Only a handful of things that we come to experience in life come tantalisingly close to describing perfectly some of the worthiest of emotions we harbour all through and the delight of sipping on a nice steaming cup of tea is one of those absolute accounts of pure bliss and fulfilment. A beverage of which we have waxed eloquent so much and so many, a love we have professed in all of its intensity, a blessing we have been counting on everyday of our lives, there indeed is no end end to the number of times we return and re- return to decipher the comfort that tea endows us with, paralleled only by the hygge allure of a warm hot cocoa in our hands or the addictive aroma of a frothing cup of joe. But while the universal fondness for the everyday cups of countless teas and coffees and an occasionally indulgent mug of hot chocolate is what defies the appreciation of any warmth even remotely similar, there still is an equally empirical notion of the way our favorite beverage strikes a distinctively unique but resounding chord in every one of us of the world population who simply cannot do without their everyday dose of intoxication.
And that equally comforting treacle of sweet tricklings into life, that makes it all the more worthier an existence in awareness is one that has also been as much a cultural incorporation of this whole ritual we take upon on so devotedly in daily dedication with our favorite beverage in hand. Tea times would perhaps have been a little less ‘technical’ as would coffee chats a bit less interesting if not for the phenomenon of something that makes for such an essential pairing with either. Be it therefore in your colloquial understanding of chai- biskut or the more global- nay more western prominence of enjoying your coffee with a slice of homemade cake or a couple of the most crumbly cookies ever, the resonance is real for us all. What’s even more emphasising an attribute of this delectable adherence is how despite all our differences and exclusivities in respect of cultures and traditions and habits and customs, it all boils down to one thing- dunking your cookie or biscuit or toast in your cuppa for a simple experience of gastronomy that however has more to it than what is merely decipherable.
Dunking biscuits in tea has been something so innately associated with us Indians that there has never been any second thought to it. It is almost an instinctive response for us, as part second nature that the moment our tea arrives dutifully accompanied by a pack of Parle Gs we go about the ritualistic indulgence of dipping it in our ‘kaali chai’ as prevalent in popular parlance, or even in our milky sweet dose of energiser if you happen to be one of those die hard milk tea lovers like we are.
But while Parle Gs have been the go to ever since the humble genius emerged on the horizon as an instant icon of the tea scene across the country, the whole of India has also been as fixated on the idea of dipping their favorite rusks within their cupful of necessity for the exact few seconds that it takes to transform them from nice and crusty to soft and crumbly for a ‘meal’ of the times that called for pleasurable sessions of laidback indulgence, savouring the tea soaked mess of sweet somethings until all that remained were crumbs testifying to the ‘drowning’ that had just followed. Over times though, joining in with these hard pieces of eternal favorites were newer introductions like sweet and salty osmania biscuits or what we call as bakery biscuits even as practically all kinds that became available, whether packaged or otherwise, begin to take the same route in a practice that almost every Indian identifies very essentially as native to their own.
Surprisingly though, or perhaps not so much so, the ‘tradition’ of dunking biscuits is not very Indian, or even Asian/ eastern as is purported by a common set of belief that seeks to disconnect all things not very sophisticated from the western domains of the world. The practice traces to the Romans, surprisingly again not even in the modern times. Like most other things attributed to Roman, this also has been a rather ancient way of life that originated in Rome who used to dip their hard unleavened biscuits to make them easier to eat, though their chosen medium of dunking was neither tea nor coffee but wine. The modern day beginnings of this convention, again more out of necessity than anything else, rest with the United Kingdom of the 16th century where a particularly hard and dry type of biscuit famously called the hardtack was dunked in beer by soldiers aboard the Royal Navy to soften them up. Amusingly though, dunking biscuits into one’s favorite beverage, by which time it had come to be either tea or coffee surpassing the not very delectable (in this case) glass of wine, came to be frowned upon in British high society as something childish and uncouth. However, it still has been within the expanse of Britain that dunking came to occupy its place of prominence during the 19th century when Queen Victoria famously took recourse to her German roots to continue with this guilty indulgence in more public a undertaking.
Even outside of Britain, dunking biscuits and cookies or bread and toasts in tea or coffee or even soups or chocolatey drinks have persisted through the times in traditional references. But perhaps most notable in this context of dunking has been an invention that is not traditional in any manner, but rather very modern day and consumer driven a phenomenon that came to redefine this way of slurping up cookies and biscuits. The credit goes to the much beloved Oreo cookie of choice that remains the ideal circle of chocolatey creaminess to be dunked in a glass of milk in a fashion that might be American but has come to be equally commonplace an adherence in all parts of the world. Similar is the modern day cultural appropriation of dunking donuts into coffee that lend the globally famous Dunkin’ Donuts chain its name while it is the McVities’ Digestive biscuit that rules the roost in Britain as far as present day dunking crazes are concerned.
Traditionally though, the dunking fetish has traversed less commonplace routes. Like the intensely popular global treat Churros, the Spanish version of which is customarily eaten dipped in some kind of hot chocolate. Or the really Italian and really dry biscotti which are generally dipped in some kind of a dessert wine like Vin Santo or even coffee and black tea. The French go even a step further into the dunking trail- dipping a tartine into their bowl, not cup, of tea or coffee. It however isn’t just a piece of large toasted baguette that finds its way into the beverage as it is. The exquisite French way is more indulgent, dipping in fact their butter and jam slathered bread into the liquid that just softens it to perfection, even as the jam melts and finds its way into the bottom of the bowl, meaning that it flavours the very often unsweetened beverage as well, lending thereby a taste both to the dipper and the dip that would be otherwise uncharacteristic of either. Even the Nigerians traditionally dip their bread into coffee and you can bet that not many Indians differ either. Whether it be plain, processed bread or toasted, buttered ones, or even flatbreads like rotis, dipping these sheets of thin and baked goodies is a very Indian way of savoring them, even when it is by no means even remotely traditional or such. Filipinos are no different though the practice there is very much ingrained a part of their culture, going also by its own terminology of ‘sawsaw’, which itself means ‘to dip’. Typically it is a pandesal, a kind of bread roll that is dunked into tea or coffee either plain or buttered, in either case the intention being a more exuberant experience of the incorporating flavours. But perhaps a rather interesting dunk enjoyed in a tea or a coffee caters to the New Zealanders who pair their sweet beverage with a rather spiced ginger nut biscuit. Far more exquisite would be the Netherland’s tradition of dunking their caramel filled stroopwafels in their non alcoholic drink, but not after being left sometime above the hot cuppa.
More pronounced however is the propriety of milk when it comes to being the most optimal beverage for dunking, even when this would not be the traditional choice of drink since milk by itself is meant to be a nutrition boost specifically for kids. Notwithstanding though such dichotomy of sorts is the dunking adamancy that sees also adults delightfully dig into their oreos after adhering wholeheartedly to its characteristic call of ‘twist, lick, dunk’. And to good measure as well. While all of us who have been forever dipping their biscuits into chai and lately their cookies into coffee will profess in unison the fillip these soaked goodies receive over their dry versions in terms of taste, texture and flavour, not to forget the experience of it, masterfully perfecting the time of the dip to just the ideal few seconds lest we end up a loser failing to save the grace of a deliciously drippy piece of delight, the science of the dunking theory confirms that it indeed is the less fancied premises of the milk that offer the fanciest of experience when it comes to savouring a soft morsel of literally melt in the mouth goodness.
Indeed the physics of dunking works with respect to the more preferred beverages as well what with the porosity of biscuits helping the draw of the tea or coffee or whatever, by means of its surface tension, into the interconnecting channels therein through capillary action leaving you with a richer experience in terms of all things concerned that directly appeal to the senses. Featuring the chemical methylbutanol that which is behind the toasty taste of all things baked, it also is the very reason why biscuits taste better when dunked than as it is, as the hot beverage triggers a more quick release of the flavours into the mouth. And it exactly is this chemistry of dunking that comes into play in asserting milk as the most optimal of all choices in extracting maximum flavor out of your cookies. Particularly with chocolate cookies, read oreos, the ample emulsifiers of milk absorb the flavor molecules of the chocolate and smoothen them out so that they coat your tongue more evenly, lending you thereby a better, more enhanced awareness of the cookie, in a more full bodied chocolatey taste that is ultimately all what matters to the taste buds that sit on your tongue forever receptive of even the slightest hint of every single thing chocolate. Milk works also to ‘calm’ down the sweetness of the cookie and lends itself to working in ways that affect the flavor profile of what you are relishing by affecting also the nasal passages, hitting you therefore at just the right spots in just the right quantity with just the correct aroma that intermingles with the perfect texture and taste for a milk and cookies experience that is utterly heavenly and decadent. With so much science going on behind what seems like the mere dip of a biscuit into your chai or cake into coffee or cookies into milk, dunking sure is no any less sophisticated a ritual of indulgence than any other that you should totally, completely, absolutely allow yourself to be luxuriously gratified by. Today, tomorrow and forever or at least long as your cuppa stays warm enough to feel like a comforting hug to you amidst all the cold vibes of the world!