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

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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.

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

 

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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.

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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!

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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.

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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.
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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.