When the sweetness of sugar blends with the creaminess and bitterness of espresso, it seems like a perfect marriage: as well as being a satisfying dessert, recent research reveals that coffee and dark chocolate are good for your health, reduce anxiety and help you sleep better. Some even suggest adding a bit of cocoa powder to coffee to increase productivity and concentration, a notion that became fashionable in the 19th century with Barbajada, a typical Milanese drink made from cocoa and coffee.
Barbajada, which stayed in fashion until the ’30s, owes its name to its inventor, Domenico Barbaja, the founder of the Caffé dei Virtuosi next to the Teatro alla Scala. Chocolate, milk and coffee in equal doses, frothed with a whisk, are a real treat for the palate, served cold in the summer and warm in the winter.
Special coffee variants
In 2000, mâitre chocolatier Andrea Besuschio presented the Besuschino: coffee, cream and milk foam with chocolate flakes, to enjoy after melting a teaspoon of 60% cru chocolate inside. It is no surprise that variants such as mocha, marocchino and mocaccino have enjoyed such success, as well as “special” coffees such as those by Cioccolatitaliani, including the black and white “Cioccolattato”, “Caffè Variegato”, “Brasiliano” and “Caffè Tenero Bacio Piemontese” with gianduja cream, whole hazelnuts, espresso and “Fino De Aroma Nerofuso”, a captivating hybrid of Criollo and Trinitario with fruity, floral aromas and tastes and malty notes, representing just 8% of the global harvest.
Coffee or chocolate first?
There is an increasingly widespread (and popular!) habit of serving coffee with a piece of chocolate, mainly dark chocolate. But is it better to taste coffee before or after chocolate?
Some experts suggest that it is better to taste chocolate first to prepare the mouth before enjoying a good espresso, whose aroma can linger for a long time. On the other hand, there are scientific studies that claim that caffeine stimulates a greater desire for chocolate, since it appears that caffeine in coffee “stuns” the taste buds by reducing perception of sweetness and consequently increasing desire.
According to another recent study, the secret to increased productivity and concentration is to add a pinch of cocoa powder to an espresso, which increases your attention.
Camilla Furno, Business Development Manager at Cioccolatitaliani, maintains that “it depends on the type of chocolate that is paired with coffee: if it is white, you should eat it before, but if it is dark you should eat it last. It is like the question of sugar in coffee. It is the fact that you are tasting it with coffee that allows you to appreciate all its notes without resorting to additions.”
Pairing blends and crus
What blends are most suitable for different types of chocolate?
“First of all,” explains Camilla Furno, “before becoming what we are all familiar with, chocolate goes through different stages that determine its complex flavour. Raw cocoa beans are very bitter, but when fermented they develop fruity flavors that are further developed during the subsequent roasting stage, acquiring an infinite range of aromas of flowers, earth, spices, wood and dried fruit.
In order to create a successful combination of chocolate and coffee, it is important that the coffee is not overly roasted to avoid overpowering the aromatic notes of chocolate. The chocolate should also not be too sweet or earthy, especially if the coffee it is combined with is bitter.”
The intense taste of Robusta coffee pairs well with white, soft and vanilla chocolate, especially if flaked, while a delicate specialty coffee combines with intense, lingering chocolate such as 75% dark chocolate. Fine, fragrant Arabica blends also pair well with milk chocolate, or slightly salty chocolate, though the perfect union remains the combination of a good espresso and 60% dark chocolate.