Chocolate Tasting, Chocolate Judging and Chocolate Pairing:
It’s not often I get invited to TWO events in a week that involve large quantities of chocolate. So, it would seem churlish to decline either event, simply because they both came at once. In any case, the first event was something that piqued my curiosity – and that proved quite fascinating. I was asked to help by taking part in judging the semi-finals of the International Chocolate Awards and as a lay-person with no particular expertise in chocolate (though a deeply seated love of the aforementioned substance) I jumped at the chance to find out more.
I arrived very early and rather nervous. As other people joined us, it was apparent that the early birds were almost unanimously newbies like me. We’d already been provide with a very detailed judges pack, but of course not of the mechanics of the day.
Seated around tables of 10 or so, each with 2 ‘expert judges’ (people who are on the main judging panel ) we started by a palate warm-up exercise. Even that was an eye-opener because we had flavour notes to look for very like those you might see if you do a wine tasting course. I’d never have thought of looking for ‘tobacco’ in chocolate – but there it was, along with ‘Woody, Earthy, Currant, Molasses and about 15 other flavour notes.
Once we got onto our samples to judge, the scoring system was a little more complicated. The international chocolate awards operate a transparent system, so if you’d like to see how we assessed each chocolate sample you can take a look at the scoring system. We kept using a rather strange sludgy mixture of polenta as a palate cleanser. It worked. All those tannins just went and we could get back to being ‘professional’. We also used one of the original palate warm-up chocolate samples as a benchmark – re-tasting it regularly to see whether we could taste new notes (for most of us, the effect of the morning was that our palates gradually recognised MORE). It was seriously good fun. We did all concentrate – but I think it fair to say that we all enjoyed the process A LOT too(at least those at my table). The finals take place during Chocolate Week – you can find out more about who the European Winners are from our sessions, but you’ll have to wait till October to find out the international winners for this year.
Anyway – as a new expert in the field of Chocolate Tasting, I was feeling rather smug when I turned up to the Lindt and de’Longhi Chocolate and Coffee matching event later on in the same week. I’m rather fond of Lindt Chocolate – it’s something I grew up eating for ‘special’ occasions. And, I was curious to see how Chocolate and Coffee matching would work. What was interesting for me that it did work very like wine pairing with food. Under normal circumstances I don’t have a range of chocolate flavours and a range of coffee brews to taste so it was fascinating to try the coffee with different chocolates. I particularly liked the Lindt white vanilla (not normally my favourite chocolate) with Ethiopian Yirgacheffe. And I just LIKED the Lindt dark with sea salt. I suspect I’d have happily eaten this with ANY coffee pairing – in this case it did take some of the pain (for me) away from the Brazil Cerrado decaf served as an expresso (which I don’t really like)
The De’Longhi machines whirred away making perfect cups of coffee for us, and there was an impressive range on display.
All in, a great evening, although I am not sure my newly acquired chocolate tasting skills actually shone through, perhaps because of the copious quantities of canapés and prosecco that were on offer before we got started.
You can find more about Chocolate Week in October on their website. I went last year and had a fabulous time. So, you know what dates to keep free in your diary now!