NEW YORK – Would you like tea with your chocolate? Or rather, in your chocolate?
For many people, the answer is, "Why, yes, thank you. Splendid." And they're not even British.
Chocolate infused with tea — be it Earl Grey, green or Irish Breakfast — is exploding in the chocolate industry. Many confectioners showed off their candy brews at the 8th annual Chocolate Show this weekend in New York City.
"Tea and chocolate are a very good combination," said François Payard, owner of Payard patisserie and bistro in Manhattan. "They are two strong flavors that go well together."
And go well together they do, when it's quality chocolate and equally top-notch tea. Payard's Earl Grey dark chocolates are divine, as are the Missouri-based Bissinger's green-tea truffles with lemongrass.
"Tea and chocolate are sharing an interesting evolution within the consumer market," said Chocolate Bar owner and founder Alison Nelson. "They're both high in antioxidants, so putting them together is a natural choice."
Who would have thought that the future of chocolate could be read in the tea leaves, and that the mood-lifting, mouth-watering treat would become part of the health food craze?
But it's exactly that obsession with nutritious eating and weight loss that's behind the popularity of tea-infused chocolate, and that of dark chocolate and "spa" chocolate made with fruit, nuts and other natural ingredients.
At least one nutritionist, the New York-based Dina Khader, has gotten into the industry, launching her own line of organic chocolate made with green tea. Dark chocolate has even more antioxidants per gram than green tea, according to Khader.
"When you combine the green tea with the dark chocolate, that compounds the antioxidant benefits of the dark chocolate," she said. "Green tea is really good, especially for weight loss. It lowers blood pressure and cholesterol."
Other manufacturers have answered the health call by offering boxes of chocolates with varying percentages of cacao. The higher the percentage, the purer and less sweet the chocolate — meaning the less fat, sugar, butter and other unhealthy elements it has.
The brave can try bars as high as 99 percent cacao, but should expect to pucker up at the bitter taste.
Other creamy, crunchy concoctions — like Bissinger's Naturals — are made with black sesame seeds, sunflower seeds or walnuts, and boast zero grams of trans fat, zero cholesterol and less sodium and carbs than most nutrition bars, the company says.
Bissinger's Spa Chocolates have ingredients like real blueberries, blackberries, almonds, cranberries and soy.
Though some organic chocolate tastes more like cardboard than the sumptuous brown concoction it's supposed to be, many of the new "healthy" varieties are just as tasty and flavorful as their more decadent counterparts.
"Organic to most people means it tastes like the box it came in," said Kenneth Kellerhals, president of Bissinger's. "Our chocolate is natural. The trend is great-tasting but good for you."
Knipschildt Chocolatier, a high-end Connecticut-based manufacturer, uses natural ingredients in its truffles — like ginger, chili, passion fruit, peppercorns and pistachios.
"The focus should always be on the flavor," said company founder Fritz Knipschildt.
Chocolates have also gotten prettier. Many of them look like tiny works of art, with designs hand-painted or pressed on them. One technique uses pattern making "transfer sheets" with food coloring and cocoa butter. The result is a piece of chocolate with a colorful design imprinted on the top.
"It's a trend that started in France," said Joan Coukos, owner of Chocolat Moderne in New York. "Now the industry is booming."
Chocolat Moderne offers several lines of the eye-catching creations — one of which was inspired by Ukrainian Easter eggs, said Coukos. Some of her chocolates are even brushed with real specks of edible 24-karat gold.
Others in the business, like Knipschildt, never jumped on the transfer-sheet bandwagon — which was all the rage in Europe in the ‘90s.
Instead, he relies on what's inside the truffle to decorate the outside. The marzipan-pistachio chocolate is encrusted with crumbled green pistachio; the ginger-and-passion-fruit square is topped with a sliver of crystallized ginger.
"I use the beauty of the chocolate and the ingredients," he said.
He and other chocolatiers warn: Beware of too pretty a package. Sometimes, the lovely shell belies what's inside.
"It's so beautiful but so disappointing when I eat it," said Payard, whose restaurant goes through a dizzying 20 tons of chocolate a year. "What you have in your mouth is more important than what you see."
Rich, luscious drinking chocolate and spice-laced truffles with a zing are still hot industry trends this year. But seriously cutting-edge chocoholics will take a page out of the Brits' book, brew a "cuppa" and sit down for teatime.
Make that tea-chocolate time.