Two weeks ago Trev and I visited Kerstin's Chocolates for a chocolate tasting, it was a perfect date night. The tasting started at about 7 and when we showed up a few minutes early the small shop was already packed with people eagerly anticipating the chocolate.
The tasting was hosted by Nina, who did a fabulous job of explaining chocolate. First we learned about the history of chocolate. Next she explained the differences between the varieties of cacao trees (Criollo is the best) then she explained the process of making chocolate: fermentation, roasting, grinding the beans and separating the cocoa solids from the cocoa butter, conching and tempering.
Nina was quick to state that she was a chocolate snob, she explained that she sees chocolate as a luxury item and that the chocolate bars we pick up at the corner store are a far cry from what chocolate should be. After listening to her explain the differences in quality and the production processes used by artisan chocolate-makers versus mass-production, I'm beginning to see her point.
Next we moved on to the much anticipated chocolate tasting portion. All of the chocolates we tasted were single location/variety chocolates, so that we could learn to taste the differences in flavour. For example, Nina told us that the farther south the beans are grown, the more earthy the flavour. We started off with the darkest chocolate and worked our way towards milk chocolate. After tasting the darker and more complex chocolates the milk chocolates seemed so sweet! (but I still love them too)
The chocolate tasting process goes like this:
How does the chocolate sound when you break a piece off? Properly tempered chocolate should make a nice, crisp 'snap' sound. What does the chocolate look like? Glossy and shiny or hazy and streaked? How does the chocolate feel as it melts between your fingers? Smooth or gritty? How does the chocolate smell as it melts? It shouldn't smell too much like vanilla (a disguise for bad chocolate). Next you take a little nibble and chew it a few times before pressing it to your palate then breathing through your mouth for a moment. Again, pay attention to the texture as it melts in your mouth. Try to distinguish the flavours...some of the examples we were given were cooked pudding, floral, herbal, barnyard, metallic, citrus or carmelized. Similar to wine tasting - it's amazing that the same chocolate beans can bring so many different flavour profiles!
After our tasting was over we spent some time browsing in the shop. They carry a wide variety of artisan chocolate bars, books and baking supplies. They also carry their own chocolate line: Chocophilia, including a variety of bars, Drinking Chocolate and Cocoa Nib Caviar (definitely on my wish list for my next visit). We got to take a bundle of six Chocophilia bars home with us, so far my favourite is Omega Lime, with flax and lime zest. We also brought home a variety of other bars to sample. Oh, you can order from Kerstin's online too!