It’s Spring! Try a Chocolate AdventureMarch 3, 2010
When I visit the Upala Organic Cacao Growers Cooperative in Costa Rica, chocolate tasting and lots of discussion are usually on the itinerary.
After the rush of the winter holidays, it’s fun to be able to focus once again on our monthly chocolate tastings.
You’ve probably heard of wine tastings, but chocolate? Well, first off, it’s a lot of fun. Our chocolate tastings are held in my shop’s kitchen after hours. We begin by talking about where chocolate comes from – how it starts as a bitter bean in a colorful cacao pod and is painstakingly processed into fine chocolate. I share photos I’ve taken on trips to cacao-growing regions.
After the brief educational portion, the real adventure begins. We taste six chocolates from six countries in South and Central America. With each country’s chocolate, we talk about what we taste. We discuss how to taste chocolate using all of your senses for a fuller experience. As people taste the chocolates, we share any flavor memories along with likes and dislikes. It’s always a lively conversation. Finally, we taste two finished truffles and see if people can guess which country’s chocolate I used in the ganache. By then, most folks are pretty well sated and the tasting winds down.
There’s the look of chocolate happiness. It’s one of my favorite expressions!
Part of a good tasting experience is understanding how the tongue works. Moving chocolate around in your mouth as you enjoy it will enhance the experience. There are different flavor zones on the tongue:
- The tip tastes sweetness
- The sides toward the front detect salty
- The sides toward the back taste sour
- The back middle, near your throat, tastes bitter
- The center middle detects the umami, or savory, sensation. My shiitake mushroom truffle was created to excite this recently identified taste zone.
You don’t have to come to one of my chocolate tastings to have a flavor adventure. Try pairing chocolate with a favorite beverage (beer, wine and scotch are good choices) or another food like cheese. This is when true magic can happen.
When you taste, look for flavors that complement each other or that contrast and really play off of each other. It may take a few tries to find the right match, but experimenting sure is fun! Isn’t that what it’s really all about anyway?
So have fun, enjoy yourself and your company, relax and don’t take yourself too seriously. Go ahead and experiment boldly! Pair your favorite foods and beverages with chocolate. Some combinations will be not so great, but when you get that winner it’s like a symphony in your mouth. A smile will spread across your face as you smack your lips in delight at your discovery. As an experienced chocolate adventurer, I can tell you that’s one of the most beautiful expressions I’ve ever seen!