Chocolate Tea - Gastro Obscura
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Drinks

Chocolate Tea

Neither tea nor hot chocolate, this Caribbean cocoa drink is in a league of its own.

Chocolate tea is so delicious, it may lure you to your doom. This, at least, is the theme of a Barbadian folk song about a man so beguiled by his lover’s chocolate tea, he doesn’t realize she’s actually poisoning him. While the double entendre of the song is debatable, what isn’t up for debate is that this hot, slightly bitter Caribbean cocoa drink is seductive indeed.

Made by grating cocoa balls or sticks into a mixture of milk and water, then boiling, chocolate tea is spiked with spices such as nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, and even bay leaf before being sweetened with condensed milk. The spices used vary depending on the cook and island, and coconut milk is sometimes also substituted for the condensed milk.

The real star of the show, however, is the cocoa. Pure, unsweetened, and minimally processed, locally-grown cocoa adds a richness and intensity to cocoa tea that is missing from more processed hot chocolates. To make the cocoa balls or sticks, producers grind cocoa beans combined with spices, commonly nutmeg and cinnamon, then shape them into their final form. While it’s harder to find these cocoa balls outside of the Caribbean, those eager to try authentic chocolate tea can check Caribbean grocery stores or order the cocoa online. (Whatever you do, just don’t use hot chocolate mix.)

Once prepared, chocolate tea is perfect for dunking (or soaking) bread and biscuits. It’s also a great accompaniment to a classic Caribbean breakfast of bake and saltfish buljol. In St. Lucia, people traditionally make a one-pot meal of it by boiling small flour dumplings directly in the chocolate tea.

And since you’re definitely wondering: No, there are no actual tea leaves in chocolate tea. In the Caribbean, any hot beverage had with breakfast is called a tea. The name can be used for more savory concoctions as well, such as fish tea, which is believed to be an aphrodisiac. Combine that with chocolate tea’s folkloric potential to serve as a vehicle for poison, and it seems that all is indeed fair in love and tea.

Need to Know

To make the minimally-processed cocoa that's key to good chocolate tea, producers get groovy. After fermentation, the cocoa beans are dried in the sun and then polished by “dancing the cocoa.” Workers, serenaded by traditional songs, boogie in bare feet on top of the beans until they reach optimal shine. While industrial processes have replaced dancing the cocoa for many manufacturers, there are still some producers who use the traditional polishing process, and tourists can sometimes witness cocoa dancing in action.

Where to Try It
  • Fond Doux Plantation and Resort
    Soufriere 250, Saint Lucia

    This resort and working chocolate plantation offers guests a demonstration of cocoa dancing.

  • A cooking school in St. Lucia that offers classes for those interested in learning to make chocolate tea with biscuits. Those looking for the school should seek out the orange building where La Place Salizon is situated.

Community Discussion
Contributed by
Reina Gattuso Reina Gattuso
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