings (for a $40 fee!)  But why go out to explore this adventure, when I can help you try it in the comfort of your own home–or when you are socializing with friends and want to impress them?

When I think of combining the two foods, it feels natural.  In my mind, both come from Mexico (ok, cacao comes from all over South America or Africa – but my mind goes with the hot climates they both grow in).  Tequila has come a long way from the gut-wrenching, alcohol burns of Jose Cuervo.  Processes have been upgraded and refined. Distilleries have become artisanal.  One can sip tequilas now and get a wide variety of flavor notes as you would with wine or an excellent bourbon.  Chocolate too, has grown from its mass appeal of Hershey bars.  It’s a nutritional powerhouse, filled with goodness especially when the cacao concentration is higher.  Similar to other food pairings, when done right each enhances the other.

What you need for a tasting

“My palate is not your palate.  Try it yourself to see if you like it instead of relying on someone else’s tastes.” –Alida Yougez, owner of Union Avenue Liquors.

Alida Yougez, owner of Union Avenue Liquors showing a Mexican ‘crema’ with a wall of tequilas behind her.

Note: tequila and dark chocolates are bold flavors.  Trying too many tequilas (and mezcals) with too many chocolates gets confusing or overwhelming.  Choose one tequila (or mescal) and five different chocolates.  Having the consistency of the one tequila lets you really comprehend how each of the chocolates enhances the notes differently.

The booze: 

If you don’t know much about tequila, go to a liquor store where they have knowledgeable staff.  This may be a challenge, but getting easier than it used to be.  The entry level (and often my favorites) are the silver or blancos.  (More info on types HERE)  Price is not always the indicator of quality.  Mezcal is not made from the same plant as tequila.  It has a bigger bang for it’s buck.  It is a good extension of your spirit expertise.  The bottle I chose for today’s adventure is only the second time I’ve had mezcal.  The smoky flavor profile intrigues me.

Choosing a mezcal that appeals to me…oh my!

The chocolate:

For my adventure with creating a pairing at home, I went all out.  Because chocolate.  If you’ve been following me for a while, you know I consider chocolate my Spirit Animal (or rather, Spirit Food).  Organic/Fair Trade chocolate has been my sidekick since my discovery of Green & Black’s back in 2004.  If you have knowledgeable help at the liquor store, find out the flavor notes of the booze.  For example, some can have light vanilla hints with citrus undertones, or grassy heat, or even floral tones.  Mezcal tends to have a smoky flavor, or as I heard it described a “creosote characteristic.”  Each bite and sip should complement the other, encouraging you to want more of both.  Choose chocolates that will enhance particular flavors of the tequila not parallel them.  For example, the bitterness of 85%+ cacao bars will match the tartness of many tequilas.  Fruity chocolate bars will bring out the tropical fruit notes of some tequilas.  Cayenne and cinnamon flavored chocolates will go with almost all tequilas, but sometimes those spices could be tongue-numbing.  Mint flavors are generally a good choice.

I chose a range of Taza chocolate because I had fun touring their factory last Spring.  And they went well with the beverages!

Not all tequilas or mezcals are compatible with mint chocolate…but that’s just my taste for this particular adventure. And adventure does imply a risk. My ‘blech’ was someone else’s ‘yum!’

The presentation: 

Pour about 4 ounces into each guests’ (and your) glass.  You could use champagne flutes, nice looking (taller) shot glasses or cordial glasses.  Break the chocolate into bite size pieces (the markings on the bar are good indicators). Place on a serving dish or on small plates for each different bar.  Write on the plates (Sharpie marker does wash off most plates) or use little placards to indicate the % cacao and the flavor.

Start with the darkest, purest, chocolate first.  In most stores, the highest % cacao you can find is 90%.  The more artisanal stores could have the 100% cacao content bars.  Then work your way down the % and end with the least cacao.  Within that line-up of tasting squares, the “mixed” (fruit or other flavors) will be showcased.  Start with a sip of tequila first, as the chocolate has oils that coat the tongue.

The aromas of what you’re eating will trigger your olfactories, which will affect your sense of taste.  As with wine, swirl the liquid and breathe in the smells.  Take your time as you go through.  Pay attention to how the chocolates react with the tequila.  As you take time, your mind is able to better focus.  Phil, the Retail Manager at ChocoVivo in Culver City, CA advises to go through all five pieces twice.  The second time around, your tastebuds will have warmed up and you will have a differing experience.

The creator of the recipe for this custom Petron says the lighter vanilla & citrusy notes would go well with raspberry or lemon chocolates. She was right!

Having fun yet?

While all this sounds like serious business, and could get as snooty as trying to pick a good wine at a fancy restaurant, remember this: it’s tequila and chocolate.  Have fun with this adventure!  Learn the trade jargon only if you want to.  Discover all the notes as they unveil themselves, or take sips and bites and enjoy them because they make your mouth happy.  I don’t know about you, but I say a little thank you to whomever it was that greatly expanded the quality of tequilas beyond Jose Cuervo and chocolates beyond the Hershey bar.  Nom nom everyone!

Writing on the plates helped me remember which chocolate was which kind. I forget to tell my guest to pick up the 90% one first! Oh well, it was all yummy, and we got it right the second round.

Thoroughly enjoying the research for this adventure!

 

Let me know in the comments below if you will/have tried this tasting adventure and what it was like for you!  Next week – Alida’s adventure in creating her own tequila brand…the big risk that was worth it.

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