Chocolate and tea. Sure, they’re nice when you sip the tea and then nibble on the chocolate ... but they’re even better rolled into one.

Tea-infused chocolates are Michele De Luca-Verley’s specialty. The chocolatier who operated la Maison de COCO as a chocolate cafe on Bellevue Avenue in Newport from 2010 to 2014 has transformed the confectionery into a strictly catering- and-shipping service, operating out of a renovated barn behind her Portsmouth home.

“ I combine my two passions — dark chocolate and tea,”says chocolatier Michele De Luca-Verley. “I thought, somehow I have to make my world out of this.” Photos by Dav e Hansen

“ I combine my two passions — dark chocolate and tea,”says chocolatier Michele De Luca-Verley. “I thought, somehow I have to make my world out of this.” Photos by Dav e Hansen

She’s been in the barn location, outfitted with furnishings and appointments from the cafe, since August. “I combine my two passions — dark chocolate and tea,” De Luca-Verley said. “I thought, somehow I have to make my world out of this.” That inspiration came when she visited gourmet cafe The Silver Palate during her days of working in the fashion industry at Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan. “I realized I wanted to be involved somehow with food,” De Luca-Verley said. “I felt so comfortable in that environment.”

But it was when she moved to France in 1988 because husband Cyril Verley took a job with architecture firm Clermont- Ferrand in Auvergne that she determined that involvement would be with chocolate. The thick hot chocolate she encountered there made an impression. “I thought, this is amazing,” she said. “I want to do this. I want to work with chocolate.”

After returning to the States a year later, De Luca-Verley began experimenting with infusing tea into chocolate truffles. “I guess I’d say I’m selftaught,” she said. “I did a lot of reading, a lot of playing with it.” De Luca-Verley uses cocoa from Madagascar for its “fruity” quality that blends well with the spice of the Rishi teas that line her shelves in tins. But she also sources locally as much as possible, including obtaining cream from Arruda’s Dairy in Tiverton.

Though truffles are her staple, De Luca-Verley has recently branched out into small bars in both milk and 64 percent cacao dark chocolate, with a creamy top but the contrasting texture of tea leaves on the bottom. She makes truffles in white chocolate too. Some menu items pay tribute to chocolate history or world cultures, such as the Xocoatl Bittersweet honoring the Mayans, who introduced Europeans to chocolate in the form of a beverage mixed with cacao, chili peppers and spices. This is also the only truffle at the Maison that’s not tea-infused.

One of De Luca-Verley’s multicultural offerings is the Thai Tropique Bittersweet, featuring notes of mango and pineapple. You can only get la Maison de COCO chocolates by ordering ahead for pickup or shipping, as everything is made to order and De Luca-Verley maintains no stock. But local shops are also gearing up to carry Maison’s products, including Styled by Jenna, 13 Touro St., Newport, and The Green Grocer, 934 East Main Road, Portsmouth.

Tasty Trio

Michele De Luca-Verley doesn’t just make chocolate truffles. She offers them in collections or lines according to seasons and holidays, a trait she attributes to her days in the fashion industry. Here’s what my taste buds discovered:

Indian Spice milk chocolate truffles.

Indian Spice milk chocolate truffles.

Bergamot Bittersweet: This spring/summer selection is a blend of dark chocolate and Earl Grey. The spice of the tea kicks in about two seconds after the first bite, and the sweet creaminess of the chocolate cuts the bitter edge for which Earl Grey is famous.
Tahitian Coco Bittersweet Enrobed in White Chocolate: The name alone beckons you to try this Resort Collection truffle. A shell of white chocolate encases a dark chocolate middle infused with coconut oolong tea. This one unfolds in layers, with the white chocolate up front, giving way to the dark center and leading into the coconut. But there’s no coconut fruit in here — all the coconut flavor comes from the tea infusion.
Caribbean Lime Bittersweet: De Luca-Verley told me this Resort Collection truffle was “like drinking a margarita.” I had my doubts, but she was right. It has a distinctly tropical, margaritalike flavor.