Chocolate tasting party background: How cocoa beans become chocolate
There are many types of cocoa trees grown in different regions along the equator including Africa, Mexico, South America, the Caribbean, Indonesia and Malaysia. The chocolate we eat is derived from three distinct cocoa bean varieties:
- Forastero (the hardiest and most bitter)
- Criollo (most delicate and more flavourful)
- Trinitario (a hybrid of the other two). Almost all the chocolate we consume is a blend of these varieties.
Cocoa trees grow football-shaped pods that contain cocoa seeds - or beans - that are turned into chocolate. The pods are picked and opened and the seeds and sugary pulp are left to ferment for a few days. This helps reduce the acidity of the beans and develop the flavour.
The seeds - or beans - are then dried in the sun before they are shipped to chocolate factories. The cocoa beans are then roasted like coffee beans to bring out their distinct flavour. The outer skin is removed and the internal kernel, or nib, is ground between stone discs and refined.
Sugar, vanilla, cocoa butter and emulsifiers (like lecithin) are added to make "eating" chocolate. This finished chocolate is tempered and molded into bars.
Chocolate tasting party glossary of terms:
Here is a glossary of terms to help you read chocolate labels and make informed choices.
Nibs: The internal kernel of the cocoa bean, usually ground into small pieces.
Cocoa Solids: The ground nibs.
Chocolate Liquor: The thick dark liquid that results when the nibs are ground down between disks and further refined between rollers.
Cocoa Butter: Each cocoa bean is made up of an outer hull, the kernel or nib, and cocoa butter. Chocolate with at least 32% cocoa butter ensures a fluid texture.
Cocoa: cocoa powder is what remains when all of the cocoa butter is removed from the liquor.
Conching: Part of the refining process when the chocolate is vigorously whipped to remove excess moisture and acid and achieve a smooth texture.
Tempering: The process where the chocolate is warmed stirred and cooled to create a smooth, glossy crisp finish.
Cocoa Content: Percentage of bar containing cocoa butter or chocolate liquor. The higher the number the less dilute the chocolate.
Unsweetened or Baking Chocolate: The refined chocolate with no sugar added.
Dark, Bittersweet Chocolate and Semi-sweet Chocolate: Chocolate whose cocoa solids range from 35% - 100%. Unsweetened, bittersweet and semi-sweet are all dark chocolate. Bittersweet contains less chocolate than semi, the amount depends on the manufacturer. The less sugar the more intense the chocolate flavour.
Milk Chocolate: Chocolate that contains more sugar at least 12% milk solids and at least 10% chocolate liquor. It has a milder chocolate flavour.
White Chocolate: Not chocolate at all because it does not contain any chocolate liquor or cocoa solids. It is a combination of milk products, sugar, vanilla, emulsifiers and cocoa butter or vegetable fat. The better white chocolate has a yellow look to it and contains cocoa butter rather than vegetable fat.
Cuvee: Chocolate that is a blend of different beans, most of the chocolate produced is cuvee.
Single Variety: Chocolate produced from a singe type of bean rather than a blend.
Single Origin: Chocolate produced from a single region or country.
Estate Grown, Single Plantation: Chocolate whose beans hail from only one plantation or estate.
Fair Trade Chocolate: Exporters share more of the profits with the farmers.
Page 1 of 2 — on page 2, find food, drinks and chocolate tasting entertaining tips.The chocolate tasting party
Food: Salty appetizers make a good accompaniment before the actual chocolate tasting when your guests are arriving. Cheese and crackers are a great pairing for chocolate. Have a cheese selection that includes some strong blues like Stilton or Gorgonzola. Salty food picks are also great to balance the sweetness of the chocolate – prosciutto-wrapped melon, spiced nuts or stuffed dates are all good choices.
Marzipan Stuffed Dates with Almonds
Prosciutto and Melon
Drinks: A glass of port pairs well with the cheese and the chocolate. Tasting the chocolate with a port or dessert wine is a fun way to experience the chocolate and will enhance and add to the complexity of flavours. Have a pitcher of room-temperature water ready for the tasters - cold water will keep the chocolate from melting in your mouth.
Set up: Choose up to six types of chocolate to taste, any more will be overwhelming. Set up small plates with a small piece per guest of each variety. Make sure the pieces are large enough for your guests to break so they can experience the “snap” of the chocolate. Display the labels under the plates of each variety. Have bread cut into slices and a bowl of tangerine sections or cut up pineapple available, the acidity of the fruit is a good palate cleanser between bites of chocolate.
The tasting: Look for a number of characteristics in the chocolate you taste - just as you would with wine. Start the tasting by breaking the chocolate piece and smelling the chocolate. Then, let the chocolate melt on your tongue to experience the full flavour of the chocolate.
Before you begin, have pens or pencils for each taster plus tasting sheets prepared listing the following:
- The names of the chocolates to be tasted
- The profiles of the chocolate to be experienced by each taster. Here are some of the profiles you might want to pay attention to when you and your guests taste:
Aroma: Rubbing a small sample between your fingers will bring out the aroma of the chocolate; consider how it smells before you eat it. You may smell florals, fruit, coffee or tobacco, caramel or spice. Hopefully you won’t smell burnt rubber, stale or rotten fruit smells – but be on guard for them as well!
Flavour: Look for balanced flavour, subtle acidity and sweetness. Look for the specific characters of the chocolate; you may detect caramel, spice, bananas, tobacco, cinnamon, or fruit.
Texture: Consider the texture in your mouth, or mouth-feel. Positive attributes of chocolate are firmness and that it melts effortlessly. It may be smooth, creamy, hard chalky, light or thick. Quality chocolate should not be waxy, sandy or grainy.
Finish: A long finish is considered desirable in chocolate – that is if the flavour of the chocolate lingers in your mouth after you have swallowed it. Look for a bitter, sweet, strong, or mild aftertaste.
Canadian Living's chocolate tasting party
The Canadian Living Test Kitchen conducted our own tasting of a flight of chocolate. Here were some of the highlights:
Michel Cluizel, Santa Domingo Single Plantation: Of the chocolate we tasted, we found this was our top pick. It tasted of bananas and rum and had a fine smooth texture and lingering berry flavoured finish.
Lindt 70% Dark: This selection had a nice shiny snap. It tasted slightly acidic with tobacco notes and a long finish.
Green & Black's Milk Chocolate: This organic, 34% cocoa selection smelled of vanilla with a sweet buttery taste. It had a creamy texture and melted smoothly with a lingering aftertaste.
Domari Latte Sel: This Italian selection has a very creamy, caramelly flavour that is lightly salted. Truly unique, delicious and liked by all!
Don't miss fresh updates on Fair Trade chocolate and more Green topics in Canadian Living's Green Column by our web editor Daniela Payne.