Hosting a chocolate tasting can be a memorable occasion. Not only is it fun to have an excuse to eat chocolate (like you really needed one anyway), it’s great to compare and contrast different chocolates in one sitting to determine what your favorites are and maybe even discover why. Much like a wine tasting, tasting chocolate engages all the senses to delight in the sight, smell, sound, taste, and feel of chocolate.
Ideal Conditions for Tasting Chocolate
Just as certain wines are best at certain temperatures, chocolate is best at room temperature. Chocolate should not be chilled or frozen as it will release its best flavors at room temperature. Ideally, you should taste chocolate in a relaxing environment, free from distractions that divide attention from the chocolate.
Although it’s good to have a variety of chocolates to taste, you don’t want too many. Imagine shopping for perfume. You smell different perfumes and after sniffing several it becomes increasingly difficult to distinguish the different aromas; the same is true for tasting chocolate. Choose 5 to 7 varieties and allow approximately ½ ounce of each chocolate per person.
It’s important to give each chocolate a chance to really shine. You want to start off fresh (avoid spicy foods), and cleanse your palate between each chocolate. You can use room temperature water (you don’t want to cool your mouth down before adding new chocolate since the flavors really present at warmer temperatures), plain bread, a wedge of apple, or sparkling water.
Although you will be cleansing the palate between each chocolate, the order in which you taste them is also important. Begin with the chocolate with the lowest cacao percentage. Start with white, then milk, then dark chocolate; start with the lower cacao percentage within each variety and progress to the highest. If tasting multiple chocolates of the same percentage, be sure to research which is inherently stronger. For example, a 70% Madagascar should be tasted before a 70% Arriba because of the Arriba’s bold character. I recommend hosting the party in the late afternoon or early evening. This one started at 4:30pm and ended by 6:30pm (perfect for a tasting before dinner!).
What to look for when tasting chocolate
Truly tasting chocolate invokes all five senses: taste, touch, smell, sight, and sound. Be sure to enjoy the flavor notes that evolve from beginning to finish. Here is a chart that will allow you to record your impressions when tasting chocolate and provide tips on what to look for. Feel free to download and print this for your own use.
Here are some recommendations from Amano Chocolate:
“ Place the chocolate on the tongue and allow it to arrive at body temperature. Let it melt slowly. This step is crucial, for it allows the cocoa butter to distribute evenly in the mouth, thereby muting any astringencies or bitterness of the chocolate. Chewing immediately will release these properties and might offend the palate.
Study the taste and texture. As the chocolate melts, concentrate on the flavors that unfold on the tongue. It is important to notice how the flavor evolves from beginning, middle, to end, and how the flavor exists in the finish (after the chocolate has melted).”
Suggested chocolates for use
In hosting a chocolate tasting party, I looked for a mix of local, national, and international chocolates with different cocoa characteristics. I’m not a huge fan of white chocolate, technically a misnomer since it’s not actually chocolate, so I excluded it from my tasting. Adding local chocolatiers would be fun too. Most of the ones in my area focus more on truffles and flavored chocolate than chocolate bars. I wanted my guests to experience a true tasting of the chocolate without the distraction of other flavors and fillings.
Here are the chocolates I used for this particular party:
- Galler Chocolatier – Milk Chocolate Intense: 34% cacao, made in Belgium
- Madecasse Chocolate – Milk Chocolate: 44% cacao, grown and made in Madagascar
- Scharffen Berger Chocolate Maker – Semisweet Fine Artisan Dark Chocolate: 62% cacao, manufactured in Chicago, Illinois
- Willie’s Cacao – Peruvian Gold, Chulucanas 70: 70% cacao, crillo beans from Peru, made in the U.K.
- Bovetti Artisan Chocolate – Dark Chocolate: 73% cacao, handmade in France
- Valrhona Les Grand Crus Abinao – Puissant & Tannique (Powerful & Tannic): 85% cacao, beans from Africa, made in France
Tips for Hosting a Chocolate Tasting Party
A chocolate tasting party is relatively simple to pull together and inexpensive for something so decadent! The party cost under $100 for eight people, including chocolate, napkins, flowers (arranged myself), palate cleansers, and cello bags for favors. You can make your party as formal or informal as you want. You can explain the goals to your guests or provide information for them to read if they choose. Our party had the chocolate laid out for each guest in order, with their tasting charts, and a glass for water. We also had a communal plate for palate cleansers – sliced apples, bread, and crackers.
We started with an informal group chocolate quiz of about 5 questions. I hoped this would be a good ice breaker since not every guest had met previously, as well as diffuse any tension and pretensions about chocolate tasting. It was great to challenge the guests and see what their preconceived notions about chocolate were. Then, we progressed to the more formal tasting. The chocolate was laid out so we could taste chocolate around the clock.
We discussed each chocolate as we tasted them and I provided information cards for each guest to take home on their favorite chocolates (see below for example). These detailed the manufacturing information and properties of each chocolate.
Two other tips – if you have several guests that have never met, using double-sided place cards is a great way to put everyone at ease so they don’t stress about forgetting someone’s name. Also, I would definitely recommend telling your guests at the beginning that they by no means should feel required to eat or try all the chocolate on their plate. I didn’t want guests going home sick of chocolate or sad that they didn’t eat it all. I provided cello gift bags with twine for them to tie up their leftovers to enjoy later.
Ask questions throughout the tasting if you’re the host. Encourage conversation by asking everyone their favorite so far, why they like it, what they’re noticing etc.
Whatever you do, if it involves chocolate I’m sure it will be a hit!
Have you hosted a chocolate tasting party? What is your favorite chocolate?
For a great, comprehensive article on how to read chocolate bar labels (with a lot of eye candy), go here
For more on chocolate or entertaining, check out these posts:
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