Last week I had the opportunity to go chocolate tasting with Hotel Chocolat in their store in the Arndale centre in the heart of Manchester. Whilst I have been on a couple of tasting experienced in the past, this was by far one of the most interesting ones I have ever been on. I feel I learnt so much about a food item which previous to this experience I had taken for granted.
The tasting experience was taken by Isabelle a chocolatier for the past 18 months in residence at the Hotel Chocolat store that had the opportunity to do a diploma through the company to gain this qualification. Isabelle took us through the interesting history of the store which was founded 30 years ago as the Mint Marketing Company where they started out selling mints to hotels and bankers. They went on to develop the chocolate tasting club which is still in operation today where you pay a monthly fee and are sent a selection of a new ranges and flavours. Customers then send their feedback on which they liked and what they didn’t. It is the customer who helps to shape the ranges that are in the stores with many of the ranges been limited edition.
Hotel Chocolat was one of the first companies to become commerce and opened first store in 2004. They own their own coco plantation in St Lucia and became the world’s first bean to bar retailer growing to selling chocolate which I believe makes them experts.
Following this history of the company we went right onto the tasting
chocolate tasting is closely linked to emotion and can bring back strong memories memory. The chemicals which are inside the chocolate are equivalent of those felt when falling in love and therefore the reason why eating chocolate is very pleasurable and a sensory experience.
There are several things which should be looked for when testing chocolate
Shine. The chocolate should be even in colour, the depth of colour is not an indicator of quality.
Sound There should be a definitive snap. The tempering of chocolate cooling and warming at consistent temperatures will result in a clear snap if there is a dull thud then the chocolate isn’t tempered properly
Smell, chocolate should smell inviting, between 80 and 90% of taste comes from aroma compounds.
Melt it in your mouth, what is the finish. It should be smooth, rich and clean.
The taste of chocolate is very personal and therefore chocolate should be tried around 9 times before deciding if you like it or not. Due to changes in mood and what’s going on it your day the taste of chocolate can change.
There are various different elements which can influence the flavour of the bar from the content of sugar, milk content, coco content, age, where it’s grown and the type of coco bean
On average there are around 40 beans in a coco pod the white which surrounds the beans is known as the ice cream of the rainforest, it can often be used in cooking. A cheap bar of mass produced chocolate often only contains 3 beans whereas a Hotel Chocolat bar contains around 60 so it is always worth paying more knowing you are getting that quality.
The coco growing belt is on the equator and the beans are harvested twice a year. The process is time consuming and delicate with the trees specially pollinated by hand. Once harvested the beans and pods fermented for 3 days. The fermentation process removes the acidity of the beans however if done too long the flavour will all be lost. Due to Hotel Chocolat owning a plantation in St Lucia the beans are bought wet so that they can control the process to get the best flavour out of them. The beans are dried out and 70% of the flavour is locked in if they aren’t dried out they can taste musty. The burn at the back of the mouth you sometimes get from chocolate is from addition of vanilla to the chocolate to mask the musky flavour
the beans are roasted for around 25 minutes, and then put into the conch. Rudolf Lindt accidentally developed this process when he left his mixer on overnight and what originally was very gritty became completely mellow through the grinding and beating of the beans. Chocolate is conched at Hotel Chocolat for around 120 hours opposed to 4 hour in mass marketed factories which shows the quality and care put into getting the best flavour from the bean.
The tasting was really interesting; I found that the chocolate from Madagascar was my favourite due to the sweet banana flavour that came from the bean. We tried a 100% bean bar which I thought I would enjoy having enjoyed very high percentage bean bars in the past however I found it too much to handle! Apparently it brings many health benefits though so perhaps it would be one I would have to taste 9 times to see if I enjoyed it or not.
At the end of the tasting we were given a selection to take away which didn’t last very long at all! I found the whole evening very enjoyable and came away feeling that I knew alot more about the food that I was eating. I would love to go to one of Hotel Chocolat’s events where you can actually make a bar of chocolate.
For anyone wanting to attend a tasting event they are held monthly in store and you can find out more details from Hotel Chocolat’s website
I was gifted to go to this event however all opinions are my own and it is something which I would love to go to again!