Eating chocolate is fun, but holding your own chocolate tasting is even better – we explore how you can do it from home
OK, admit it – many of us are guilty of getting a chocolate bar and scoffing it without much real thought. Chocolate is one of the easiest treats to indulge in – its smooth texture and irresistible cocoa taste make it one of the most delectable foods out there (in our opinion, anyway – we can’t help being biased).
However, luxury chocolate deserves more than just a few minutes of our time before it’s swallowed and out of sight – if you’re not sure what makes a luxury chocolate, then don’t worry, we’ve explored this already in an earlier blog. Holding a chocolate tasting is a great way to discover the beauty of high-quality chocolate; host your own and you’ll never look at cocoa in the same way again, we promise.
To make it even easier, you can join our Hotel Chocolat Tasting Club where we will send you monthly boxes of new chocolates for you and your chocolate tasting friends to sample!
Imagine your choosing a restaurant to eat in with friends: both the prices and menus are the same, but one has bright lights, cheap decorations, and messy tables, the other has dim lighting, stylish decor and pleasant background music. Which one do you choose?
The answer is probably the latter. This is because there is actually a fairly complex thought process behind the effect the setting has on your dining experience: for example, food marketers use colour psychology as a marketing strategy. Warm colours tend to make people feel hungry, whereas green and earthy tones convey that the food is organic or healthy.
Whilst you probably won’t want to paint your walls to orchestrate your food tasting, you may want to consider how the setting of the room you’re in affects the way your guests view the chocolate. Chocolate tasting should have an aura of suspense to it, as the tasting of the chocolate should be the main event that you work towards.
We suggest that you dim your lighting, play some calming background music and select a room where you guests will feel comfortable and at ease in, free from any distractions from loud outside noises. By creating an ambient setting, your guests will be able to fully focus on the chocolate tasting experience.
Choose the chocolate
A chocolate tasting wouldn’t be possible with only one chocolate to choose from. At Hotel Chocolat, we offer 13 different chocolates to taste with our Chocolate Tasting Adventure. Of course, how many you want to sample is completely up to you, but we suggest between five to fifteen, with enough for each guest to try.
Whilst you want to give your guests a selection to choose from for your chocolate tasting, you don’t want to select ones which will clash with each other. Either select a theme around your chocolate tasting or choose ones that complement each other.
For example, why not centre your chocolate tasting around a dessert theme? We’ve recreated some of the most loved puds, tarts and patisseries in chocolate form, delivering you flavours such as Eton Mess and Banoffee Pie in white, dark and milk chocolate.
However, chocolate tasting isn’t just about trying weird and wonderful flavours – you might want to sample the different notes of the cocoa bean itself. Single-origin chocolate is the best way to enjoy the varied flavours of this humble bean: we source our cocoa from seven different countries and craft them into chocolate bars so you can taste the flavour notes from around the globe. This can make the world of difference to the resulting taste of the chocolate: the flavour of the cocoa bean depends on the conditions it’s grown in, from the climate to the soil.
Serve your guests a selection of single-origin chocolates – from white, milk and dark – to let them explore all the multi-layered tastes of the cocoa bean. Expect a mixture of savoury, smokey notes, to fruity and tart tastes. For some added fun, why not include a piece of information to read out about each chocolate? Let your guests know about the country each individual bean was grown in so that they can experience a visual journey whilst they slowly savour a piece of rich and decadent chocolate.
If you’re still unsure about what makes single-origin chocolate so special, we’ve put the ultimate guide together in a previous blog for you to dive into.
How do I cleanse my palate for tasting chocolate?
Have you ever tasted orange juice after brushing your teeth? If you have, you’ll know how disgusting it tastes. This isn’t anything to do with your juice: the toothpaste affects your taste receptors by enhancing bitter flavours and suppressing sweet tastes. Although you won’t notice such an extreme change between chocolates, failing to cleanse your palate could result in an incorrect judgement of the chocolate.
Cleansing your palate for your chocolate tasting between each chocolate is important, as you don’t want any lingering notes of the previous chocolate to affect your judgement of the next sample. For example, if you eat a sweet and creamy white chocolate, and then follow it with a dark and punchy dark, you might find the dark too bitter.
An easy and quick way to avoid an incorrect verdict of the chocolate tasting is to have a palate cleanser at the ready to serve between each chocolate course. One of the easiest cleansers to give out is a jug of water filled with sliced lemons – the acidic nature of lemon means that it refreshes your mouth after a few sips.
If you’ve served a spicy chilli chocolate, then you may want to give your guests a small glass of milk to wash it down with. This is because the protein in the milk dulls the heart of capsaicin, the oily compound which gives chilli its warming heat. Another good palate cleanser is a piece of bread or a cracker, which absorbs the oil – just make sure your guests don’t fill up too much on starches.
If you don’t have any of this to hand, then fresh and light foods are a good way to break up the courses of your chocolate tasting: pieces of sliced apple, melon or celery are a great way to refresh the mouth, prepping your guests for the next chocolate delight.
How to serve the chocolate
This sounds like an obvious thing – surely you just put it on a plate and let everyone pick their chocolate? Wrong – there’s even psychology behind how you serve your chocolate.
Charles Spence, an experimental psychologist at Oxford University, has dedicated his research to how our environment affects our food and drink. Writing in ‘The Perfect Meal: The Multisensory Science of Food and Dining’, Spence argues that the shape and colour of the dinnerware can affect the overall taste of the food – white plates enhance sweet flavours, whereas black, angular plates make savoury foods shine more.
It isn’t just the plates you’ve got to consider – thinking about how your guests should eat the chocolate can also affect your chocolate tasting. According to researchers from the journal ‘Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin’, people enjoy foods more if they experience them in fun and novel ways. This is because we’re forced to pay more attention to our food, and we’re more immersed in the eating experience.
If you’re not sure how to make your chocolate tasting a little more different, then why not serve chopsticks alongside each chocolate and encourage guests to use them? Or, give out blindfolds to each person – not only does this make eating the chocolate more exciting, but it also takes away the dominant sense of vision, forcing you to pay more attention to the taste, sound and feel of the chocolate.
How do you appreciate chocolate?
As we’ve already mentioned, luxury chocolate isn’t just there to be gobbled down in a few moments. With a chocolate tasting, you should encourage your guests to fully tap into each of their senses with every chocolate you bring out.
Ever thought to sniff chocolate? Maybe not, but it certainly evokes a mouth-watering sensation when you do. This is because chocolate contains beta-ionone, a chemical which is also found in perfume and essential oils. These compounds make us want to either eat the chocolate, spray the perfume, or buy the flowers – the scent is integral to the experience.
These findings have been published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, where Dr Carolin Seyfried, a researcher at the Technical University of Munich, wrote that the compounds in chocolate “create a unique sensory experience”. By encouraging your diners to smell the chocolate before they taste it, you’re heightening their sensory experience, making the chocolate all the more enjoyable.
Sound can play a big role in how you experience a food – but this doesn’t mean you’ll be able to hear noises by holding the chocolate up to your ear. The sound of chocolate should stem from how well it breaks.
You can normally tell if luxury chocolate really is high quality if it has that satisfying snap – encourage participants in your chocolate tasting to hold a piece of chocolate up to their ear and break it.
Whilst this might feel a bit silly, it can impact their chocolate experience – a 2007 study carried out by scientists from the University of Leeds determined that crunchiness was an incredibly important factor when constructing the perfect BLT, suggesting the sound of food is more important than you may think.
This should be the final process in your chocolate tasting, but this doesn’t mean your guests should consume their chocolate in one, swift bite. Instead, encourage them to place the chocolate on their tongue, letting all the nuanced cocoa notes slowly release from the gentle warmth of your mouth.
This means that, not only do they savour the chocolate for longer, but their other senses can also pick up on the qualities of the chocolate. For example, the smell of chocolate becomes enhanced when heated, enabling your guests to breathe in the deep and intricate aromas of cocoa.
Can you do a virtual chocolate tasting?
Have a friend who can’t make your chocolate tasting? Don’t worry – you can still orchestrate a chocolate tasting experience virtually over apps such as Skype, Facetime or Zoom, enabling you to speak face-to-face with family friends, no matter where they are in the world.
Although you can’t control the setting they’re in, you can select the chocolate which is going to be sampled. At Hotel Chocolat, we can deliver right to your doorstep, so you and your loved ones can conduct your own virtual chocolate tasting. Simply share a list with the participants, numbering the order you want to eat your chocolates in. For some added entertainment, why not throw in a few unusual facts about chocolate, or encourage everyone to partake in our chocolate quiz?
Of course, if you’d rather let someone else be the host, then we offer a variety of chocolate tasting experiences, from our tasting adventure, which mainly focuses on the individual tastes of each chocolate, to our bean to bar experience, where you have a go at making the chocolate yourself! Whether you attend a chocolate tasting or not, next time you eat your chocolate, make sure you savour it – it’s worth it, we promise!