Chocolate and tea — two great tastes drawn irresistibly together through the corridors of time — become even more prevalent during the Winter Holidays. Believe it or not, what seems like such a natural combination now was not always so. “Really?” you ask. “Really,” I say.
In the beginning the world was innocent and chocolate was yet to be discovered. Then, lo, the cacao bean and all its wonders came to the attention of the Maya in a part of this globe that rises above the oceans in the Northern Hemisphere. The Europeans were introduced to it when Christopher Columbus and others brought some back from their travels. The popularity of hot chocolate drinks soon rivaled ale.
Tea came to the European continent about a couple hundred years later. At first, it was too pricey for the every day folk, who still turned to hot chocolate shoppes for their afternoon pick-me-up (not to mention the inns serving their coffees and ales). Within about 50 years the price of tea was down enough to lead to increased consumption and the opening of tea rooms. They soon rivaled the hot chocolate shoppes.
One day a light bulb went on over some enterprising genius’ head (which was pretty amazing since the light bulb hadn’t been invented yet), signaling the idea of joining chocolate with coffee and, of course, with tea! It’s been a mad rush ever since to try new combinations.
Just about every tea vendor out there, including Stash, The Republic of Tea, and Revolution, has a version or two or three of a chocolate tea. Some of those combinations are more successful than others, and some are more common than others. Flavors more commonly combined in teas with chocolate: caramel, cherry, coconut, hazelnut, mint, orange, and raspberry. Teas most commonly used are green and black (including pu-erh).
Bubble Teas with chocolate are one of the most popular flavors in Asia. Chocolate is also a great way to make honeybush and rooibos infusions palatable.
Part of the problem when people try a chocolate tea is expectation. Many in the U.S. hear the word “chocolate” and think “Hershey’s Kisses,” that is, milk chocolate. However, cocoa kernels and carob pods (a popular substitute) are usually what is used to add chocolate flavor to tea. Also, chocolate comes in several varieties, including bittersweet, semi-sweet, and baker’s chocolate. (There is also something called “white chocolate” which has no cacao in it and so is not really chocolate.) Bear this in mind before you imbibe. The taste may be a bit off from your previous experience with chocolate.
Balance is another big issue. Often, one flavor or another dominates. Getting the tea, chocolate, and other flavors (if any) such as mint to “play nice” and present a harmonious taste experience is tricky. Achievable, though.
While looking into chocolate teas, I came across an amazing statement: “I drink teas with flavorings because I don’t like the taste of black tea.” Here’s a novel suggestion for that person: Drink something else and leave all that delicious black to tea to those of us who appreciate it! Now, before all you tea vendors out there start quivering with indignation, let me emphasize that those flavored teas you make certainly have a wide audience — mostly “newbie” tea drinkers of which there seems to be an inexhaustible supply. Eventually, though, they “graduate” to teas like a Clonal 2nd Flush Darjeeling with its natural chocolaty flavor after a bit of education on the wonders of true teas (some breakfast blends are often said to have a chocolaty quality, too).
Guess what? The best news of all is that both tea and chocolate could be beneficial to you.
Of course, you can always pretend that your tea has chocolate in it by drinking it from a chocolate-colored mug. Mind over matter! You could also be content to simply enjoy your tea with something chocolate flavored such as Sticky Fingers Cocoa Chocolate Scones.
Whatever you choose, take a quick moment to thank those Maya centuries ago for recognizing the treasure inside those cacao beans. Enjoy!
Don’t forget to check out A.C.’s blog, Tea Time with A.C. Cargill!