Chocolate: How to throw a chocolate tasting party

Share the chocolate  - and the calories - with friends and family by throwing a chocolate tasting party.

Chocolate tasting party: Chocolate history and glossary
Photography by Christine Picheca
There was a time not so long ago when chocolateconnoisseurs had a choice between the Hershey Bar and the Nestle Jersey Milk Bar, and that was about it. But now the chocolate scene has exploded with bittersweet, semi-sweet, cuvee, fair trade, organic, and single plantation varieties. What was once available only in specialty food stores can now be found in your local grocery or drugstore. How to choose your favourite? Have a chocolate tasting – even better, invite your friends for a chocolate tasting party!

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.

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