The coronavirus outbreak has forced us to put our lives on hold, slow down from the everyday rush, endless commuting, and demanding commitments. As we approach our fourth or fifth week of quarantine, we realize that our obligations that were once relevant, suddenly are not. We have come to appreciate the small and simple things in life, such as walking the dog, spending time with the family, or actually taking a few hours to enjoy the sunlight on our skin.
Netflix, board games, puzzles, and books become part of our routine. If you are looking for something new and fun for all family members to enjoy, we have an idea for you. A Chocolate Tasting Party is fun, educational. At the same time, you take advantage of the health benefits of eating Dark Chocolate!
Passionate about Cacao since my early years, I decided to broaden my knowledge in this magnificent fruit. In 2016, I attended the Cacao Grading Course in San Francisco, organized by The Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI). In 2018 I participated in The International Institute for Cacao and Chocolate Tasting (IICCT) certification process. They are the same organization that promotes the International Chocolate Awards (ICA).
From my observation, Chocolate tasting is an exciting experience for everyone. Sensing different chocolate flavors, savoring the level of sweetness, the textures, understanding the natural process of the cacao, and its origin can make this tasting fun and an eye-opener. The idea is to write down on paper what your palate feels and taste for each piece and later sharing your thoughts with others around you. You will be amazed at what people come up with! Your tasting party can be basic or advanced, depending on how much you love Chocolate and your curiosity about its creation, ingredients, benefits, origin, etc. It can take anywhere from 15 min to an hour.
Many people ask: "What's the best time to eat chocolate?" ANYTIME! I practice chocolate tasting regularly with my children (who love dark chocolate and, by the way, are starting to know its benefits). Truth is, there are no constraints when it comes to enjoying #TheGoodnessOfLife, and receiving the benefits of a piece of real dark chocolate.
Here are the  steps for you to try it at home:
- STEP 1 - SHOP: Of course, you need to be stocked. I recommend trying at least three to five different chocolate bars, and that depends on how much time you think you have for this activity. I selected for you the ones I consider as the essentials (CLICK HERE). If you like dark chocolate, these are the ones you should taste at least once in a lifetime. If you already know some chocolate bars from specific brands, feel free to include them in this event, as you know by now, chocolate is good for you. The following are a few examples to make it enjoyable or entertaining:
- You can make a selection of bars with different cacao percentages and taste them starting from the one with less sugar or milk. These bars have a higher cacao percentage. Leave the lowest % bar for last. This way will allow you to taste the usually perceived as the "strongest" first and move toward a more familiar taste towards the end. You might be pleasantly surprised by those "stronger" chocolates.
- Another option is to pick bars with the same cacao percentage from the same craft chocolate maker (CLICK HERE for an example), but cacao beans from different parts of the world. In this manner, the only difference between the bars is the cacao bean, and you can start noticing the different flavors given by the cacao genetics and the terroir.
- STEP 2 - SET UP: Choose a place to host your dark chocolate tasting party. It can be your living room or your kitchen. Make sure it is big enough to fit you all comfortably and has excellent lighting to appreciate the color and the outside of your chocolate bars, including the packaging. Select a time that isn't immediately after eating, so your mouth is clean to enjoy all the flavors. In the afternoon before dinner has worked for us many times. You can get a piece of paper and create a mat to place the pieces of chocolate (see image below). Then, ask your family to join you if they did not participate in the setup.
- STEP 3 - LOOK: Did you know many craft chocolate brands are distinguished by their beautiful packaging and the design or pattern in their bars? This is the time to look at it. Pay attention to the information in the package, some include the nutrition facts. However, more attractive could be facts like the cacao variety, the flavor notes, or the state or plantation the grew the cacao. Then, notice the color of the chocolate bar: is it light brown like caramel? Or dark brown like black coffee? Because this is not a formal chocolate tasting, but more a fun way to spend time with your loved ones, RELAX! Let everyone hold and touch the bar. This will allow them to explore it with their own eyes.
- STEP 4 - HEAR: Give every member of the family a piece (including the kids. This is a very fun step!) and invite them to break them in two. You should hear a perfect snap, which is the sign of a proper tempering (one of the most important processes during chocolate making). Sometimes, the bar could be melting, and it would bend instead of snapping, or if it went through temperature swings, it could be too hard to break or brittle.
- STEP 5 - SMELL: If you do have kids, tell them this step is like pretending to be a hound. Place the piece of chocolate close to your nose and inhale. Take your time, appreciate all the aromas. Maybe they'll remind you of something, for example, grass, flowers, vanilla, or fruits. Often times what comes to our minds is a moment, like when we had ice cream with grandparents, or “this reminds me of our beach house.” A lot of what we consider "taste" actually comes from aromas, so this is an essential part of the experience.
- STEP 6 - TASTE: Put the piece of chocolate inside your mouth. First, let it slowly melt since cacao butter, the fat of the cacao bean melts at body temperature. Some people bite the chocolate a little, so smaller pieces dissolve faster. Also, if the bar you are trying has inclusions, you might want to feel the differences, especially those with crunchy inclusions. Make sure you feel its texture: is it creamy? Is it gritty? Or is it silky? What does it taste like? The flavor may vary while in your mouth. The beginning, while it's melting, might be completely different from the middle and the end, focus, and pay attention to those differences. As the chocolate fills your cheeks, palate, and tongue center your attention on how exquisite it is and the gift of being there enjoying it with the people you love.
- STEP 7 - TALK: In the end, you'll notice this was the reason you hosted all this dark chocolate tasting. It is not just about the dark chocolate benefits or its flavor, but what it means to be seated together around the table, sharing thoughts and experiences. Family is #TheGoodnessOfLife.
- STEP 8 - REPEAT: As many times desired (or needed). Do not worry about the calories since you will be tasting small pieces of chocolate.
During these challenging times, as a friend, physician, and chocolate lover, I sincerely invite you to focus on the good little things that make you enjoy life. No chocolate has ever made anyone feel sad, so try this dark chocolate tasting at home and have fun!
If you do it, please let me know by sharing a comment below, or a picture on your social media (remember to tag us @ClubChoKolate, so we can see you 😉).
Stay home, Stay Healthy.
Ramón E. Martínez