When I was thinking about the design elements of the advent calendar, I wanted something natural and minimalist. It was a true lightbulb moment when snowflakes came into my mind and I remembered that there aren’t any identical snowflakes, every single snowflake is different. ❄
I thought that this helps me show that craft chocolates are unique too, you can’t find identical bars even made by the same maker or from the same beans. There are so many variables along the way and that’s all the beauty of it. I like to embrace the diversity of flavours and textures and only expect consistency from makers in terms of quality of ingredients used, quality of processing but not a consistent flavour. . I particularly like how the screen-printing and white digital printing appear on the kraft paper and the cardboard lid. The touch of red from the ribbon gives it the festive feel and a pop of colour.
Here I wanted to create a sort of blank (neutral and natural) canvas for the wonderfully diverse (and colourful) chocolates to shine through. So from the outside you have a minimalist, natural look, and as you open it, you’ll get a confetti of colours, flavours and textures.
I knew all that folding, hole-punching, cutting, ribboning, filling, packing will be so so worth it! I can safely say that I touched every single sachet, in every single box. I had a very limited starting budget, but more importantly I wanted the design to reflect the chocolates inside. Craft chocolates, handmade, small batch chocolates. It was so natural to create a handmade box for them. Wish I was as quick as on these videos (4*faster). 😄
Day 2 of #meetthemakerweek is about inspiration for the product. I’ve always loved having an advent calendar. First, of course there were the cheap supermarket ones with tiny milk chocolate shapes, this was the standard for many many years. ✨
Then, especially since I was in a relationship, we created custom-made calendars for each other with my (now) husband. I remember one year, I got a calendar with origami folded pockets, each with a short quote from the Game of Thrones books and a chocolate from Thornton’s. ✨
Later I had one with only Niederegger marzipan squares. I also created calendars for him, sometimes with chocolate, sometimes with fun activities. ✨ This red-white-green crochet calendar was also handmade by me in 2014. I wanted something that we can keep and refill each year with whatever we come up with. ✨
And in 2015, I quite frankly fell down the craft chocolate rabbit-hole 😄. Starting in Belgium, where we spent 9 months, then coming back to the UK and attending as many chocolate fairs as possible, plus a short trip to Switzerland, and my stash just got to an unmanageable size (still happening 🙄). And it was just so natural to dig into it and fill up the calendar with some of those bars. I loved it! Every evening we sat down, opened the little foiled pieces and tried to guess what they were. I posted them here on IG and many people loved the idea, some started their own versions too. And since then, I just kept doing this each year. ✨
I was browsing to see if any bigger company had done something like this, but I couldn’t find any. So after launching my little retail business I took a big step by starting to work on this dream project in January 2018.
I launched Little Beetle Chocolates last year as an experiment to retail British craft chocolates in my local community at village fairs and private tasting events. But I had this idea of a mixed craft chocolate advent calendar on my mind and I just couldn’t let go. In January, I had a moment when I knew, I have to do it now. So I reached out to the makers I knew to see how they respond. Everyone was so happy and enthusiastic about it, that I just kept going.
2018 was all about this small box filled with 24 different chocolates for me. There was no day spent without working on it in some way. It challenged me on so many levels, it taught me so many lessons (about planning, communication, negotiation, logistics, finances, administration, laws and regulations, limits and restrictions, and of course unexpected issues and happy surprises too).
This is the Taste.Better.Chocolate. Advent Calendar – limited edition.
I am so grateful for all the support that I’ve been getting from my Kickstarter backers, my IG followers and members of my FB group, and also anyone who heard about this project and sent me a message or ordered a calendar. It feels amazing to see posts from all around the world, connecting me to my virtual chocolate lover community through this unique product that I came up with, designed and put together.
This week, through these Meet the Maker posts you’ll be able to go a bit more behind the scenes with me on how this project came about. And on Saturday we’ll eat the first piece of chocolate! So exciting!
Eating chocolate is a no-brainer. You open the package, break off a piece (or bite right into the bar? :)), scoff it in, swallow, repeat. Ok, but what about TASTING chocolate? That is a whole different experience. I’m talking about mindful tasting here. When you sit down, take a moment to enjoy a piece of quality chocolate, indulge and use all your senses. It can be quite a meditative experience and I’d encourage you to practise everyday.
In case you feel a bit lost and don’t know where to start, I created a small flash-card that shows you the basic steps and guides you through your tasting. In today’s post I will give you some more detailed guidance on the first part of the card which covers the topic of mindful tasting by using your senses.
You will find the other sections in the upcoming posts:
part 2 (the bean-to-bar process)
part 3 (the cocoa belt – cacao origins)
part 4 (the flavour wheel)
Mindful tasting: use your senses!
The most important thing that you can do to practise mindful chocolate tasting is to really tune in with all your senses and pay attention to what you feel and discover through each of them. Some of them will give you cues to assess the quality of the chocolate, others will help you broaden your flavour spectrum.
We almost always take our sight for granted, and we don’t even think about it. Although it is one of the most important senses that helps us decide to buy a chocolate or not. Our eyes are constantly drawn to harmonious colours, images so the packaging of a chocolate bar is the first thing we notice. And further on, when you are about to taste a chocolate, you should also pay attention to what you see.
You can look for signs of good craftsmanship and check that the chocolate has a nice sheen, glossy surface, which shows that the bar is in a perfect temper. Signs of heat damage or bad tempering include: dull surface, white spots or streaks. This means that the chocolate has lost its perfect crystalline structure either during production or while it was stored and transported.
Air bubbles or holes (popped air bubbles) show that the chocolate was either too thick (viscous) at production or that the maker didn’t manage to get rid of the bubbles by tapping the mould. This is not so much of an issue with solid bars (although it does affect the visual experience), but with any filled chocolates, the burst bubbles can let air and moisture enter the inside of the chocolate and start to grow mould. The same applies for cracks that can usually be seen on the bottom of the filled chocolates where they were capped. Filling can leak out and moisture can get inside and grow bacteria. The shelf life of such chocolates shortens considerably.
Chocolate dust is a phenomenon that happens usually when the chocolate wrapping is not tight enough and during transportation the chocolate gets bashed around inside the packaging so that the surface and corners get knocked off creating a fine powder and tiny pieces floating around in the packaging. This gets worse if the bar has something sprinkled on top as well.
Listen to your chocolate. It is calling your name… 🙂 Jokes aside, you can assess the quality of the temper by breaking a piece of chocolate in half. You should hear a sharp and loud snap. This means that the crystalline structure of your chocolate is perfect. If the chocolate is soft and crumbles as it breaks, and makes no snapping sound it is probably quite warm and your chocolate is getting out of temper. Bear in mind that the more cocoa solids a chocolate has the harder it will be to break it and the sharper the snap will be. Milk and especially white chocolate tend to have softer snap, but you should still be able to break them with a snap if stored at a proper temperature.
Cocoa butter melts at 34°C (93.2°F), so our body temperature is perfect for melting chocolate. The more cocoa butter a chocolate has the easier and quicker it will melt in your hands. That’s why you shouldn’t hold chocolate in your hand for too long. Even after a few seconds you will leave your fingermarks on the surface of a chocolate. By touching the chocolate you can also look for the smoothness of the surface. In case your chocolate appears dull because of getting out of temper (cocoa butter bloom), by rubbing the surface you can rub off the cocoa butter that separated and the surface will get a bit shinier again.
Our nose has more aroma and taste receptors than our tongue. It is very important to focus on using your smell if you really want to discover the chocolate (or other food) that you are tasting. To see how much difference it creates, experiment with the following:
hold the chocolate you are about to taste as far out from you as possible. With your other hand, hold your nose and only breathe through your mouth. Now, put the chocolate in your mouth and let it melt, move it around in your mouth, then swallow. Only release your nose when all the chocolate is gone.
repeat the tasting with the same chocolate but now bring the chocolate close to your nose and smell it before you put it in your mouth. As you let the chocolate melt and move it around in your mouth make sure to breathe through your nose all the way.
Mix up the two methods by starting with your nose held, then release just when the chocolate is completely melted in your mouth and you are about to swallow.
Compare your experience. The first tasting didn’t deliver much flavour, did it? It’s exactly like when you have a cold and a stuffed nose. You can’t taste much. Smelling your chocolate prior to tasting will enhance your tasting experience as you will be able to detect much more flavour.
Try not to smell the chocolate while it’s still inside the packaging as the smell of the wrapper can alter the aromas of the chocolate itself. Be careful not to have any strong smelling perfume on you, and don’t use perfumed handwash or cream (also don’t cut onions right before tasting – happened to me…!) as these can make it hard for you to smell the real aromas of the chocolate. If the room where you taste is a bit cool, you might not be able to smell much. You can try to warm up the chocolate in your palm a little bit so the melting cocoa butter can release the aromas more easily.
Finally, you get to put the chocolate in your mouth and taste it. There are various methods as to how should you do this. Some say never munch on the chocolate, be patient and wait until it melts completely in your mouth. But if you have a thick piece, this could take ages. So I recommend you to do an initial few chewing movements to chop up the chocolate into smaller pieces that will melt more quickly. Same applies for when you have inclusions such as nibs, nuts, or other things that need to be chewed. Again, you can play around with various methods to see how different your tasting experience becomes:
Slow tasting: Smell the chocolate, put it on your tongue, breathe trough your nose and wait until the chocolate melts completely in your mouth. Don’t chew, but you can move around the piece with your tongue. You can close your eyes and cover your ears to minimise audio-visual distractions and focus solely on your smell and taste. Try to catch every single flavour note, focus on the texture, mouthfeel (is it creamy, grainy, sticky, greasy, does it leave a film coating on your tongue, how easily does it melt), and pay attention to the aftertaste, how long does it linger, where can you taste it. Note whether the flavour is balanced, constant or does it create waves of flavour notes that develop one after the other. Where can you taste sweetness, sour and tart notes, is there any bitterness, astringency (your mouth drying out like when you eat walnuts or drink dry red wine).
Speedy tasting: smell the chocolate for a second, put it in your mouth, chew vigorously then swallow. The whole process shouldn’t take more than a few seconds. What flavour note was the most dominant? Did you detect sweetness or astringency? What happened with the aftertaste? How did this affect the texture and mouthfeel? The idea behind this type of tasting is that you can still find nice flavour notes, but compared to the slow tasting, you are missing out on so much! As the cocoa butter is the flavour carrier, it releases the flavour componds as it melts. If you just chew the chocolate and swallow, the cocoa butter doesn’t have enough time to fully melt and unlock all the flavours.
You can use various types of visual aids to put into words what you just tasted. The flavour wheel on the reverse of this tasting guide is there for you, but feel free to use other flavour wheels or maps you can find. More on visual tasting aids in part 4 of this series.
Don’t forget to check out the follow-up parts of this series: part 2, part 3, part 4.
To maximise your tasting experience check out these other tips too before you start.
All the photos used are taken by Lilla/Little Beetle Chocolates and may or may not be having a Little Beetle Chocolates logo watermark on them. Any other image used will be clearly referenced. Re-using any of the images from this blog is forbidden, unless authorised by Little Beetle Chocolates.