A chocolate tasting is much like a wine tasting minus the hangover. Well, that's not completely true. You get the kind of hangover whose symptoms include lying awake in bed from 2 a.m. to 3 a.m. to 4 a.m. to 4:35 a.m. until you finally give up and get up. This is not the worst kind of hangover to have, though; it's a great time to do your taxes. Besides, hosting a chocolate tasting is enough fun that it is worth the occasional sleepless night. So here are a few tips to help you host a chocolate tasting extraordinaire:
- Decide on your chocolates. Dark chocolate connoisseurs might tell you that no milk chocolate should be allowed on the premises. I beg to differ. Let the dark chocolate connoisseurs host their own (exclusive) tasting if they insist. While you might not want to put out the Milk Duds, milk chocolate has a storied history of its own, both in the world at large and in everyone's personal chocolate coming of age (remember Halloween?!) When it comes to chocolate, the more the merrier: I would suggest including dark, milk and white chocolates, as well as truffles, pralines, ganaches, chews, well, you get the idea. (Maybe you need to buy a bigger house.)
- Divide your tasting into sections. If you have three kinds of chocolate--dark, milk, and white--then divide your tasting into thirds. If you've ever eaten an entire box of assorted chocolates (not that I have, mind you), you'll understand why. Even with cleansing, your palate becomes used to the chocolate that you are tasting and doesn't adjust well when you suddenly switch types. So taste only one kind of chocolate at a time, and then move on to the next section.
- Cleanse the palate in between chocolates. Have plenty of room temperature water and plain crackers available to cleanse the palate in between tastings.
- Set-up. Set each type of chocolate out on a different platter (minus any labels, of course). Tape a number to the front of the platter. On a master list, put the number of the chocolate next to the name of each chocolate. Put the master list somewhere you'll be able to find it.
- Make your samples small. Don't worry: There will be plenty of time for more chocolate later. If you make the pieces too big, people will get wired, and forget to do things like write down the number of the chocolate that they are tasting.
- Taste chocolate at room temperature. This one is a no-brainer, right? Too cold and the chocolate won't melt in your mouth; too warm, and it melts in your hands.
- Give careful instructions. Be sure to remind everyone to write down the number of the chocolate they are tasting. Otherwise, you'll find that once the endorphins get going, people begin to forget fundamental details like this one.
- Provide some starter vocabulary. It can help to provide some words that are appropriate to both the chocolate's flavor--i.e. bitter, astringent or salty--and texture--i.e. velvet, smooth or grainy. It really starts to get interesting once people start comparing chocolates to, say, their first love, but until that time, give them the vocabulary to get them started.
- Compare and contrast. This is the part where you get to ask, "In just what way did Sputnik remind you of your first love?" Some people prefer to sit down and compare notes at the end of the tasting while my preference is to mingle and discuss the chocolate as you sample. It probably depends upon whether you see the chocolate tasting as the event in and of itself or as auxiliary to the fun. But no matter how you do it, once all the chocolate has been tasted, you get to reveal the contents of your master list (if you can find it!).
- Have at it. After all the chocolate has been tasted and unveiled, have at it. Be sure that you've purchased enough that there won't be fisticuffs over the favorites.
It's not fair to expect someone to write about chocolate tasting without actually indulging in some, particularly at 4 p.m. on a Friday. So ta, ta for now: I hear the call of Dilettante. Come to think of it, maybe I could write some of my favorite champagne truffles off (I would probably have to at least mention them though, huh?)...