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Chocolate Tasting Guide (part 1) Mindful Tasting

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)

tastingguide senses

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.

1. Appearance

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.

chocolate appearance

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.

untempered
untempered chocolate sets with a bloom

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.

2. Sound

Listen to your chocolate. It is calling your name… ūüôā 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.

3. Touch

Cocoa butter melts at 34¬įC (93.2¬įF), 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.

pieceofchoc

4. Smell

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.

choc bars

5. Taste

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.

tastingguide1

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. 
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Some like it hot (chocolate)

hotchoc1

Without even setting a goal for it, I just happened to follow a morning routine from the 1st of January: ramble through my stash of craft chocolate bars or hot chocolate flakes, choose one, decide whether I’ll use milk or water, grab my frother and after a few minutes I’d cozy up with my hot chocolate before starting the day.

Think about for a second, what comes into your mind when you think about hot chocolate? My earliest memory is from my childhood when my grandmother used to prepare a traditional hot cocoa drink using unsweetened cocoa powder, then there was the rise of the instant cocoa powder (‘blame the bunny’) that even I could mix up with cold or hot milk. For a long time, hot chocolate meant a cocoa powder based drink, although I sometimes sacrificed a leftover Easter bunny or chocolate Santa, only issue being that they never mixed well and were way too sweet.

An interesting language fact is that in Hungarian we have two separate words for hot cocoa drink and hot chocolate. The former is referring to the cocoa powder-based drink, the latter to the drink made with hot chocolate mix or real chocolate. So when travelling abroad, I had many disappointing experiences of ordering hot chocolate or chocolat chaud, and instead of a creamy, thick hot chocolate I ended up with a hot cocoa drink. The situation is further complicated by the use of ‘sipping chocolate’ and ‘drinking chocolate’ in English, these are both used to describe the chocolate-based drinks and not hot cocoa drink.

choctreeperu
Hot chocolate made with Peruvian single-origin, bean-to-bar chocolate shavings by Chocolate Tree.

When you realise how endless are the possibilities with using real chocolate to make your hot chocolate instead of using cocoa powder it’s a real game changer. Of course, the craft chocolate bars that you collected during chocolate shows are more expensive than a tin of cocoa powder or hot cocoa mix, I was also quite reluctant at first to melt them down into a drink. Let me share with you a few tips and basic recipes that will certainly give you a delicious chocolate drink that you won’t regret.

‘Frankencocoa’ – recycled chocolates

The term “Frankencocoa” popped up on Instagram coined by Jess (@seattledessertgeek) referring to hot chocolate made with a mix of different pieces of chocolates, basically a “house blend” of your own. It’s a great way to use up odd ends and small bits of chocolates or bloomed pieces that just linger around in your cupboard or box and wouldn’t give you a great satisfaction if you’d decide to just eat them on their own. Bloomed chocolate especially has a very dry, chalky texture due to fat migration (cocoa butter separates and moves to the surface of the chocolate creating white spots). These pieces can get a second chance of revival in the form of a hot chocolate. You can also play around with different types, percentages and origins and see how the overall flavour changes from one recipe to the other. For example, instead of adding sugar, you can sweeten your drink by mixing in some white chocolate, that will also make it creamier.

frankencocoa
“Frankencocoa” blend with added cornflour for extra thickness

Taking it one step further, my friend Patricia from Eating the Chocolate Alphabet started to create what she calls a Chocolate Solera. Basically she collects a piece of all the unflavoured chocolates she tries throughout the year, and on 1st January 2019 she’ll whip up a gigantic Frankencocoa. I can’t wait to see the final mix and the resulting drink!

Thick or thin?

It’s all a personal preference whether you like your drink to be light, like a hot cocoa drink or thicker and creamier, more like a pudding. I personally prefer the thicker versions, but if the flavour is right, I don’t mind a lighter version either. Thickness and creaminess are easier to achieve with a milk-based drink due to the higher fat content. For extra creaminess, try adding some double cream to your recipe. Playing around with chocolate to liquid ratios, you can even do a ganache-based hot chocolate using only double cream and chocolate, this creates a decadent version and less is probably more, so opt for a smaller mug or teacup when serving as it can be particularly filling.

I firmly recommend you to use a mini-whisk or even better a milk frother to mix your hot chocolate as you need to create a perfect emulsion for a delicious result. A simple spoon is unlikely to do the job (I know this from my failed attempts as a child to melt down my Santa-army) as you need friction. Just like making a mayonnaise or vinaigrette, you’re mixing water with fat, so the whisk helps to break down each element’s molecular structure and help them bind together into an emulsion. The result is a homogenous, creamy liquid instead of tiny chocolate particles floating in milk (which happened to me as a child). Also, the frother just makes it so much fun to prepare the hot chocolate. I love how it swirls the liquid and I could watch for hours the foam that forms on top. I also noticed that the fresher the milk, the thicker and more stable your milk froth will be. Once I frothed for so long, and incorporated so much air into the milk that the entire mug of hot chocolate (a more liquid version) became a chocolate milk foam and more than doubled in size. I also use this little gadget when making water-based hot chocolate. In fact, I think it is even more important in this case. Funny to compare the difference of foam bubbles on top:

arachocolatchaud
Water-based (vegan) hot chocolate in Paris at Ara Chocolat made with Costa Rican dark chocolate.
milkhotchocolate
Bubbly foam on top of a hot chocolate mixed with whole milk.

Looking back to the traditional Mayan and Aztec versions of hot chocolate or recipes that are used up to now in Central and South America, the addition of cornflour/cornstarch is an easy way of thickening up your recipe without it becoming heavy. Depending on your recipe, you can end up with a very thick, pudding-like hot chocolate, that is even delicious as a treat when cold.

hotchocolateyork
Spanish-style hot chocolate made with 85% Colombian chocolate at York Cocoa House with a complimentary white chocolate button.

Choose your base

Then, there’s the big question: what base to use dairy or water? Of course, again, it is a personal choice. The main difference here is that because water has no fat content compared to milk (or milk alternatives such as rice/almond/hazelnut/coconut milk), in order to get a creamier hot chocolate, you need to increase the amount of chocolate and decrease the amount of liquid. The advantage of water-based hot chocolates is that you don’t compromise on the flavour, so make sure that you choose a very good quality chocolate. The nuances and unique flavour profile come through beautifully, but so do the flaws. Consequently, if you want to hide off-flavours, bitterness or unpleasant notes, using milk will help you to achieve a nicer result.

kokoacollectionricemilk
It’s harder to froth the mix if using rice milk for example, but keep experimenting as there are different brands and some are easier to use for baristas.
kokoacollectionwater
Preparing a water-based hot chocolate, first you pour in hot water just enough to cover the chocolate to melt it, then mix, and fill up with more water. Here using Kokoa Collection buttons.

If you’re using milk, the consistency and creaminess depends on the kind of milk you use. I always go for full-fat cow’s milk, because I prefer the flavour, but you can use semi-skimmed milk too. Fat-free milk would almost fall in the same category as water in this regard. Milk alternatives such as rice milk, nut milks, soy milk, coconut milk tend to give less creamy results than full-fat milk, but slightly creamier than water. Important reminder here is that these alternative milks have their own unique flavour (whether sweetened or unsweetened), so this will also influence the final flavour of your hot chocolate (same goes for goat’s or sheep’s milk, if you choose those).

kokoacollectionmadag
Kokoa Collection Madagascar mixed with water
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Kokoa Collection Madagascar mixed with whole milk

Add-ons

Of course, the possibilities are truly endless already, but you can go even further by adding some extras to your hot chocolate. I’m no maths person, but I’m sure you could easily have a different kind of hot chocolate for a whole year by trying all the possible combinations (and maybe even more!). Challenge accepted?

Depending whether you use any extra sweetener, you can play around with different sugars, honey varieties, sugar syrups (those coffee-syrup things), maple syrup, agave, coconut sugar, or any other alternative you have on hand. Just bear in mind again, these will alter the final flavour of your drink.

tchogoldenmilk
Tcho Chocolate’s Golden Milk bar was a great base for a spicy, warming hot chocolate, but you can add the spices yourself as well to create your own version.

Spices are another great way to customise your hot chocolate. Cinnamon, vanilla, gingerbread spice mix, nutmeg, chilli, cardamom, star anise, chai spices are some of the easiest options. You can also be a bit more adventurous and try a version of golden milk using turmeric and ginger or add matcha powder. If you can find freeze-dried fruit powders, you can make fruity hot chocolates. Strawberry and raspberry go well with dark, milk and white chocolate equally. Another option is using flavour drops (you can get them in the baking aisle of supermarkets or specialist shops like Lakeland) and make orange, lemon, mint or marzipan flavoured (if using almond extract) hot chocolates.

Although I’m personally not a big fan of marshmallows, it’s fun when they melt into your hot chocolate. I was converted by Pump Street Bakery who put a giant vanilla marshmallow on top of their single origin hot chocolate, and I was just blown away how creamy, frothy the drink was because of this. (I’m not sure I’d say the same about those pink and white mini mallows you can get in supermarkets and that smell like plastic bags… ouch.)

pumpstreet
Pump Street Bakery’s in-house hot chocolate using their Grenada bean-to-bar chocolate topped with a giant vanilla marshmallow (and accompanied by their amazing Eccles cake)

Adults-only

A splash of rum, Irish cream or Cointreau? Again, whatever your heart desires. Just make sure no kids go near your mug. And while we’re here, have you ever thought about mulled wine hot chocolate? Sounds crazy right? I saw this recipe in one of my favourite chocolate books, Adventures with Chocolate by Paul A. Young. Now, he is the one known for his truly adventurous and unique flavour combinations (think his Marmite truffle or the more recent Beef dripping caramel), so I knew this will be phenomenal. The recipe calls for a water-based hot chocolate with added cocoa powder, mulling spices, sugar, clementines and of course red wine. The result? Mind-blowingly delicious. I’ll share it with you in my next post along with other hot chocolate recipes that I love.

hotchoccookies

Hot chocolate is not just for kids, I hope this post made you realise that. With creativity and good ingredients, you can create delicious hot chocolates that will delight you and give you a boost of energy and happy feelings (chocolate triggers endorphin release in your brain, like when you’re in love). “It’s like a warm hug from the inside” we tend to say, and it’s true. Use the best ingredients you can find and you’ll be rewarded with not just a hot drink, but with all the benefits it will bring to your day and life.

In a follow-up post, I’ll share with you my experience of having a hot chocolate each day as well as my favourite recipes. Until then, please share your hot chocolate thoughts in the comments below.

 

 

Disclaimer: This post reflects my true and honest opinion and I wasn’t paid or recompensed in any way to write it or to include the above-mentioned brands or products.

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6 Highlights of the London Chocolate Show 2017

cacao pods

Better later than never, here’s my personal recap of the UK’s biggest chocolate event of the year, the London Chocolate Show. This is part of the Salon du Chocolat world series, and this year was the fifth occasion that the British capital welcomed chocoholics, chocolate makers, chocolatiers and cacao producers from around the world.

cacao pods
Happy Beetle with two fresh cacao pods from the Dominican Republic

I hardly exaggerate if I say that I was waiting for the 15th October more than Christmas. There’s of course plenty of other chocolate events that I’d love to go to, like the NorthWest Chocolate Festival in Seattle, but since I live in the UK, London is not to be missed. Even more so that I won not one but two (!) pairs of tickets to the show on Instagram! Huge thanks again to Zara’s Chocolates and Solkiki Chocolatemaker for giving away some of their free tickets. How incredibly lucky I was, don’t you think? This made it possible for me to bring along not just my husband and son (spoilt child, I know! – although too young for chocolate still, so I had to eat his share too…;)) but my mum and my best chocolate friend too! How cool is that?!

I decided to visit the show on Sunday, which is the third and last day of the event. There’s usually less of a crowd than on Saturday, although many products sell out by then. That’s how I totally missed out on Paul A. Young’s beef dripping caramels among others. But, you’ll see, there’s many benefits to go at the end as well.

Highlights of my LCS-2017 experience

  1. Fresh cacao
    Hands-down the most exciting thing at the show for me was to try a fresh cacao bean! I’ve seen fresh cacao pods before, in fact I got two fresh pods two years ago at the same event, but when I opened one of them, the pulp was already starting to dry onto the beans and it was tasting weird. This time however, at the exhibition area of the Dominican Republic, a lady was offering the fresh beans directly from an opened pod. It was wet and sticky, with a slightly acidic smell. I was so excited to try it! I thought that the white flesh will separate from the bean easily, but this wasn’t the case. So all I could do was just to suck on the pulp and discover that it tastes like a bit underripe banana. It was a green, tropical taste, so familiar. I bit the bean in half to see the inside. Beautiful deep purple colour was revealed under the white pulp.
    The texture of the bean was similar to a soaked walnut, it was bitter, but not like bitter dark chocolate. The taste had absolutely nothing to do with chocolate. Mind-blowing! How on Earth did someone find out how delicious this little bean can be?! Wish we could time-travel to see.
    The show welcomed many origin countries and cacao producing farms this year, so tasting fresh beans was possible at a few other stands as well. I think this is a wonderful idea, as this really brings chocolate closer to people.

    freshcacao
    This is chocolate before it’s born

    Last but not least, many of these exhibitors brought along fresh and dried cacao pods, or even real cacao tree plants (!). Do you think they travelled home with those? Of course not. They were throwing away all those beauties used as props in their decorations (it’s not possible to make chocolate from them, you see). Thankfully, I knew this, and about half an hour before the end of the event I asked one of the stands whether I could take a cacao pod with me. They said yes, and even seemed happy that there’s one less thing for them to think about. In about ten minutes, their stand was all emptied as others jumped on the offer too. It’s a win:win situation. I mean look at these beauties (my mum wanted one as well of course!).
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  2. Taste Tripper Tour
    A mini version of Jennifer Earle’s Chocolate Ecstasy Tours was a perfect opportunity for me to do a quick round of some of the highlights of the show based around the title “Weird & Wonderful”. The other mini-tours included origins or chocolate pairings (such as “Gin & Chocolate”), but I love adventurous flavour combinations, so went on the W&W tour. We followed Jennifer and her umbrella (just like a real tour guide!) zig-zagging around the stalls and other visitors to find the most exciting flavours available at the show. As it was Sunday, some of the truly weird stuff had gone already (such as “Curry Shrimp White Chocolate” by FuWan Chocolates or Paul A. Young’s “Beef Dripping Caramel”), but we still had a great time trying other flavours.

    tastetripper
    All the “weird & wonderful” chocolates and some of their makers (left: Villakuyaya, middle top to bottom: Paul A. Young, Zara Snell, Russel 5th Dimension, right: Aneesh Popat)

    6 tasting stops included: FuWan Chocolates (Dark Chocolate with Red Quinoa and Puffed Rice), Zara Snell from Winchester Fine Chocolates (Seven Seed Praline bar and her famous Moroccan Rose filled chocolate), Villakuyaya from Ecuador (Dark Chocolate with Masala Chai and Coconut & Vanilla), Aneesh Popat – The Chocolatier (Dark chocolate with chilli, popping candy and passion fruit, Dark chocolate with cardamom), 5Dimension Chocolates (filled chocolates: whole grain mustard, brie), Paul A. Young Fine Chocolates (Marmite truffle, Guittard’s single origin ganache).
    We tasted a lot in about half an hour and had the chance to talk to many of the actual chocolate makers or chocolatiers and received a tote bag with some soft drinks and snacks and a few discount coupons to use at the show. All this for £5 was a good investment I think.
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  3. Tree-to-bar chocolates
    Tree-to-bar means that the chocolate is actually made by the same people who own the cacao plantation, so it’s basically made at the source. Until recently, cacao producing countries and even farmers were selling all their crops to chocolate makers living in the US, Canada, Europe, etc. and they didn’t really get to taste their own chocolate. Luckily more and more farmers and cocoa producers had the opportunity to start producing their own chocolate and now looking to sell it worldwide and not just on their local market. The new kids on the block like FuWan Chocolates represent places like Taiwan (I seriously had no idea that Taiwan is a cacao producing country, but hey welcome!), SVG Cocoa – Vincentian Chocolate from St Vincent and the Grenadines (hint: it’s in the Caribbean above the island of Grenada).

    treetobar
    As close to the origin as you can get – chocolates made at the plantation

    Why is it such a big deal? Because more people can realise how wonderfully diverse cacao can be and also getting a closer contact with farmers can help to raise awareness about cacao farming conditions, issues and challenges all along the supply chain.
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  4. Talking to makers and chocolatiers
    Wandering around the chocolate show’s stalls, being attracted by colourful creations and the sweet smell of chocolate samples is of course a lovely feeling. But talking to the makers, getting inspired by their passion, determination, creativity, understanding a bit more what they are doing, what are their objectives, challenges, future plans, and sometimes even getting a warm, friendly hug from them is an invaluable thing for me. This isn’t just networking, this is sharing a passion for chocolate in this amazing chocolate community. I just love to be part of this. And I would like to take the occasion here to thank each and every person for their time to chat to me in the middle of this buzzing chocolate fair.

    makers
    Lovely chat to makers, distributors, industry experts, fellow chocolate lovers! (pictured left top Ali Chocolate Tree, bottom Albert 5th Dimension, middle top Ingemann Fine Cocoa Nicaragua, bottom Bob Solkiki, right Bo San Beau Cacao, not pictured: many more!)

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  5. Tasting Session with ICA
    The reason it would be great to attend all the days of the show is to be able to listen to more demos, talks and take part in tastings. This year, instead of watching live demos on stage in the chocolate theatre, I decided to attend one of the tasting sessions organised by the International Chocolate Awards. They set up a booth where we could sit down around a table and taste some award-winning chocolates while talking about different aspects of the chocolate industry. It’s always a bit of a hit-and-miss because one never knows who will turn up to these tastings. There were some people like me, fine chocolate aficionados, and also some people who just generally like chocolate, but might still be unaware of the difference between mass-produced and fine flavour chocolates. The presenter has to accomodate everyone, which went reasonably well in this particular case.
    In the first part, we tasted several award-winning micro-batch chocolates by Hummingbird, Duffy’s, Solkiki, and FriisHolm and compared flavour notes, terroir, different chocolate making styles. Micro-batch is defined by the size and type of equipment the makers use, not necessarily by the amount of chocolate they make in a single batch.
    In the second part, Sophie Jewett from York Cocoa House was talking about their new project of building a totally transparent chocolate factory and learning space for chocolate lovers and chocolate professionals alike : the York Cocoa Works. They are building on York’s chocolate heritage but bringing to the table the modern challenges of cacao farming, supply chain, chocolate manufacturing, customer education. Part of this is their new bean-to-bar chocolate line, from which we tasted a few origins. Added bonus of these sample was that they were made there and then at the show from cocoa beans coming from Casa Luker‘s (Colombia) and Akesson’s (Madagascar) stand among others. They had ovens to roast the beans and they also brought several small grinders and let the visitors crack and shell the beans, add them to the grinder, and add further ingredients like sugar to the mix. Their master chocolatier was doing a demo on hand tempering on a marble slab, moulding the bars that were later used as samples on the stand and at our tasting session as well.

    chocart
    Artworks recreated in chocolate, you can tell why Mona Lisa is smiling ūüôā

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  6. Chocolate Art exhibition
    Overwhelmed by the number of stands to visit, chocolates to taste, talks and tastings to attend, I always find it hard to set aside some time to look at the additional exhibitional areas of the show. This time was no different, but I tried to have a quick look and I really liked what I saw. Making chocolate is an art in itself, but this was brought to a whole new level at the show. Chocolate was used here as paint, and we could see the chocolate smile of Mona Lisa, and the works of Munch, Mondrian, Van Gogh, Gustav Klimt, Michelangelo or even Banksy recreated in chocolate. Wouldn’t it be fun to have chocolate paintings at home? If you get bored of them, you can just eat them or melt them down in a hot chocolate or brownie ūüôā (haha, just kidding!)

+ and of course my amazing chocolate haul from the show including some of the newest makers

chocolate haul
Loads of new chocolate for me to try! Love the tote bag from Beau Cacao. Not pictured: filled chocolates from 5th Dimension and Paul A. Young, just to be fully honest with you)

Did you attend the London Chocolate Show 2017? What were your highlights? Tell me in the comments below.

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7 things that can ruin your chocolate tasting experience & how to avoid them

Before even saying anything about chocolate or giving you a tasting review of some chocolates, let me show you a list of things that can make it difficult for you to get the most out of your chocolate tasting experience. You might be completely new to craft chocolates or someone who has already started to explore them, either way, you want to make sure that you get what you pay for. But neglecting some (or all) of these points can literally leave you with a bad mouthfeel.

choc bars

I listed the main factors that can influence either the flavour of the chocolate itself or your ability to unlock and discover these flavours through your senses. After each point, you will find some tips that can help you prevent these and fully enjoy the chocolate you are tasting.

  1. Strong odours: If you wonder why your favourite chocolate smells and tastes like garlic, curry, smoke or like an old cupboard, then probably you have left it in a wrong place. Bad storage solutions can cause your chocolate to take on other smells and flavours due to its cocoa butter content that carries the original flavours of chocolate but can also act as a magnet to other surrounding odours.
    Solution: Reseal the packaging as much as possible, as it acts as a barrier, or repackage the chocolate in foil and keep it in an airtight box or zip-locked bag.
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  2. Too cold: Chocolate sitting in the fridge can lose the strength of its original flavours and runs the risk of taking on other flavours (see above). In addition, cocoa butter will melt very slowly, so it can take a while to unlock the flavour of the chocolate as you taste it.
    Solution: A plain chocolate bar has a long shelf-life and doesn’t have to be refrigerated.¬†Find a dark, dry and cool place (16-18¬įC) to store your chocolates. Use plastic boxes or resealable bags to ensure your bars are well protected. Let the chocolates come to room temperature before tasting.
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  3. Too warm: If your chocolate has white spots on its surface, it was probably somewhere too warm (above 25¬įC). Chocolate melts at a relatively low temperature that causes cocoa butter to rise to the surface (hence the white spots) when it becomes solid again after cooling. This doesn’t alter the flavour, but the texture may become grainy, gritty leaving you with an unpleasant mouthfeel. It is not mould though, so don’t throw it out. If you can’t bear to look at it, just use it up to make a delicious hot chocolate or brownie.
    Solution: If you live in a hot climate, a wine cooler is a good option to store chocolates, as it is not so cold as a fridge and there is less condensation. Otherwise stick to solution #2.chocolate bloom .
  4. Blocked nose: When having a cold or suffering from hay fever, our nose has trouble picking up smells. This leads to a difficulty in tasting flavours as smell is closely linked to taste.
    Solution: Free up your airways to ensure a good cooperation between your smell and taste receptors in your nose and mouth. Also, you can give your nose a break by smelling something different like ground coffee, and then get back to smelling chocolate.
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  5. Numb taste buds: If you are struggling to taste different flavours, maybe your taste buds are numb from what you previously ate or drank. Coffee, tea, spicy dishes, smoking, drinking alcohol can all have a strong and long aftertaste and not letting you taste your chocolate in all its glory.
    Solution: Avoid drinking coffee, tea, alcohol, eating very spicy dishes or smoking before a chocolate tasting to ensure you have a clean palate and maximise your taste buds’ ability to pick up different flavours. Eating tart apple slices, bread cubes or plain polenta, drinking (sparkling) water (at room temperature) all act as a great palate cleansers both before and during chocolate tasting.
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  6. Too much distraction: if the TV or radio is on, or you are doing something else at the same time, it will be harder for you to concentrate on your sensory experience, so you might not be able to detect all the flavour nuances in the chocolate.
    Solution: Cut out any audio-visual or other distraction and concentrate on the chocolate you are tasting using your senses.
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  7. Lack of confidence in your tasting skills: this feeling can stop you from thoroughly enjoy your experience, especially if you are desperately trying to find flavour notes listed on the packaging or mentioned by another taster at the table.
    Solution:¬†Don’t be afraid to express any feelings, thoughts, associations that come up as you taste your chocolate, even if it’s hard to find the words. Tasting chocolate is very subjective and can be influenced by so many factors, that there is no right or wrong opinion. The more chocolate you taste, the easier it will be for you to compare different flavours and to describe them.

Have you ever experienced any of the above issues when tasting chocolate? Do you have any personal tips to add to this list? Let me know in the comments below.