ASHEVILLE, North Carolina
There are two kinds of people in the Piedmont of North Carolina: those who vacation at the beach and those who prefer the mountains.
High altitude lovers favor French Broad Chocolate Lounge, where Asheville’s foodie culture has blurred the lines between tea and chocolate.
French Broad Chocolate Lounge is on Asheville’s artsy Lexington Avenue, just south of the vintage clothing stores and eco-chic boutiques. It’s named for the local French Broad River, aptly, since the lounge focuses on the flow of liquid – “liquid truffles” (drinking chocolates), more than a dozen teas and tisanes, and various coffee drinks and local beers. Its specialty is chocolate, which it serves in liquid form and as solid truffles and other confections.
Walking into French Broad Chocolate Lounge from the street, this reporter was struck by how fitting the title “lounge” is. Lush surfaces, low lighting and a laid-back vibe permeated the atmosphere. The shop was crowded even thought it was about 3 p.m. on a weekday; and the Lounge opened a second level to accommodate patrons.
Hand-written chalkboards listed the gourmand-centric food offerings, including local cheese plates and vegan options, but what had drawn me to there was the tea. Like other more adventuresome gourmet chocolatiers, the Lounge’s owners have opted to use “trufflefy” (as the menu put it) tea as a culinary ingredient for chocolate. Its tea truffles are White Jasmine (white chocolate and jasmine green tea ganache covered in dark chocolate), Earl Grey (Earl Grey-infused dark chocolate covered with milk chocolate and topped with Earl Grey tealeaves) and Masala Chai (milk chocolate ganache infused with traditional masala chai spies, vanilla bean and Darjeeling black tea).
The co-owner, Jael Rattigan, said Masala Chai (which is also offered as a “liquid truffle”) is the most popular tea-infused chocolate; Earl Grey is the least popular, in large part because tea and chocolate isn’t as obvious as, say, fruit and chocolate to American consumers. It would seem that many customers still associate Earl Grey with teabags instead of the loose-leaf teas Rattigan used, which wholesale at $13 to $39 per pound. (One of the cheapest is a chai they simmer all day, solely as “tea aromatherapy” for customers.)
I left with a petite-yet-potent cup of Masala Chai drinking chocolate satiated by my decadent visit to French Broad Chocolate Lounge, ready for the rush of chocolate, spices, Darjeeling and the road.