Here are some resources that I found to be helpful for hosting a chocolate tasting:
- All Chocolates
- Tasting Basics
- Selecting Chocolates
- Flavor Notes
- The Chocolate Review – if you register, they have a great PDF listing flavor notes
- The Nibble
- Real Simple’s Tasting Grid (PDF)
I started my guests off with a mini-talk about the rise of fine chocolate and chocolate connoisseurship. We reviewed cacao percentages, what single-origin and fair trade and organic means, and discussed the similarity of chocolate tasting to wine tasting.
Next, I described how to properly taste chocolate with all the senses. First, look at the bar and describe the appearance. Next, smell the chocolate, especially where it’s cleaved, and note the aromas there. According to one source, the olfactory system is responsible for 70% of the tasting experience, and smelling the chocolate sets the expectations for the upcoming flavor experience. Then comes sound and feel, when you note the snap and texture. Finally, to taste the chocolate, place it on the tongue and let the chocolate melt and coat the tongue. Note the tastes, textures, and finish. Mmm…
My guests were all provided with copies of the Real Simple pdf grid and a list of flavor notes from The Chocolate Review.
I had an assortment of bars and truffles for people to taste, though for a personal party, I would recommend tasting only truffles or only bars. I decided to get people in the tasting mentality with truffles because their flavors are bold and easy to describe. If you do provide bars and truffles, you may decide to start with bars if you want to avoid palate fatigue. I also was unable to stop my guests from overindulging in the truffles (who can blame them? They were gorgeous and varied and tempting), which led to eventual chocolate overload for some of my guests. For the next Calhoun College tasting, I will provide fewer truffles.
We used unsalted table crackers, sliced granny smith apples, and room temperature spring water for palate cleansers. A little dish of unground coffee beans was made available for people who wanted to cleanse their sense of smell. Make sure your guests understand that the beans are not for eating!
I divided the 16 bars (for personal parties, I recommend choosing far fewer) into three flights and ranked them mostly by cacao content, with a few exceptions that took flavoring into account. Tasting went from lowest to highest cacao percentage or weakest to strongest flavors. I tried to place the particularly unusual and/or strongly flavored bars at the end of a flight. The Vosges Mo’s Bacon Bar is a great talking point to end on (a little tip – make sure none of your guests keep kosher if you throw that one in the mix). After each flight, I had my guests discuss what they tasted, what they liked, and what they didn’t like, which also served to provide a little break for the palate.
All in all, it was a great success, and I’ve already been contacted about when to host the next one. Hooray for chocolate!