How To Enjoy Chocolate Week Properly - Running a Tasting Event
Reviewing the Twitter stream for mentions "chocolate week" over the last year I became aware of a whole new side of chocolate. Apparently for punters Kit Kats are best served between your bum cheeks (NSFW) and Milky Way Magic Stars are the confection of choice for "Tweethearts" - both of which I had no clue about before. Whilst some companies see the week as a great opportunity to engage with chocolate lovers and run events such as tasting sessions, chocolate making courses, special menus at restaurants and hotels; others that which demonstrate a love for chocolate during the rest of the year will decide to run chocolate week related competitions to get more sales - which is fair enough.
The point is that chocolate is for everybody - whether you crave top quality or delight at munching on something from a household name - and whether as a maker or chocolatier you've remortgaged your family home to fulfil a life's ambition or just a 'suit' charged with improving shareholder return.
We probably wouldn't see any of our customers pose suggestively with a Friis Holm on Twitter, but we have a few having contacted us about more educational ways to celebrate chocolate week. Most are running tasting events at work or for their friends and view Chocolate Week as a fantastic way to get to know the more unusual, and perhaps, more exclusive types of chocolate you can now get in this country.
So if you're planning to run a chocolate tasting event during Chocolate Week you will need to plan ahead to get the most out of it. So to help you explore the fantastic world of gourmet chocolate, here are a few tips:
Decide who you're going to invite and use it as a way to really get to know one another
Work is often defined by departments and functions. Try and go across functional boundaries and view it as a relaxed team building exercise. Mix groups up and break down barriers. Try a whole variety of chocolate, get people to try the chocolate write down what flavours they notice and then compare notes.
Even at home with a bunch of friends it can be a great way to have some fun.
Suggest how chocolate can be tasted or reviewed
There are many ways to 'judge chocolate'
» Visual - The first way to 'taste' or review chocolate is to look at the physical appearance of chocolate. Does it have any blemishes, marks or inconsistencies on the surface? Within the bar itself the crystals formed should be tight and fairly uniform. Does the chocolate look appealing to you?
» Audio - listen to the sound it makes when you snap off a piece of chocolate. Ideally it will be crisp and loud. The duller the sound typically the higher the cocoa butter content.
» Aroma - bring the chocolate to your nose and breathe in gently. Write down the characteristics you can detect and decide if the aroma is appetising, to harsh or unnatural.
» Flavour - of course this is the most important of the senses satisfied by chocolate. Hopefully the range of chocolate you're testing will allow you to explore the absolutely massive range of flavours offered by chocolate. I've written a list of the typical flavours you can expect from chocolate made with beans from different origins here. Whether as a tasting event organiser you show your tasters the flavours that are typically available is up to you.
» Texture - there can be a massive variety of textures possible dependent on how its been processed. Chocolate from Claudio Corallo, for example, is much more coarse than that of Domori.
» Length - without chewing the chocolate see how long it takes to melt in your mouth. Obviously if you're having hot or cold drinks whilst you're judging this will affect the length of the melt.
Think about what you'd like to explore as a group
The post about the common miss-conceptions in chocolate
should be a good starting point. Could do this by exploring the differences possible between:
» Chocolate of the same cocoa solids
You could compare two 75% chocolate bars perhaps the Bonnat Libanio Brasil and the Pralus Vanuatu, or the Marou Tien Giang from Vietnam and the Zotter Criollo from Peru - both at 80%.
» Chocolate from the same country of origin
You could compare the Pralus Madagascar, Dick Taylor Madagascar and the Bonnat Madagascar. You could also compare the Madre Dominican Republic with that of Dick Taylor.
» How cocoa nibs affect the flavour and texture of chocolate
The Upala 70% and the version with nibs offer a great way to explore the texture of cocoa nibs.
» Explore how conching affects the levels of acidity present in chocolate
Zotter have done a Criollo chocolate duo where one bar is conched for 16 hours and the other for 20. I do believe Hotel Chocolat used to do the same origins and % but with different conch times, but I'm not sure if they still do.
» That you can have a fairly high cocoa % but still be milk chocolate
The Bonnat Java has 65% cocoa but is still milk chocolate due to the addition of milk powder. You could compare that with a different milk chocolate such as the Labooko 40%.
» That you can find companies adding strange ingredients to chocolate
Many chocolate makers and chocolatiers like to explore with unusual flavours and ingredients. We have a variety of chocolate bars such as bacon, ishpink or amaranth that you might not of tried before.
» Compare more easily accessible chocolate companies with rarer, imported chocolate
Get some from Divine, Green & Blacks, Hotel Chocolate, Cadbury and supermarket own label chocolate and see if you can tell the difference.
» Have a look at what information is displayed on the packaging
See what makes sense to you, what you see as just marketing gumf, if they actually tell you where the beans are from, if its organic, ethically-produced.
Make sure you have enough chocolate
This is an obvious one. You shouldn't need more than 30g of chocolate each. Most bars are between 70g and 100g so the typical bar should suffice for between three people. Also make sure you have enough left over at the end as a prize at the end if you wish.
Work out how you'll share the chocolate
A good idea is to give people people disposable paper cups with the chocolate squares in where you write a letter on it signifying what chocolate it is - or just paper plates with labels stuck on. You can either tell people what is before hand or try and get people to guess.
If you're being serious then have something to cleanse your palette
As a chocolate judge I prefer unsalted polenta, but feel free to use water, a cup of tea or anything else fairly bland to remove the flavour of the previous chocolate. You can be as strict or as relaxed as you like about how you suggest people review each chocolate individually.
Which is the best chocolate of the event?
When you've finished the session ask everyone to decide what their favourite chocolate was and tell everyone why.
Let us know how it went
We'd love to know which chocolate you liked the most - even if you've bought it from elsewhere. You can tell us here or tweet us
, making sure that you use the hashtag #chocolateweek so others doing events can see what you thought.
It would be great if the your event helped people get a passion for chocolate made by small companies trying their hardest to please you. Many of these companies don't make a great deal of money, they could really do with your support.
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