Confession: I envy people with a clear, recognizable job title. Ever since I started hosting chocolate tastings in 2016, I’ve struggled to coin the right term for my work. Chocolate blogger? That felt too limiting. Chocolate lover? Too personal. Chocolate educator? That was more like it. For a couple of years, I thus referred to myself as a chocolate educator.
After hosting my first wine & chocolate pairing events, however, I realized my colleague Sophia Rea of Projet Chocolat in Nashville called herself a chocolate sommelier. That sounded fancy. Could this be better-suited descriptor for my work? To answer this questions, I decided to research the meaning of the word “sommelier.”
According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, a sommelier is “a waiter in a restaurant who has charge of wines and their service : a wine steward.” Contrary to popular opinion, you don’t need a certification to be a sommelier, though you can pursue one with the Court of Masters Sommeliers. For a deeper dive on the topic, check out Wine Folly’s detailed post on various wine sommelier levels.
As a wine steward, a sommelier works in a hospitality setting, like in a restaurant or a wine bar. In her book Cork Dork, author Bianca Bosker explains that a good sommelier should do more than pairing food and wine, they need to have solid people skills as well. Reading a table, listening to customers, and being receptive to potential dynamics at play at a table (someone may be able to impress their date!) are all important parts of a sommelier’s job.
This short foray into the wine world convinced me to start calling myself a chocolate sommelier. After all, whether I’m hosting an in-person wine & chocolate pairing or hosting an online chocolate tasting, I take great care in selecting bars or bonbons for each event. I strive to look for products that will expand a group’s chocolate horizon, while staying respectful of every attendee’s palate since some people, like my husband, will never like dark chocolate*. I also feel comfortable suggesting pairings to maximize your enjoyment of chocolate, because some bars will taste better when paired with wine, fruit, or tea.
This laser focus on the guest’s enjoyment is, in my experience, what sets a chocolate sommelier apart from a chocolate educator. So, while some of my peers may have an official a chocolate taster certificate with the International Institute of Cacao and Chocolate, I believe they need to be in a position of service to claim the “chocolate sommelier” title.
* Every single person perceives taste differently and I highly recommend attending Dr. Jessica Henderson’s chocolate tasting on the topic on September 25.
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