Intro

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Many people suggest that the first year of marriage is the hardest (I’ve also heard the seventh is a tough one – we’ll see about that) but I look on that year with great fondness.

My husband and I made it our mission to try nearly every restaurant in Seattle. We kept a notebook about where we went, what we ate, what we loved and what disgusted us – luckily that didn’t happen very often as we did loads of research before picking our final destination. Every Friday night we would ready ourselves to hit the town, notebook in hand and an eager palette.

Those were the beginning days of my love affair with food. As with any new found love, everything was thrilling and new. Gabe and I were bursting with excitement and wanted to share our new love. We decided to host a tasting party.

A tasting party is the perfect way to compare, educate and truly savor whatever it is that you are tasting. I might also add that for a couple of debt ridden, minimum wage earners it was a very economical way for us to entertain. For us, well really I should say me, the choice of what to taste was easy. Chocolate.

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Recently at a chocolate class I taught I relived my fond memories and facilitated another chocolate tasting. It was just as fun and eye opening as the first.

On white plates I arranged six small-ish pieces of chocolate. (There was  a seventh but that was flavored so I opted to keep that separate.

1. Hershey’s Special Dark

2. Lindt 70%

3. Valrhona Guanja 70%

4. Scharffen Berger

5. Trader Joes Swiss 70%

6. Felchlin

7. (the wild card) Theo Chocolate’s Bread and Chocolate bar (tiny rye bread crumbs are coated in butter sprinkled with salt then toasted in the oven and blended with dark chocolate – reminiscent of a Crackle bar – but so much more.)

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As with tasting wine there are many factors that come into play when tasting chocolate. There are five categories to examine, three of which happen before the chocolate even touches your lips.

Each chocolate sample was tasted separately while examining all five of the following categories.

Appearance – What does is look like? Sheen, bloom, even texture, color. Color should be even with a nice gloss, no discoloration, spots or cloudiness.

Snap – What does it sound like when you break it or bite into it? Should sound clear, crisp – this is a sign of a proper temper. The chocolate should not bend or crumble.

Aroma – Similar to tasting wine. This is a matter of subjectivity. Fruity, spicy, floral, etc. Anything goes. Do you smell leather, tobacco, dirty socks? Say it.

Mouthfeel – Smooth, not grainy or gritty. It can feel velvety or creamy, or it can be waxy or greasy.

Taste – Descriptors similar to aroma. Allow the chocolate to slowly melt on the tongue. Different tastes will emerge at different stages of consumption.

We discussed each sample separately then compared them to the others.

The results are always quite entertaining. Many people knew right away what number one was and if they didn’t know they did pick up the fact that there was no snap, the texture was gritty and the appearance was lackluster.

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Often tasters are surprised and impressed with their ability to discern the distinctions between each sample. To many chocolate eaters dark chocolate is dark chocolate, so to be able to compare seven samples side by side the differences become quite clear.

I was happy to hear that among the favorites of many were #3 and #6 (Valrhona and Felchlin). One lady said that she has been baking with Scharffen Berger for some time but failed to taste it on its own. When she did she realized that she did not much care for it and then proceeded to buy one pound of the Valrhona.

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In no way are these tastings meant to trick the participants. If #1 is truly their favorite that’s great. When trying wine, many sommeliers will tell you that you need to trust your own instincts and don’t let experts and a price tag tell you what you do and do not like. A tasting is a very entertaining way to exercise your taste buds and to figure out what chocolate suits you.

To learn more about hosting tasting parties check out this great book.

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Hosting and being a part of a tasting club is a great experience. It can be as formal or relaxed as you like. I hope you try it and if you do let me know how it goes!

 

18 Responses to “Tasting Chocolate”

  1. Robby

    I love this idea ASH!!! Any other ideas for combos. Can’t wait to try this with other friends!!!
    Robby Johnson
    Bellingham, Wa

    Reply
  2. artisansweets

    There are so many great ideas. Our next tasting party will be tasting cheese. We don’t quite know the format yet.
    You can also do wine and beer. I’ve even hear off apple, honey, olive oil and balsamic vinegar tastings.
    Also you could double it up and do a chocolate/wine or beer or a cheese/wine pairing tasting.
    I’ve attended one where we had 10 cheeses and 6 wines (red and white). We tasted each cheese with each wine and noted how they paired. Very interesting and very fun as much wine was consumed.
    I really hope you try it!! Let me know how it goes.

    Reply
  3. Christine

    What a crazy, cool, fascinating job you have! I am so jealous on so many levels … not only are you doing something that you love, but it also involves chocolate and pastries and coffee. Is there a better job in all the world?

    Reply
  4. Christine

    Not to mention wine and cheese, apparently. And writing. Those are all of the things I love rolled into one …

    Reply
  5. katrina

    What a wonderful idea! For some reason, I’ve suddenly become interested in chocolate, after a lifelong ho-hum attitude. Not any more – and look forward to a tasting party asap.

    Reply
  6. Elyse

    I love the idea of doing a chocolate tasting! What a great excuse to eat good chocolate and actually learn the subtle (and not so subtle) differences in taste. I think I should host a tasting for myself right now!

    Reply
  7. whatsonmyplate

    This was a really interesting post! And I love the idea of a chocolate tasting. Now i’m thinking of a world of things to “taste”. vanilla ice cream comes to mind.

    Tonya

    Reply
  8. Phoo-D

    Hi Ashley, I found your blog through the Times Online list and think it is just beautiful! Valrhona Guanaja is one of my favorite bar chocolates-excellent combination of wine and currant flavors among others.

    Reply
  9. artisansweets

    Christine – yeah. It’s not bad. I’m not planning on switching careers anytime soon!
    Katrina – Welcome to the dark side!!
    Elyse – Research is always a must.
    Eileen – Terra Keramik has some incredible dishes. I can not stop staring at my tea pot.
    WOMP – ohhh Ice cream would be good. Anything can be tasted and then when you’ve tasted enough try pairings!!
    Phoo-d – Thanks for the lovely compliment. You have great taste in chocolate if I do say so myself.
    Janet – Thanks for the link!!

    Reply
  10. My First Kitchen

    I LOVE this idea. I might do it one of my classes or just the next time the neighborhood ladies come over. This will get done SOON. And congrats on being on the top 50 list! That’s so awesome!!

    Reply
  11. Miette

    It was a very interesting post ! What a good idea to have a chocolate tasting ! I could try the same experience with friends and chocolate bars I easily find in France.

    Cheers,

    Miette

    Reply
  12. theboone

    On Friday we had some friends over – so Jacqi made everybody individual chocolate cakes (like a lava cake). I went riding my bike to a few stores looking for Valhrona. Needless to say the cakes turned out wonderful, but we also have a new appreciation for using quality chocolate in baking.

    Reply
  13. Rachel

    I want to do this. I’d be good at chocolate tasting. I have no idea how wine can taste oaky with hints of blackberry.

    Reply
  14. Poonam

    Hmmm, that was interesting. Looks like somethings will always remain mystery.

    I myself has been trying to solve the mystery of the legend that forces you to have “earn it before

    having it”, for a wile now. Could not understand much though.

    Let me know in case you get to understand the mystery of the Old Hound and the Legend

    By the way, good writing style. I’d love to read more on similar topics

    Reply

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