Rich Teas: the dunk test

When it comes to dunking biscuits there is nothing, to my mind, to beat a McVitie’s Rich Tea.

In my youth Rich Teas came in two varieties: the round Rich Tea and the Rich Tea finger. In terms of taste I suppose they were very similar, but for some reason the finger-shaped Rich Tea didn’t seem quite right and it was the round one that caught my attention.

Round Rich Teas were, and still are, made by McVitite’s and have since been rebranded Rich Tea Classic.

Rich Tea Classics

Some years ago a new, reduced fat, Rich Tea came into being, the Rich Tea Light.

Rich Tea Lights

In my opinion, Rich Tea Lights have all the redeeming features of the Classic but with a crisper texture that lends itself particularly well to dunking.

To check my suspicion that the Light was superior to the Classic as a dunking biscuit, I obtained a packet of both and put them to the test.

RichT eas

In terms of size, the two Rich Teas were virtually identical although the Light biscuit was slightly longer than it was wide. I’ve noticed this slight elongation before so I think it must be a fairly consistent thing with the Lights.

The Rich Tea Lights measured approximately 65mm from top to bottom and 63mm left to right, whereas the Rich Tea Classics measured approximately 64mm from top to bottom and 64mm from left to right.

Here they are sitting together, with the Light on the left and the Classic on the right.

Light left and Classic right

As can perhaps be seen from the photograph above, the Rich Tea Light had a paler complexion than the Classic. Although the wording was the same on both biscuits, the positioning of the words was different and the Classic had the addition of McVitie’s trademark wheat symbol.

Both biscuits had the same patterning on the back, in terms of horizontal and vertical markings, and the number and positioning of holes.

Light left back and Classic right back

As well as colour, another observable difference between the two was the Classic’s ‘puffy’ appearance compared with the Light’s flatter surface.

flat and puffy
‘Flat’ Rich Tea Light on the left; ‘puffy’ Rich Tea Classic on the right.

And so to the dunking.

It has become my habit to consume a couple of Rich Tea Lights with a mug of tea after lunch. Being a keen dunker, I’m fairly well versed in how long these biscuits can remain underwater without falling apart.

I decided on a reasonably long dunk time of ten seconds and started with the Classic. Into the mug it went and there it it stayed while the seconds ticked by. On the count of ten I whipped it out, and quickly had to grab the soggy bit with my spare hand to prevent it from falling off and disappearing into the depths of the mug.

This came as quite a surprise, but I popped it into my mouth post haste and cogitated on the eating experience. Two things struck me about the dunked Classic: 1) the taste was slightly different from what I’m used to, and 2) it seemed unnaturally wet.

Next up was the Light. As I’d done with the Classic, I dipped it into the tea and started counting the seconds. On the stroke of ten I lifted it out. As expected, it hung in mid-air with a bit of stretch in its fabric but no sign of falling apart. I popped it up into my mouth and experienced the comforting warmth and moistness that has become such an important daily ritual.

Comparing the Light experience with that of the Classic, I noted the following: 1) the taste was exactly as I had been expecting, and 2) it had attained precisely the right sort of dampness for a dunked biscuit.

The question that was uppermost in my mind after conducting this experiment was this: why, after the same amount of dunking time, had the Classic emerged so overly sodden when the Light had been perfectly dampish? A couple of possible causes came to mind.

My first thought was that it might be something to do with the amount of airspace contained in each biscuit. It may not have been a hugely noticeable difference, but to my eyes the Light (the biscuit on top in the picture below) seemed to have a slightly denser crumb than the Classic.

crumb texture
Rich Tea Light above Rich Tea Classic.

Presumably, more airspace allows a greater quantity of liquid to be absorbed when the biscuit is dunked, leading to the soggy biscuit becoming heavier and more likely to fall apart.

The other thought I had was that it might have something to do with the fat content. The packaging claims that Rich Tea Lights have 30% less fat than Rich Tea Classics. Could it be that the more fat a biscuit contains, the faster it deteriorates in hot tea? I’ve noticed when dunking chocolate biscuits that the high fat part of the biscuit (the chocolate) melts faster than the rest of it, so perhaps there’s something in this theory.

Whatever the reason for the difference in sogginess, this experiment has taught me an important life skill. I have discovered, after a bit more testing, that the optimal dunk times (at least for my tastes) are as follows:

Rich Tea Classic:  4 to 5 seconds
Rich Tea Light:  8 to 10 seconds

Now that I’m aware of this difference, I will hopefully never again need to resort to scraping my Rich Teas from the bottom of the mug with a teaspoon. If ever I find myself in a situation where I’m not sure which type of Rich Tea I’m eating (although if it’s a McVitie’s version and I can see it, then I should remember to look for the wheat stalk on the biscuit), I will know to err on the side of caution and limit my dunking time to no more than five seconds.

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12 Comments

  1. Fantastic experiment, Lorna! What a great idea, and a sound scientific approach as well! I would normally be suspicious of anything ‘Light’ or ‘Lite’ in the guise of a biscuit or anything else edible, as I always wonder what else it has in the place of fat/sugar/other non-pc ingredients, but on this occasion it seems the Light version is better. Dunking a biscuit for 10 seconds is a brave challenge, not to be attempted by the unwary. As for the reasons behind the difference, I did initially think of the fat content and I am also convinced by your idea of the texture. I wonder how they compare with other biscuits for dunking?

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  2. What a fun experiment! Nice to see the light biscuit (cookie) held up well in the test. We tend to prefer digestive biscuits for dunking in our tea and sometimes Hob Knobs. Is it OK to dunk your biscuits (cookies) in public or when visiting friends? I’ve always wondered.

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    1. I see you like to live dangerously, Darlene, you need to adopt a pretty swift dunking technique with a Digestive. 🙂 You pose the age old question – to dunk or not to dunk in company? I admit I tend to dunk only with people I know quite well, and even then I wouldn’t risk a long dunk in case it ended in a teaspoon-requiring biscuit collapse. On the other hand, I feel perfectly at liberty to dunk in a cafe surrounded by strangers.

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      1. Yes, the digestive biscuit is just a quick dunk in and out. I am glad to see you are OK with dunking in a cafe. I guess one wouldn´t do it in at a formal dinner party.

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  3. What a marvelous post Lorna. At the very least you should forward it to McVitie’s marketing and research department – together with your invoice of course. While we’re on the subject is there anything more annoying in life than losing half of the biscuit you have dunked back into the drink?

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    1. Thanks, David. 🙂 I’ve taken your advice and forwarded this post to McVitie’s. Losing half your dunked biscuit is indeed a terrible tragedy. Even if you dash off and get a teaspoon, the soggy remains you scoop out of the mug don’t taste quite the same.

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    1. Thank you kindly. Bourbons always remind me of my grandparents, who had a glass biscuit barrel that always seemed to contain nothing but their favourite Bourbons. I agree with you that they’re very good for dunking. 🙂

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  4. This is a superior piece of dunking research. 🙂 It’s interesting that Rich Tea Classic didn’t last as long for you as it did in the Nigel Slater experiment – I wonder if that was because they used cold water but you used hot tea? Anyway, I can see from what you have done that I need to be buying Light Rich Tea for the best dunking experiment. Another biscuit that I remembered was good for dunking is the Marks and Spencer Chocolate Sandwich Finger (plainish biscuit with a chocolate middle) – it holds together well.

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    1. Thank you very much. I must say, I was surprised when I watched that footage of Nigel Slater’s Rich Tea testing. I think his Rich Tea was still intact after 20 seconds, which is an exceptionally long dunk time. I didn’t realise they’d been using cold water, that might well explain it. Thank you for the M&S biscuit tip, I’ll look out for those.

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