After I interviewed Patrick Pineda about how Tisano Tea began, he gave me several tins of chocolate tea, their main product. Since then, I’ve had dozens of cups of chocolate tea. It’s a good caffeine-free drink, especially with cream.
My main use of chocolate tea, however, has been to improve black tea. Black tea + chocolate tea = great drink, better than any black tea alone or chocolate tea alone. So much better that I have stopped drinking black tea the usual way (without chocolate tea). Even cheap black tea (e.g., Lipton’s) plus chocolate tea tastes better than expensive black tea. I think I know why. Black tea (fermented) has a complex flavor, like most fermented foods. Expensive black tea is more complex than cheap black tea, but only a little more. Likewise, chocolate tea has a complex flavor (like chocolate). Combining two sources of substantial complexity produces tea with great complexity — much more than you can get by tweaking one source of complexity (e.g., varying black tea).
Here’s a recipe:
1. To 2.0 g of black tea and 0.9 g of chocolate tea add 8 oz of boiling water. Brew 4 minutes.
2. Add cream and sugar to taste.
Peet’s tea designers may have reached a similar conclusion. Peet’s sells limited-edition teas that are available for only a few months, one at a time. Several months ago the limited-edition tea was Red Cloud Cacao, which combined black tea, chocolate tea, and rooibos. The chocolate tea was from Tisano. I loved it. It sold surprisingly well, I’m told. Their next limited-edition tea, still available, is Anniversary Breakfast Blend. Here’s what the tin says:
We seek out small lot teas with unique characters and intriguing flavors . . . Then . . . we set out to make great teas even better . . . We artfully marry the elements of distinctive black teas until we have achieved a well-balanced, extraordinarily aromatic, and flavorful cup.
I told a Peet’s customer service person how much I liked the combination of black and chocolate tea. That’s funny, she said, the Anniversary Breakfast Blend is made by adding a chocolate mist to black tea. The blended teas are misted with chocolate. The website and the container say nothing about this. My guess is that the tea designers came to the same conclusion as me. Chocolate was so potent they couldn’t bear to omit it. But they couldn’t simply add chocolate tea to the blend, because that would repeat Red Cloud Cacao, appear formulaic, and spoil the story of “seek[ing] out small lot teas”. It would also be obvious: You could look at the tea and see the chocolate. So they used chocolate mist and didn’t tell customers. What the tin says is doughnut truth: The whole truth, nothing but the truth, with a hole in the truth.
Complexity is much different than other sources of pleasure in food (salty, sweet, chewy, etc.). My explorations suggest we can detect a lot more complexity that you can get from a single fermented food. But I have yet to encounter a single recipe that combines fermented foods. Most professional recipes produce complexity via many spices, which is labor-intensive (you need to add and adjust all those spices, and worry about their age) and, in my experience, produces no better results than adding one fermented flavoring, such as miso.
Salting tea also seems to improve it.