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Conducting chocolate tastings
March 7, 2008
1:30 am
Foodpump
Vancouver, Canada
Member
Forum Posts: 28
Member Since:
March 4, 2008
Offline

For a new guy to this site, I guess I’m pretty ambitious. Although my shop has only been open since last August, I’d like to get more customers in the doors. I managed to wrangle an early morning TV show to come film “live” at my place on Valentine’s day ( still have to convert the video recording to dvd and get it linked to my site…), and I am giving baking classes and workshops 2-3 times per week at the shop as well.

What I’d like to do is have a series of chocolate tastings at the shop, but have absolutely no idea how to go about this. I’ve gone through the archives on this site and note that some posters have a very set way how to sample and taste the individual chocolates. But how would I structure such a tasting for a group of say 15-20?
Any suggestions?

March 8, 2008
1:03 am
Alex Rast
Manchester, United Kingdom
Member
Forum Posts: 283
Member Since:
October 13, 2009
Offline

quote:


Originally posted by Foodpump

For a new guy to this site, I guess I’m pretty ambitious. Although my shop has only been open since last August, I’d like to get more customers in the doors….

What I’d like to do is have a series of chocolate tastings at the shop, but have absolutely no idea how to go about this. …But how would I structure such a tasting for a group of say 15-20?
Any suggestions?


That depends a good deal upon what it is that you want people to taste. Are you primarily a confectioner, selling chocolates that you make there at the shop filled with various flavours? Or a retailer, selling chocolate bars or (more likely) a mix of chocolate bars and confections?

Acting upon the assumption that it’s the latter, which I’m inferring from what you’ve said, then it also depends on what brands you’re carrying. If it’s a small number, then I suggest first of all that you focus on a single manufacturer and do a cross-section of their bars. If you have a large number of manufacturers, I think choosing a representative bar from each manufacturer would be a better choice for an introductory tasting.

Don’t have too many chocolates, either – more than about 4-5 gets overwhelming very quickly indeed. Choose the best you have in the shop: you want to make the optimum first impression. Ideas like demonstrating the difference between good and bad chocolate through side-by-side tastings can come later.

Give a short introductory blurb, but be brief: 5-10 minutes maximum. A short description of the most prominent flavour characteristics is the most useful I think. I have classified the flavours into 4 broad classes, roughly fruity, spicy, earthy, and treacley. That may be a good enough level of detail for the moment.

If you’ve read previous posts then you’ll know that I advocate a specific tasting style for a truly formal test: use 50g chocolate, smell first until you’ve captured everything that you can in the aroma, only taste once you’re at that point, take a large initial bite, focussing on initial flavours here, then smaller bites to evaluate length, finishing with texture appreciation. In a semiformal setting, however, this isn’t necessary nor is it practical. You should, however, provide people with enough chocolate per sample at least that they don’t feel like they’re getting a brief hint. Thus a 5g square is much too little. If you were doing 4 chocolates I’d say allow each taster 25 g chocolate per sample. They don’t have to eat it all, but you want enough that they don’t feel short.

Definitely guide people through the process of tasting, and do so strongly with the first chocolate tasted. You can adapt the procedure I talked about above by simply scaling down the sizes, but do go with a larger initial taste followed by smaller bites. It’s best, I think, to have all in the group try the same chocolate at the same time, and give them a lot of time to appreciate each chocolate before moving on.

Cleanse everyone’s palate with hot, very soupy polenta between chocolates. It’s very effective at killing the taste of the previous chocolate (and also seems unusual, thereby professional).

Don’t serve alcohol with the chocolates themselves, but you might want to consider doing so after concluding the tasting portion. Be sure that after the tasting proper people have time to ask questions, and of course to buy the chocolate itself.

Good luck – let us know how it goes!

Alex Rast
Alex_Rast_Alternate@hushmail.com

Alex Rast Alex_Rast_Alternate@hushmail.com
March 8, 2008
1:53 am
Foodpump
Vancouver, Canada
Member
Forum Posts: 28
Member Since:
March 4, 2008
Offline

Thanks for this very valuable information. However I am a small artisan chocolatier. My offering is currently around 20 varieties of molded and hand dipped confections. Vancouver (where I am) has been brainwashed into thinking that there’s only Belgian Chocolate. Now don’t get me wrong, Belgium puts out some very nice stuff, but it’s kind of like saying that only France or only Chile puts out good wines… For my stuff I like to mold and enrobe with Lindt 70% Ecuador, I also have one or two white and milk varieties as well.

Currently I am relying on walk-in traffic for sales and am working diligently on getting contracts–making the confections is the easy part! Obviously the tasting would be part of a grander scheme to sell my wares, but firstly to raise awareness about good quality chocolate, and secondly to develop a solid loyal customer base.

Truth be told, I haven’t tried some of the more refined and rarer “grand crus” and tasting chocolates yet, as my customers haven’t asked for them. While I would like to dabble in some of these more rarer types, I don’t think the time is ripe for that just yet. The “buzzword” seems to be organically grown and fair trade, and while I do offer 50 and 80 gr bars of these, I am personally not impressed with the flavour profile nor the price or availability of bulk couveture.

The other “angle” I am working on, and have moderate success with is workshops. A group of between 5-20 ppl comes into my shop and after a brief introduction, it’s “hands-on” on rolling and dipping truffles as well as larger molded pieces. While this does generate income, it also develops of very solid, albeit slow-growing, customer base.

March 8, 2008
11:07 pm
Alex Rast
Manchester, United Kingdom
Member
Forum Posts: 283
Member Since:
October 13, 2009
Offline

quote:


Originally posted by Foodpump

Thanks for this very valuable information. However I am a small artisan chocolatier. My offering is currently around 20 varieties of molded and hand dipped confections. Vancouver (where I am) has been brainwashed into thinking that there’s only Belgian Chocolate.


Well, with Bernard Callebaut so prominent on the Vancouver scene (and yes, he does use Barry Callebaut chocolate) that’s perhaps inevitable.

quote:


Currently I am relying on walk-in traffic for sales and am working diligently on getting contracts–making the confections is the easy part! Obviously the tasting would be part of a grander scheme to sell my wares, but firstly to raise awareness about good quality chocolate, and secondly to develop a solid loyal customer base.


Tasting *chocolates*, as opposed to *chocolate* can be much more informal and much less structured. If that’s what you’re doing, then your talk introduction should be completely different. Instead of talking about chocolate, talk about yourself – what you like, dislike, what got you into chocolate. Bring out some of your more “experimental” flavours; with chocolates, novelty factor is often significant. I think a tasting of chocolates should be interactive – have people try various flavours and tell you what they think of them. Listen to their comments, tweak your recipes accordingly. Try seasonal tastings. For instance, in summer focus on the berries: strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries all of which are a feature of the Vancouver summer. In fall think about nuts and spices. For winter try coffee, plain ganache, caramel. You get the idea. I would seize the opportunity available very shortly and have an Easter tasting.

quote:


Truth be told, I haven’t tried some of the more refined and rarer “grand crus” and tasting chocolates yet, as my customers haven’t asked for them. While I would like to dabble in some of these more rarer types, I don’t think the time is ripe for that just yet. The “buzzword” seems to be organically grown and fair trade, and while I do offer 50 and 80 gr bars of these, I am personally not impressed with the flavour profile nor the price or availability of bulk couveture.


Organic/Fair Trade remains somewhat problematic. Only a few manufacturers are making a genuine effort. In Vancouver, however, you’re a stone’s throw away from Theo chocolate, who are trying very hard and achieving considerable success. If nothing else it might be worth visiting them.

I do think you owe it to yourself to try some of the “cru” chocolates. Don’t underestimate the potential market: it’s often a case of latent demand – there appears to be little interest simply because in the absence of availability, nobody is aware of what they might want were it to be available. But show people what they can get, and they want it. An easy way to test the waters is to make a single-origin ganache of some sort and see how well it does.

Alex Rast
Alex_Rast_Alternate@hushmail.com

Alex Rast Alex_Rast_Alternate@hushmail.com
March 9, 2008
6:01 pm
Foodpump
Vancouver, Canada
Member
Forum Posts: 28
Member Since:
March 4, 2008
Offline

Thanks again Alex. By now I’m starting to get an idea how to formulate these “tastings”. My offerings go from fruit based ganaches (passion fruit, raspberry) to fresh ginger and white chocoalte truffles (still can’t find a candied ginger without sulpher…) to some “standards” like fresh milk caramels, nut cluisters, fruit jellies,Italian nougat, etc. that can offer a longer shelf life.

I will check out Theo, but actually Vancouver does have two bean to slab chocoalte producers, I never knew untill I actually started combing through the yellow pages. The first one produces an “industrial” chocolate. The other, Rey, (again Swiss….) produces some decent stuff, but sells only by bulk or on a contract basis. I was told he does use organic beans and is only a few months away from organic certification.

There are many outlets here that do sell the “cru’s”, and I will endeavour to try some of them. Right now I’m trying to educate myself with the business of making chocolates rationaly, selling them, and although I live in a fairly populated area, trying to find and fit in with the “chocolate crowd”.