How to Host a Chocolate Tasting Party


The holiday decorations are in place.  The house is glowing with candles.  This is the perfect time for a Chocolate Tasting Party.

Fully appreciating the experience of high quality chocolate is a memory that will last beyond the holiday season.  Many have compared chocolate to wine tasting, but in fact, when savored slowly, the flavors found in dark chocolate far exceed those in red wine.

Every type of chocolate bar has a unique set of flavors based upon the cacao bean, where it was grown, soil conditions, amount of rainfall, number of hours in the sun, the way it is processed, etc.  It is important to taste the chocolate slowly so that you can decipher the fullest flavor.

Process:

Like any tasting, begin with a clean palate.  Eating a small wedge of apple or piece of bread is a good way to clean your palate.  Follow with a sip of seltzer water.

Begin with a piece of chocolate that is large enough to accommodate the full flavor cycle.  1/2 oz pieces are ideal.  A piece that is too small will melt too fast and will not give you the time to experience the full cycle of flavors.  Think of it as a symphony.  The time it takes for the chocolate to melt will be different from the middle to the end and it is important to pay attention to how the flavors change from the start to the finish in order to appreciate the full experience.

Make sure the chocolate is not cold.  If it has been stored in a wine cooler, allow the chocolate to rest at room temperature before opening.  Also, make sure your mouth is not cold.

Begin with the lowest percentage of cocoa and work up.

Follow the five senses:

SIGHT:  Look at the surface of the chocolate.  It should be free from blemishes and white marks (bloom).  Does the bar have a radiant sheen?  Look at the design molded onto the bar.  Premium chocolate should have a silky matte sheen and even texture.  Look at the color of the chocolate.  Some individuals think that all chocolate is the same color of brown, but in reality it comes in a multitude of tints ranging from pinks, purples, reds, orange and black.  Turn the chocolate in the light to detect the different shades.

TOUCH:  The chocolate should never feel rough or grainy

SOUND:  Break the piece in half.  It should snap in a sharp line along the broken edge of the chocolate.  If the chocolate bends, it is either too warm or it was improperly tempered.

SMELL:  Smell the chocolate.  You may identify a range of up to 400 pleasant and intense aromas.  Your sense of taste and smell work together.

TASTE:  Allow the chocolate to warm on your tongue and begin to slowly melt.  Do not chew the chocolate.

Pay attention to the taste and texture as the chocolate melts.  Is it smooth, grainy, dry or creamy?  What flavors do you distinguish?  How do they change from beginning to end? Does a strong flavor linger in your mouth or does it quickly disappear?  Is it fruity?  What are the flavor notes?  lime?  grapefruit?  nuts?  spice?

Following are a few examples of related aromas and flavors listed on the Lindt chocolate website:

Spice:  vanilla, cinnamon, liquorice
Nuts:  almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts
Roasted:  coffee, caramel, tobacco
Fruit:  red berries, citrus, dried fruit
Flowers:  rose, jasmine, orange blossom
Vegetable:  mushrooms, moss, fresh grass
Miscellaneous:  earth, milk, butter

Write down the notes for each piece of chocolate
This is a good way to concentrate on the full flavors.

Here is a sample:

CHOCOLATE:  Lindt Peru 80% Bar
AROMA:  rich cocao, molasses, earth
TEXTURE:  smooth surface, clean snap, melts in hands
MELT, FLAVOR & FINISH: smooth melt (not grainy), notes of coffee and chocolate, nectarine and citrus, long finish.

Before trying another type of chocolate, cleanse your palate with a slice of apple or piece of bread and a sip of seltzer or water.

Limit the number of different varieties of chocolate to 5-7.

What Type of Chocolate is Good For A Tasting?

Any high quality chocolate will work.  It is also fun to try chocolate from different manufacturers.  Also remember that 70% Madagascar will not taste the same as a 70% Ghana

It is also good to get a brief description of each type of chocolate from the manufacturer.

How to Organize the Tasting:

 1.  Schedule the date  (mid afternoon or mid evening is best)

2.   Invite 6-8 chocolate loving friends

3.  Select the menu (choose 5-7 different types of chocolate)  Plan on 1/2 oz per person per variety

4.  Create a sheet for notes

Here is a sample:

CHOCOLATE:  Lindt Peru 80% Bar
AROMA:  rich cocao, molasses, earth
TEXTURE:  smooth surface, clean snap, melts in hands
MELT, FLAVOR & FINISH:  smooth melt (not grainy), notes of coffee and chocolate, nectarine and citrus, long finish.

5.  Set up a table with each chocolate on its own plate

6.  Provide a palate cleanser at each space (apple slice, piece of bread, glass of seltzer)

7.  Give a brief talk about chocolate and how to taste it.  Also mention any details known about the manufacturer.

8.  At the end of the evening have everyone vote for their favorite chocolate

9.  For additional fun, hold a mystery chocolate competition where guests guess the type of chocolate and cocoa content.  Winners could take home a bar of the chocolate or a gift basket filled with various chocolate bars.

Some of the chocolates I have used in tastings:

Ghiradelli individually wrapped squares
Lindt
Amano
Christopher Norman
Green and Black’s
Valrhona
Armedei
Jacques Torres
Vere

If you are on a budget, combine lower end chocolate with a higher quality chocolate.  The contrast in some cases will be dramatic.

Trader Joe’s Chocolate Palette (available around Christmas) is reasonably priced and offers the following:

Venezuela:  70% cocoa  unique, mild taste with hints of floral and dried grasses.
Tanzania:  73% cocoa.  Subtle fruitiness with a fine hint of vanilla
Papua New Guinea:  70% cocoa.  Marked fruity taste with a touch of spice
Dominican Republic:  70% cocoa.  Slightly nutty notes and a sharp finish
Peru:  60% cocoa.  Well-rounded with subtle jasmine notes and a clean finish.
Ghana:  70% cocoa.  Peppery notes and spicy aromas with a bitter dark chocolate bite.
Ecuador:  60% cocoa.  Deep chocolate aroma with floral and fruit notes.
Sao Thome:  70% cocoa.  Intense cocoa flavor with an exciting bitterness.

Enjoy this wonderful time of year.  I'd like to make it a yearly tradition to have a chocolate party every December.  Would you like to join the fun?

Best holiday wishes,

Annette





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