If you walk down the aisles of a grocery store this time of year, it's hard to miss the dozens of brands and boxes of hot chocolate beckoning as you pass by. They're hard to resist; I have at least two boxes in my cupboard from last year. The decadent drink evokes a sense of comfort and ease during these long, dark winter months. But Videri Chocolate Factory in Raleigh has a better alternative if you're seeking something familiar, yet somewhat new: cocoa tea.
Enter the modern chocolate factory and you'll find bags of the tea on the shelves by the door. The drink, sometimes called cacao tea, repurposes bits of the chocolate-making process to make a slightly sweet, steeped beverage.
While Videri is known for its beautifully crafted bonbons and luscious sipping chocolate, the manager of the coffee bar, Zack Willhoff, says cocoa tea has been on the menu since 2013. Chocolate starts as a cacao seed. Videri roasts the seeds in-house with their outer shells—or husks—still on. But the flaky shells are eventually forced off during a step in the process known as winnowing, when they're cracked open and separated through a vacuum-powered wind vortex. Instead of discarding the husks, Videri sets them aside to make tea.
The resulting drink is simply delightful. Steeped in a paper tea bag just like tea leaves, cocoa tea is ready in just about four minutes. It's light, but retains the same satisfying aroma of hot chocolate.
"We tend to only use husks and nibs from the Dominican Republic because it has such a smooth, classic flavor," says Willhoff. "But we change it up occasionally if we get a bean that really shines. We also run into some beans that work excellent in chocolate, but don't yield a comparable flavor when brewed as a tea for whatever reason."
After about six minutes of letting the bag steep in the cup, I find it to be nearly perfect. Slightly sweet with a maltiness not often found in other chocolate drinks, the tea goes down smooth and becomes slightly more chocolatey and flavorful with each added minute of steeping. Although the levels of caffeine in cocoa tea seem to be contested on the internet, Willhoff claims that it has the same jolt as a cup of green tea. Either way, this simple drink has won me over.
At four dollars a cup, cocoa tea is comparable to numerous drinks on Videri's menu but with something like half of the calories. It's available hot or iced, and the factory also sells the husks in bulk, to steep at home, for twelve dollars a bag.
"It is incredibly popular, especially among some of our regulars," Willhoff says. "We have several people that come to get a cup every day."
Asked if he thinks cocoa tea could be the new drink trend like cascara or chai, Willhoff says he hopes so.
"It is incredibly delicious and very high in antioxidants," he says. He even recommends the drink for fighting off colds. He suggests adding about half a teaspoon of Benny T's Very Hot Vesta Dry Hot Sauce, a dry hot sauce produced in Raleigh to your bag of cocoa tea when feeling under the weather (you can buy a bottle at Videri).