Before the 1650s, beer and wine were the main snack drinks in Britain. Then, in the next couple of decades, people started importing tea and chocolate, and they quickly became hugely popular. The 1650-1750 period was when Europe really got into coffee, tea and chocolate – and beer consumption dropped in the 18th century for this reason. Nowadays tea is considered the national drink, and no cuppa is complete without a piece of chocolate. But what is the best way to combine the two?
Apparently some people don’t eat milk or white chocolate, believing dark is superior. However, an expert told the New York Times that the percentage of cocoa solids “tell us nothing, but nothing, about the taste or the quality of chocolate”, as there are several other factors to think about, for example: “how the pods are fermented, how long they are roasted, how the cacao is ground”. High-end hampers of milk chocolate gifts will obviously taste much better than shop-bought dark.
Sencha, a tea with a crisp taste, works well with milk chocolate, as does standard builder’s tea or Earl Grey.
White chocolate does not include cocoa solids, which means it has a smoother flavour and no caffeine. It goes well with light teas such as Yunnan, herbal or floral types. Try jasmine green tea with a nut-centred white chocolate.
With a much higher percentage of cocoa, dark chocolate has a stronger flavour and is rich in healthy flavonoids. Its slightly bitter taste is beloved by connoisseurs – the stronger the better. Well, up to a point – it is possible to buy 100% cocoa chocolate, but this is virtually inedible. A nice 70% is about perfect and goes well with teas such as Darjeeling and black tea. Mint tea complements dark chocolate well, particularly after a meal.
You can buy bars of chocolate with tea leaves in them, or bars with a tea flavour. You can make these at home by mixing in some tea with melted cream and then straining out the leaves. And if that sounds like too much effort, you could always just have a hot chocolate, which combines some of the best properties of tea and chocolate.
Milk and sugar
As chocolate contains both milk and sugar, try the tea without either. Milky tea with chocolate still works well, but adding sugar would be overkill. George Orwell said: “How can you call yourself a true tea lover if you destroy the flavour of your tea by putting sugar in it? It would be equally reasonable to put in pepper or salt.”
Very low: Builder’s tea and a chocolate digestive is the classic combination, and you’re almost guaranteed to have the ingredients for this at home.
Low: Earl Grey, with a slice of lemon, and some rich chocolate. My mum’s favourite.
Medium: It is well worth splashing out on artisan chocolates now and then. The really good kind you’ll find in a gift basket – Paul Wayne Gregory and Damian Allsop are brands to look out for. They go with just about any tea. Just remember not to dunk them.
Chocolate recipes on the BBC website
The Guardian’s ‘Ultimate Guide to Chocolate’
George Orwell’s tips on making tea