In case you haven’t heard—although it’s hard to imagine a circumstance where you hadn’t—tea-drinkers are prone to have a bit of a snack with their afternoon drink, usually in the form of a cookie…or to use British parlance, a biscuit.
There’s something about the act of dunking a biscuit into a steaming cuppa that elicits the same level of comfort in the drinker as, say, curling up in front of a roaring fire with a warm blanket on a cold day: the end result is wonderful, but the act itself is cathartic all on its own.
There’s something almost instinctive that leads you to dunk a biscuit, which makes it hard to believe that humans have only embraced this rite comparatively recently. How did it start? Like many good things, it came about because of adversity.
Naval life in the 1500s was about as far away from a Carnival Cruise as one can get. No multiple restaurants on every level and free open bar: sailor’s existed on hard tack, simple flour-and-water crackers that bakers allegedly made as hard as possible to ensure they would last for long periods—years, in some cases—on the high seas.
Now, while that sounds good (or at least practical) on paper, one also has to consider the state of dentistry that existed at the time … or oral hygiene in general. Hard tack wasn’t nicknamed “molar breakers” for nothing. To save their enamel, sailors took to dunking their hardtack in brine or coffee to soften things up. And the world was never the same.
The Art of Dunking
There’s more to dunking than just, you know, dunking. There are a few important points to consider if you wish to ensure the perfect dunk. Do you have the right sized receptacle? Is the beverage at the optimum temperature? And most importantly, which is the best type of biscuit to dunk?
This is quite the serious matter for some folks. You’ll find people in the US who agree on abstract things like the effectiveness of government or the loss of personal information; ask 100 tea drinkers what to have with their tea, however, and you’re likely to come up with a hundred different answers.
Admittedly there’s very little in life more heartbreaking than a biscuit that crumbles and falls into your mug, ruining both the snack and the tea. We get that. That’s why we’ve rounded up our a few of our favorite treats and put them to the test. Here are a few good suggestions for the potential dunker:
Fortnum & Mason Piccadilly Salted Caramel
This wondrous butter biscuit is packed with salted caramel pieces and offers a satisfying salty aftertaste. The ultimate afternoon indulgence, these biscuits are sweetly smooth with an indescribable lingering taste. Best of all, after repeated dunks, it showed no signs of breaking. Dissolving, maybe, but not breaking.
Selfridges Oat and Honey Biscuit
Crisp and flavorful, these honey and toasted oats biscuits make for a delicious tea-break treat. Nutty toasted oats and high-quality honey combine to create a hearty, wholesome biscuit that is more than up to the task of dunking. Showing only minimal signs of crumbling after many (MANY) dunks, the honey made for a sweet accent to the taste of the tea.
Choco Leibniz is really a cult biscuit that prides itself on its unique construction: essentially, Leibniz biscuits are dropped into molds filled chocolate just as that chocolate starts to set. These biscuits dunk surprisingly well, considering their thinness. Obviously, chocolate-coated biscuits have a slight advantage in terms of withstanding warm drinks.
The traditional custard cream, a creamy custard-flavored center sandwiched between two flat biscuit layers, is undeniably delicious … but maybe not the best dunker. It doesn’t hold up well, and after just a half-dozen dunks you have custard cream debris floating in your cup. A more traditional ladyfinger might be a better choice.
Face it: when it comes to biscuits-and-tea, you just can’t go wrong with a traditional Scottish shortbread biscuit. The simplicity of the recipe—usually one part white sugar, two parts butter, and three parts oat flour—makes it both robust enough for dunking and just sweet enough to offset the tang of your tea.