Video Training: How to Design a Chocolate Tasting Lecture & Workshop

ChocolateWinePairing-3843 (2)
Photo by Becca Mathias Photography

If you’ve been following me for a while, you may know I’m a food writer and chocolate sommelier in the Philadelphia area. Over the past three years, I’ve led chocolate tastings at libraries, schools, and private clubs and institutions. I’ve also collaborated with Chester County wineries on wine and chocolate pairing events. For a peek into these events, check out photographer Becca Mathias’ relevant blog posts here and there.

Over the past couple of months, I’ve received an increasing number of questions from the chocolate community on how I pick bars for tastings, how deep one should go on the chocolate-making process, and how to price the offering. I decided to address all these questions, and then some, in a 32-minute video geared towards chocolate industry professionals. You can watch it at http://gum.co/chocolatetasting.

Watch the Video: How to Design a Chocolate Tasting Lecture & Workshop

The video is a recording of an Instagram live, packed with resources (books, tasting guides) with a clear action plan to find venues for your tastings and create memorable events. You are free to contribute whatever your budget allows to access it (suggested contribution: $15.)

The feedback so far has been very positive so far and I’m humbled to have reached chocolate educators across several countries. Here’s what Kristen Joslin, founder of Cocoa Nouveau in Chesapeake, Virginia said about the training:

I just downloaded and watched your tasting video, thank you!! I really struggle with tasting events, I spend all my time working with chocolate and tasting it but generally feel like I don’t know what I am doing! I took a master of chocolate flavor class and I still feel like an imposter when doing a class! ….

I took 2 pages of notes on your video. My most important take away, honor the people in front of you, meet them where they are, try to convey how labor intensive chocolate is and be known locally. Thank you!!

Bringing fine chocolate in front of tasters is essential for the growth of our industry. I hope my tips will give you the confidence to host your tastings and expand the crowd of fine chocolate supporters.  Thank you for your support and please let me know of any questions in the comments below.

To be notified of future blogs posts and upcoming events, please sign up to my newsletter. 

Interview with Daniel Haran, Chocolate-Maker & Founder, Chocolats Monarque (Le Plateau, Quebec)

Daniel Haran, founder, Chocolats Monarque. Photo by Carla Oliveira.
Daniel Haran, founder, Chocolats Monarque. Photo by Carla Oliveira.

I first had Chocolats Monarque two summers ago. I was attending the Fine Chocolate Industry Association’s New York City conference and, during a break, Christine Blais from Palette de Bine introduced me to Daniel Haran, the company’s founder. Right then, Daniel broke off a square of one of his bars and offered it to me. Watching for my reaction, he asked what I thought. I told him it was fine. There was no sparks, really, but I kept that for myself. I thanked him and headed to the next talk.

Earlier this month, my friend Barb drove us to Toronto for The Winter Chocolate Show. Amidst the busy crowd and flashy inclusion bars (raspberry rose bar, anyone?), I spotted Daniel in a quiet corner of the room. I waved bonjour, introduced him to my friend, then asked for samples. There wasn’t much on the table, just a few piles of bars with their simple – austere, really – black and white wrappers.

I tried a Guatemalan bar, which I didn’t think I’d like. It was fruity, which I expected, but its acidity was tamed, which I thanked Daniel for. We continued. There was a Madagascar chocolate with nutty notes and no hint of citrus (a first for both of us,) and a Sierra Nevada one, which I also liked. He told us a few stories, like how he determined his bar size (you know how I feel about the topic). I wanted the conversation to continue but other guests came in. We bought some bars and carried on.

Two weeks later, Barb asked me which maker haunted my post-festival thoughts. “Chocolats Monarque,” I said, “I’m obsessed.” She smiled. “Me too, I should have bought more.” I agreed. My love story with Chocolats Monarque didn’t start with sparks, but I know it’s meant to last. You’ll understand why after reading this interview.

Thanks for taking the time to answer to this interview, Daniel. For those who don’t know you yet, how did you get into chocolate?

Depression. I ate chocolate to get through my days.

When was that?

In 2008, a friend took me out to SOMA for my birthday, where I was doing a contract. I looked up other bean-to-bar makers after a quick conversation with David Castellan [co-founder of SOMA chocolatemaker,] who told me other makers might be free of allergens. A cousin is allergic to both nuts and soy, and grew up without good chocolate. Two weeks later I was home and getting a grinder from Chocolate Alchemy.

You’ve been making chocolate for some time, what eventually prompted you to make the transition for hobbyist to professional maker?

I had been thinking about it from the beginning, really. It was clear at first that the market was too small and I wasn’t ready to start a company.

Then 4 years ago I was burnt out professionally, doing consulting I hated after a startup in artificial intelligence… and a cancer diagnostic for my dad precipitated a midlife crisis; turns out I was 39, the age he had when he got married. I gave notice less than 10 minutes after getting the news.

9AC22A7B-2D84-4D01-9763-C660B5250D66
Line-up of Chocolats Monarque bars. Photo credit: Chocolats Monarque.

There’s a thoughtfulness I really appreciate in your introducing chocolate to the market. Back in Toronto, you explained to Barb and I how you decided on the bar size. Could you tell my readers the story?

Hah. Sure: early on I went out asking people what the last bar of chocolate they bought was. I knew from sociology classes that asking people how often they bought chocolate would get messed up, biased answers. I’d also ask what the reason for purchase was. One woman just took out a small bar from her purse and point blank told me this was her emotional emergency chocolate. I was floored. That’s exactly how I eat chocolate! (Also: why the hell don’t guys have purses? Bars in pockets melt). It also clarified that my bars had to be small – portable, and people shouldn’t feel bad about eating them in a single sitting.

From a commercial standpoint, this has been great: it’s also a more affordable entry point for consumers. As an impulse buy, it works well in cafés. The big inconvenience is the extra labour. I really hope to be able to buy a packaging machine soon!

Now, let’s talk about what’s inside those wrappers. You currently offer dark chocolate, correct?

Dark chocolate only. Because of my family member, I decided early on to have no nuts, soy or dairy, all common allergens. There’s no gluten either, although I’m a bit puzzled as to how that ever ends up in chocolate.

Back in Toronto, I remember you giving some chocolate made with Madagascar beans. I am so used to Madagascar tasting citrus-y and bright, yet yours was, if I recall correctly, a bit nutty. It was a really nice surprise. How do you decide which origins to work with? What do you want to convey with your bars?

Well, I do get requests for the Colmenero bar – based on one of the recipes in that first ever book  A friend with a PhD in medieval history helped me understand the recipe (what’s two coins worth of anise seed? turns out it’s ~5g). I take a refined 100%, and add sugar, with ground up spices: cinnamon, anis, annatto and chili.

What do you mean by “that first ever book?”

Oh sorry, the first book published about chocolate. [Chocolate: or, An Indian Drinke by Antonio Colmenero de Ledesma.]

So, as to what I want to convey: the biggest thing I try to get people to understand when they visit the factory is that cacao has varietals. It’s when their eyes light up and they go “OMG, this is like wine, they all taste so different.”

I get really tired of repeating myself at markets with people wanting to know what the differences are. So the new labels will have tasting notes! In any case: people are only receptive *after* they have reaction, until then it’s all theoretical. Tasting creates a teachable moment.

B852BF0B-476C-4522-A094-BE05CB40649B
Cocoa beans at Chocolats Monarque manufacture. Photo credit: Chocolats Monarque.

What about the more straightforward dark chocolate? Like Sierra Nevada, for instance, or Haiti. What makes you think “I’ll make chocolate out of this?”

In the last year I’ve tried a lot of origins. I like doing one or two dozen test roasts, so for Tumaco and Sierra Nevada, I bought an entire bag, and did a couple batches.

Can you describe their flavor profiles?

Maybe explaining my objective here would help? I want an assortment of 5 single-origin bars that all have interesting flavours and a distinct profile.

Taste is the primary consideration. Ethics matter, though I’m not terribly concerned when the broker is Uncommon Cacao or MABCO, or when friends have visited and can vouch for conditions. I have a short-list of origins that can produce great cacao, and I’ll be visiting them shortly.

You have a current favorite bar? What do people like when they visit?

Well, the most surprising for most people is the Guatemala, which is sourced by Uncommon Cacao . The village of San Juan Chivite produces a remarkable cacao, with aromas of red fruits. People keep insisting I must have added raspberries, but all the flavour is from the bean.

I can see why it’s popular. It’s fruity but not too tart or acidic.

Guatemala is the popular favourite right now, followed by Ucayali [in Peru.] At 80% my take on this origin doesn’t require any added cacao butter, and has a strong herbal note veering into eucalyptus – it’s got a long finish with very little bitterness.

When we talked, it sounded like you were ready to start a new page for Chocolats Monarque. But to get to this point, you had your fair share of challenges, like machines breaking, for instance. What do you wish people would know about chocolate-making?

Oh Christ. For 3 years I didn’t make chocolate. I repaired machines, and sometimes chocolate came out of them.

How did you find the strength to push through? And how did you pay your bills during that time?

Well, and IT background means some people will pay me absurd amounts of money for easy work. Unfortunately they expect me to attend meetings, and the time involved slows chocolate down.

The company I co-founded was also sold, and I got a small amount from my remaining equity.

At this point, I have found people that can repair my machines, and I have back-ups for the grinder if it should break for a 7th or 8th time.

As for big plans: I’m now raising capital and borrowing money to grow the company. I’m confident the recipes are good, and I mostly know what I’m doing in production. Now the focus shifts on marketing, distribution and scaling.

What do you find is the most gratifying part of your work?

Gratifying: seeing people understand. The best part of the job is that education work. You know it worked when later on they say “you’ve ruined Lindt for me.”

My dream is to have an affordable bar in grocery stores (CAD$8/75g, about USD$6), made with great beans. I’ll obviously have to focus on a few origins that can provide large amounts. Origins producing rarer beans will stay in small format, and be priced a bit higher.

Oh, also fun: seeing people realize they can eat my chocolate. Their faces light up if they’re used to passing because of allergy concerns.

You can currently purchase Chocolats Monarque at their manufacture in Le Plateau, Quebec, Canada. The company doesn’t have a website but you can reach out to them on Facebook.

Chocolats Monarque
5333 Casgrain, #308
Le Plateau, QC H2T 1X3
Canada

This post contains one affiliated link. If you liked this article, sign up to my newsletter to be notified of future blog updates.

January & February 2019 Chocolate Tastings in Chester County, PA

“I should really attend one of your tastings someday.”

That’s the sentence I hear the most when I’m out and about in Kennett Square. If that’s something you’ve said to me, rejoice! You’ll have one opportunity to do just that this Sunday and three more in February. I really hope you consider attending any or all of these events, they’re fun and DELICIOUS! Just ask my previous guests.

 “I enjoyed your lecture so much – no one wanted to leave! I finally understand the essence of chocolate and how to develop taste, using a new vocabulary.”

– Lynn

As 2019 unfolds, I’ll be partnering with an increasing number of private institutions, which means a lot of my future events won’t be open to the public. So make this winter sweeter by gathering a few friends and attending one of these tastings.

Sunday, January 27, 12-3 PM — Kennett Chocolate Lovers Festival

chocolate cake festival

What? A baking festival where guests can sample entries from amateurs, students, and professionals alike. After having served as a judge for two years (note to self: don’t ever finish that cake slice,) I’m now part of the festival with a chocolate education table. Guests will sample cocoa beans, learn how chocolate is made, and enter a giveaway for a chance to win a fine chocolate bar.

Where? At the Kennett High School. Here’s the address:

Kennett High School
100 E South Street
Kennett Square, PA 19348

This event is for you if… your idea of heaven is a chocolate dessert buffet.

How do I sign up? Online tickets are sold out but you can grab a ticket at the door. Find out more at KennettChocolate.org.

Good to know: The festival is a fundraiser for the United Way of Southern Chester County, which you can support by entering a recipe.

Saturday, February 9, 2-4 — Wine & Chocolate Pairing at Harvest Ridge Winery, Toughkenamon, PA

chocolate banner
Photo by Charisse Kenion on Unsplash

What? A two-hour tasting where you’ll sample a selection of dry and sweet wines with award-winning chocolate curated across the US (dark milk chocolate with fleur de sel, anyone?) You’ll learn chocolate-tasting basics, nibble on cocoa beans, and discover the secret behind successful pairings (spoiler: it involves a lot of tasting) Tickets are $30/person and include four wine and chocolate pairings and a surprise chocolate for “dessert.”

Where? At Harvest Ridge Winery’s Pennsylvania Tasting Room. Here’s the address:

Harvest Ridge Winery Tasting Room
1140 Newark Road
Toughkenamon, PA 19374

The event is for you if: your BFF is in town and you’d like to treat her to a memorable afternoon.

How do I sign up? Tickets are $30/person and must be purchased online.

Friday, February 15, 6-7:30 PM — Galer Estate Vineyard & Winery

chocolatewinepairing-3833 (1)
Photo by Becca Mathias Photography

What? A guided tasting of three very fine wine with three very fine chocolate bars. Galer Estate makes beautiful American wines using European techniques. The result speaks for itself: their Cabernet Franc won a Double Gold award at the San Francisco Chronicle competition last year. The winemaker, Virginia Mitchell, is blazing a trail on the East Coast wine scene, so much that Edible Philly magazine wrote an article about her. She has a way to make tastings fun and that’s one of the many reasons why I love working with her.

Where? At Galer Estate Vineyard & Winery, right behind Longwood Gardens. Here’s the address:

Galer Estate Vineyard & Winery
700 Folly Hill Road
Kennett Square, PA 19348

The event is for you if: 

How do I sign up? Tickets are $35/person. You can reserve your spot by phone at (484) 899-8013 or by email at info@galerestate.com.

Saturday, February 16, 10-11 AM — Chocolate Tasting Workshop at the Kennett Library in Kennett Square, PA

What? A one-hour workshop packed with information AND chocolate! First, we’ll learn how chocolate is made and how to interpret the information on a chocolate wrapper to identify a quality bar. Next, we’ll sample three variations on Guatemalan cacao shipped from a beloved maker in Indiana. Considering these bars are impossible to get in the Philadelphia area, that space to the event is limited, and that the workshop is FREE, you’ll want to sign up NOW!

Where? At the Kennett Library. Here’s the address:

Kennett Library
216 East State Street
Kennett Square, PA 19348

How do I sign up? Registration is required on this Google Form.

Good to know: I love, love, LOVE my Kennett Library tastings! This is now the 6th time that Alex, program manager extraordinaire, opens the library doors to serve the local community. I’m so grateful for the support.

To be notified of future events, please sign up to my newsletter!  It’s really the best way to keep in touch.

Is it bitter or is it astringent?

76C3F9F9-4A4D-4988-953E-2508D91E091C

Often times, I notice people struggling to describe the tastes found both in cocoa beans and chocolate. This is understandable: after all, cocoa beans taste nothing like chocolate and fine chocolate exposes you to many more flavor notes than grocery store chocolate. As such, it can be tricky to come up with the right terms to describe the novel experience.

When I pass Peruvian Tumbes beans roasted by Acalli Chocolate, people will refer to them as bitter. However, I find  astringent to be more accurate. But when I mention the term, most tasters admit they don’t know what it means.  I hope the following explanation can shed some light.

Like sweet and sour, bitter is considered a taste. You may experience bitterness while drinking a cup of dark roast coffee, chewing the leaves of bolted lettuce, or biting in the edges of burned toast. In a lot of cultures, bitter isn’t associated with deliciousness.

Astringency, on the other hand, isn’t a taste, but a sensation. For instance, the flesh of an unripe fruit is astringent (if you ever bit into a raw quince, you definitely know what astringent is like.) If you’ve steeped a bag of black tea in hot water for a few minutes long or sipped a very tannic red wine, you’ve also experienced astringency.

The beans I pass at my tastings aren’t really bitter, and neither is the chocolate I share (yes, even the 100% ones.) Are they astringent? Yes, sometimes. They may not taste pleasant but they don’t leave a bad taste in the mouth. So, next time you bite into a cocoa bean or a fine chocolate bar, ask yourself: is it bitter or is it astringent? When I share a cocoa bean with you, the odds are you’ll find it astringent.

{ As for the photo, I took it last spring at Rrraw cacao, I was curious to know how the beans were packaged and stored as to avoid moths, so a kind employee brought the bag for me to see. Rrraw cacao makes chocolate from unroasted beans in the heart of Paris. Their vegan drinking chocolate is quite delicious.}

My Top 5 Books for New Chocolate Enthusiasts

** This post contains affiliate links.**

For years, it felt like the world of chocolate books was divided in two: on one side, baking books with beautiful photos and super indulgent recipes — triple chocolate mousse cake, anyone? — on the other, serious books with in-depth information cacao genetics and the Mesoamerican roots of chocolate — too ambitious reads for a sleep-deprived mom.

As a new chocolate enthusiast in 2015, I longed for books I could read after putting the kids to bed, i.e. entertaining enough to keep me turn the pages, but with enough informative to deepen my chocolate knowledge.

Thankfully, the past couple of years have brought an abundance of books that fit that niche. With the holidays on the horizon, I thought I’d share my top 5 chocolate books for chocolate enthusiasts of all ages.

From Cocoa Beans to Chocolate, written by Bridget Heos, illustated by Stephanie Fizer Coleman

58693D16-C1F1-4BEB-8EAA-A8BBCA6367FBWritten for a junior audience, From Cocoa Beans to Chocolate by Bridget Heos covers all aspects of chocolate production, from the cacao growing on a fair trade plantation in the equator “where it’s warm all year” to chocolate-making in a “small chocolate factory.” With lively illustrations by Stefanie Fizer Coleman, this kids book provides a simplified yet accurate overview of the chocolate making process.

Bean-to-Bar Chocolate, America’s Craft Chocolate Revolution by Megan Giller

B2B Megan Giller

To the non-initiated, the world of bean-to-bar chocolate can be nebulous. Three years ago, I didn’t know most makers, didn’t understand chocolate labels, nor could I place cacao-growing countries on a map. The only way to make sense of that world, it seemed, was to eat my way through it — that’s how the 37 Chocolates challenge came to be.

Since then, Megan Giller released Bean-to-Bar Chocolate, giving chocolate enthusiasts a much-needed bean-to-bar primer. In this abundantly illustrated book, you’ll learn how chocolate is made, where it’s coming from, and how to taste it. You’ll meet the pioneers of the American bean-to-bar movement and discover trusted, established chocolate-makers. I personally loved the pairing ideas (bread! beer! cheese!) and the conversational, sometimes self-depreciating tone of the book (you’ll love the story of Megan trying to make chocolate.) Peppered with maker profiles and recipes, it is the book I wish had existed when I started my chocolate journey.

The Chocolate Tasting Kit by Eagranie Yuh

img_5436

**This kit was gifted to me by Chronicle Books ** 

The Chocolate Tasting Kit by Eagranie Yuh is a great gift for the food-lover who likes to entertain. The kit contains everything you need to throw a chocolate party, from tasting sheets and flavor flash cards to an introductory booklet for the host or hostess. I like how the latter provides very specific guidance on how to select chocolate by naming actual company names (hello Pralus and Askinosie.) In fact, I wish you could actually buy it on its own, as it provides much needed guidance to those new to the world of craft chocolate. The kit would make a lovely gift alongside a selection of fine chocolate bars.

Making Chocolate, From Bean-to-Bar to S’more by Todd Masonis, Greg d’Alesandre, Lisa Vega, and Molly Gore

Dandelion

First, a disclaimer: I have no interest in becoming a chocolate-maker. However, as a chocolate lover and educator, there comes a time when you want to know more. Why are some bars grittier than other? How exactly is life on plantations? And how do you bake with a two-ingredient bar?

Written by the team at Dandelion Chocolate, Making Chocolate touches on all of these topics and then some, in a engaging, approachable way. This beautifully illustrated volume is for anyone who loves chocolate, from the gourmand looking for a single origin chocolate mousse recipe to the the budding professional who wants to start making chocolate at home.

As a chocolate educator, I rely on its show-stopping picture of cacao pods, drying beds, and plantations to bring context to my tastings. It’s also the only mainstream book I found that makes the less glamorous aspects of chocolate-making look fun: the reports of chocolate sourcerer Greg d’Alesandre are funny and the tech-inspired approach to roasting beans is fascinating. There’s a way the authors talk about machines that make you feel giddy about a roll mill. This is must-have if you ever dream of making chocolate at home.

Les secrets du chocolat by Franckie Alarcon

Les secrets du chocolat

Somewhere between a chocolate connoisseur manual (the author shares details about a cacao sourcing trip with Stéphane Bonnat) and a baking book (you’ll find a few recipes in there), this French graphic novel is the most entertaining chocolate book I’ve read to date. Playful yet informative, it is light enough to read after a long day at work, but serious enough to deepen your appreciation of chocolate.

Written through the lens of its author, French graphic novelist Franckie Alarcon, Les secrets du chocolat provides incredible insight on the philosophy behind the work of a great French chocolatier, Jacques Genin. If you can’t intern with Genin but read French, do yourself a favor and get this book! And if you don’t, you’ll enjoy this anecdote: Jacques Genin never tasted chocolate as a kid. As an adult, he worked as a pastry chef and, when becoming a dad, decided to work with chocolate so he’d make the best looking birthday cakes for his daughter. This is one of the many, many touching moments of the book.

Now, tell me, what are your favorite books about chocolate?

If you liked this article, sign up to my newsletter to be notified of future blog updates.

A secret chocolate project in Paris + an upcoming tasting in Kennett Square

41164532-DEDC-4617-A1AD-738BAD865289
Catherine and Nathalie, owners of Kosak in Paris, France

About this time last year, I started hinting at a “secret project” involving a gazillion chocolate samples and dozens of pages on Microsoft Word. Many of you inquired but I managed to keep it zipped.

Well, the time has come to spill the (cocoa) beans: knowing how classic chocolate descriptions bore me, Paris-based chocolate shop Kosak owners Nathalie and Catherine tasked me with writing 150+ chocolate descriptions and 30 maker profiles in a novel way. No cryptic tasting notes, but rather short, relatable stories about life, nods to a Swedish furniture catalog, and the occasional reference to poetry. All in French and English. You can already read the French versions now at www.kosakchocolat.com, as well as on their brand new distribution catalog.

The experience introduced me to the European bean-to-bar scene (and ALL of the chocolate on Kosak’s famed wall) and  stretched my writing skills. I’m forever grateful for the trust of Kosak and very proud to be part of this new chocolate journey.

4D6799E5-1DBB-493E-AD54-FF709CC65277
A peek at my recent wine & chocolate pairing event at Galer Estate.

On this side of the Atlantic, chocolate tastings are in full swing. On Saturday, November 10, 2018, at 10:00 AM, I’ll be at the Kennett Library for another chocolate tasting workshop. Attendance is FREE but registration will be required on the Kennett Library website. You’ll get to taste the impact of roasting the chocolate’s flavor through three bars from Fresco Chocolate Chocolate. Each will feature a different roast (light, medium, and dark) of the same bean and I think you’ll enjoy the experience.

To be notified of future events, please sign up to my newsletter!  It’s really the best way to keep in touch.

Who Makes the Best Chocolate? And Other Frequently Asked Questions on Chocolate

 

E07A036D-3422-4751-B317-83AB29E00932
Asnapshot of a few bars I bought last year for tastings. Can you recognize the makers?

Don’t you love how serving others sometimes leads to serving yourself? A couple of months ago, I gave a presentation on the topic of  “Blogging to Promote Expertise” to local business owners (you can watch a replay of the presentation here.) I wanted to give the audience the keys to launch and grow a blog, so I gave them concrete steps to brainstorm blog posts. One of them is to ask yourself what audience you want to serve and what problem you’d like to solve. So I followed my advice and asked myself these very questions. This is what I came up with.

Through this blog, I want to serve chocolate enthusiasts who may not know where to start their fine chocolate journey. It was me at age 36 and YOU, the lovely people I meet at tastings, whether at my local library or during pairing events. Thinking of my recent tastings, I thought of the most frequently asked questions from the audience. Wouldn’t that be nice to answer them on my blog post? Eureka! Here are my answers to your four most frequently asked questions.

1 – What’s your favorite chocolate?

It’s rare for me to buy the same dark chocolate twice, but I do make an exception for the Acalli Chocolate’s 81% Barataria Blend. This bar has all the qualities I look for in a dark chocolate. It has a smooth, velvety texture. It’s dark but not bitter, with just that bit of acidity and fruitiness to keep the taste buds excited. The use of Louisiana cane sugar lends the bar a pleasant fudginess. The chocolate is consistent from batch to batch and most dark chocolate-lovers I share it with truly enjoy it.

The beans used in these bars, from El Platanal and Norandino Tumbes in Peru, are also delicious on their  own – my friend Jacqueline can eat them by the handful! The combination of consistency and deliciousness is the reason you’ll often find both the chocolate and cacao beans at my tastings.

E708EA96-B68E-4949-A7EB-A3842FD175DE

2 – Who makes the best chocolate?

The greatest chefs are those who source the best ingredients and have the skills to treat them with respect. Similarly, the makers who make the best chocolate are those who select the finest beans AND have mastered their craft.

For help locating “the best,” check out the winners of the Academy of Chocolate Awards and International Chocolate Awards. You may fall hard for some of the bars in the Gold category (Qantu, I heart you too!). Or you may not. Ultimately, the best chocolate is the chocolate that YOU like and you may have to work your way through a few bars to find it.

If you don’t have an unlimited budget (who does?!), consider attending one of my upcoming tastings — you can sign up to my newsletter to be notified of future events. I usually bring several bars for everyone to try so you can quickly determine what they enjoy. My next tasting will take place at Dallas Chocolate Festival on Saturday, September 8, where I’ll be share some tips on throwing a chocolate party. I’ll also lead a wine and chocolate pairing event on Sunday, October 14 at Galer Estate in Kennett Square, PA. I hope you consider signing up!

4D4CEE7E-8E7C-47DB-A370-234634ADA9CB
At a chocolate tasting I led in collaboration with Kosak in Paris. Photo by my friend Florence.

3 – Is this chocolate Fair Trade?

According to the their website, the World Fair Trade Organization (WFTO) “aims to improve the livelihoods of marginalised producers and workers, especially in the South.” While the certification helps ensure the Fair Trade standards are met, it comes at a financial cost to the farmers and producers. The good news is there are other ways to provide a better livelihood to cacao farmers that doesn’t involve paid certifications. Marou Chocolate in Vietnam buys cacao beans directly from farmers. Here’s what they have to say about the purchase price.

“We pay above-market rates (at the moment, double cacao’s commodity price) to encourage and compensate the most committed and talented farmers in the country. We’re proud to call this fair trade, by any name.”

Source: Marou Chocolate’s Bean-to-Bar Manifesto

There’s indeed a growing trend in the fine or specialty chocolate industry to trade beans directly from farmers. Like Marou Chocolate, Taza Chocolate in Massachusetts and Askinosie Chocolate in Missouri, to name a few, choose to trade directly with their farmers. They describe their trade practices and cocoa bean purchase price on a yearly transparency report. Check out Taza Chocolate’s here, Askinosie Chocolate’s here, and Marou Chocolate’s there.

So, no, the chocolate you’re about to taste isn’t necessarily certified Fair Trade. You don’t always need a certification trade fairly.

10540F16-CDE3-4B1C-AA93-CD74A6B0362E
At one the Pralus shop in Paris. The pistachio bar is fantastic.

4 – Where can I get this bar?

If I ever share chocolate with you, the odds are it comes from one of these fine places:

  • Philter Coffee, my beloved coffee shop in Kennett Square, Pennsylvania. This is where I usually buy Dick Taylor, Parliament, and Ritual Chocolate.
  • A specific maker’s online shop. That’s the case for Map Chocolate and Acalli, for instance.
  • The most likely answer, though, would be Bar & Cocoa, a chocolate online shop based in the US. The company carries a very large selection of carefully curated bars from all over the world, such as Pump Street Chocolate (you MUST try their Rye Crumb, Milk, and Sea Salt bar!) and Dormouse Chocolates (oh, the Peruvian Milk with Sea Salt.) In addition, the website offers a chocolate subscription service aka The Club that lets you discover four new bean-to-bar chocolates each month. Most of what I pull from my purse is usually from the latest subscription.
  • From Paris, France. I mean, what’s the point of being from France if I can’t show off every once in a while?! So if I ever share Ara Chocolat or Chocolat Encuentro with you, you can safely assume it came in a suitcase last spring. Head out to Bar and Cocoa’s blog for a list of three shops you must visit in Paris.
6F417466-1F8A-4A62-B432-F2AC725D586D
Sometimes, I also find chocolate on my windshield. My friend Renee brought this bar from a trip to Vietnam. I was relieved it wasn’t a ticket.