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chocolate showdown

We hosted a little ol’ chocolate tasting yesterday with four friends. It’s the first half of a two-part project I planned. We have done wine tastings in the past on several occasions, but never a chocolate tasting. I know some people think a chocolate tasting involves shoving loads of chocolate down your gullet. Please… it is nothing so crass as that – you may as well go sit in a corner with a few pounds of cheap Hershey’s bars if that is your aim (and not set foot in my dining room!). In fact, this chocolate tasting was quite a bit of work.


the players: round 1 – chocolove

the players: round 2 – dark ~70%



I took a cue from Fine Cooking’s issue #83 on hosting tasting parties. There they discuss how to conduct tastings for cheddar, olive oil, and of course, dark chocolate. Sounded like fun. The issue of my wankered taste hovered in my mind, but I was more than 2 weeks out from the last chemo, so my taste was probably operating on par with most folks. In general (and Jeremy will back me up on this one), I have a discerning and sensitive palate. I’m curious to take that super-taster test. We decided on two flights of chocolate: one flight of Chocolove in varying degrees of cacao (55%, 65%, and 70%), and then a flight of dark chocolates with 70% cacao (New Tree, Valrhona, Green & Black’s, and Lindt). Tasting all of that dark chocolate can be tough on an empty stomach and go straight to your noggin. So we served appetizers and a light dinner beforehand.

crudités, pita, hummus, soft asiago, olives

greek salad with yogurt-tahini dressing or balsamic vinaigrette



We opted for a nice Shiraz to go with the appetizers and a smooth Zin for dinner. The salad is a meal in itself and I adapted it from my favorite souvlaki/chicklaki plate at Aladdin’s in Ithaca, NY. Fresh greens, tomatoes, greek olives, young cucumbers, grated feta, and hunks of grilled marinated beef or chicken. I personally love the yogurt-tahini dressing, but offered up the vinaigrette because I like for my guests to have choices.

everyone seemed to enjoy it

the beautiful flowers Beth and Marianne brought us



Once we had a chance to digest dinner, we set out the water glasses and the chocolates. To clear your palate between tasting, cool (not cold) water and neutral bread or crackers is recommended. Don’t be drinking booze (port or big cabs pair well with high content cacao chocolates) or else you’re going to fuck up the tasting – sheesh. I placed pieces of each chocolate in their own bowl and labeled the bowl accordingly. Each piece should be big enough to be broken into two bite-sized pieces.

starting the chocolate tasting



Everyone got a sheet of paper and a pen for taking notes. The group evaluated one chocolate at a time, passing the bowl around for everyone to take a piece. First we smelled it (1), then snapped it in half (2), then placed one half in our mouths and allowed it to melt – assessing for taste (3) and texture (4). Then we ate the other half and chewed it (5) and evaluated the finish (6). Swish with water and proceed to the next chocolate. In hindsight, I would have switched the order and tasted all of the 70% chocolates first, then tasted the Chocoloves. We were more sensitive to the breadth of flavors in the 65% and 55% Chocoloves upon revisiting after the 70% chocolates. And have napkins on hand, this can get messy.

one of the big winners of the evening



Our guests had assumed the chocolate tasting was their dessert, but that isn’t my style. The chocolate tasting was the main event, but it was also hard work and not what I would classify as satisfying or a proper finish to a meal. No no no, we closed with a Torta di Ricotta and heaps of good conversation.

ricotta cheesecake topped with fresh strawberries



In the end, the lighter Chocoloves won out overall. As far as eating chocolate goes, I am a huge fan of Chocolove, especially as it is based right here in Boulder, Colorado. It is a beloved local brand with hints of vanilla, hazelnut, and caramel. I don’t tend to be a fan of the bittersweets for eating – but that’s just me. I was disappointed in how the Valrhona 71% fared because the brand is my favorite chocolate for pastries and confections. I just tasted the Valrhona 64% Manjari that I used to make chocolate-dipped strawberries and compared it to the Valrhona 71% – a world of difference! The Manjari is much smoother, fuller, and pleasant. Even the Guanaja (Valrhona 70%) block that I have tastes much better than the eating bar. Curious. Well, we all found Green and Black’s to be consistently near the bottom. Makes me wish that I had selected a bar of Scharffen Berger instead. The exercise was certainly educational and I hope our friends came away from it with a broader appreciation for chocolate and all of her complexities. Most of all, it was a lot of fun. You can find all of our notes in the tables below. The number below each person’s name is the rank they gave that chocolate.


#2
Chocolove
55%

smell
break
taste
texture
chew
finish
Beth
#2
sweet, raspberry, slight burnt clean caramel, vanilla, slight bitter smooth, creamy smooth, creamy slight bitter, mild linger
Jen
#1
mild rubber clean caramel, vanilla creamy, smooth no change light linger, clean
Jeremy
#3
chocolate, milk clean, nice snap caramel smooth, creamy long clean finish
Kellie
#1
milk, mild clean caramel, vanilla creamy, smooth quick finish
Marianne
#3
berry, sweet, nutty, milk slightly soft, smooth raisin, sweet, caramel, vanilla creamy, smooth same lingers w/o sweet nasty taste, not super long
Tom
#1
burnty perfectly square smooth, creamy not as flavorful quick, clean


#1
Chocolove
65%

smell
break
taste
texture
chew
finish
Beth
#1
mild rubber clean slight burnt, slight caramel, slight bitter, hazelnut a little waxy bitter
Jen
#2
mild rubber clean mild coffee, hazelnut smooth sweeter, tastes better longer finish, dry aftertaste
Jeremy
#1
mild rubber good snap caramel, coffee smooth nice hard finish
Kellie
#2
mild tobacco clean smokey waxy, creamy creamy
Marianne
#1
sweet, berry clean raisin silky, smooth failed due to melting from hands very little aftertaste
Tom
#3
less burnt, more tobacco clean darker smooth, creamy, slightly grainy sweeter, flavorful


#4
Chocolove
70%

smell
break
taste
texture
chew
finish
Beth
#3
leather, wood clean cigar smooth, dense
Jen
#3
mild leather clean coffee, caramel buttery, silky sweeter medium linger
Jeremy
#2
rough leather good snap less caramel, more coffee less melty lingering, mucus-making
Kellie
#4
burnt, tobacco clean smokey waxy, creamy stronger after bitten stronger aftertaste
Marianne
#5
smokey clean snap raisin, ashy smooth, silky sweeter when chewed no linger
Tom
no rank
smokier, ash tray clean smooth sweeter quick finish


#3
New Tree
73%

smell
break
taste
texture
chew
finish
Beth
no rank
clean bitter, mushroom dry, chalky
Jen
#4
earthy, raisin clean caramel, coffee, acid, smokey smooth, dry sweeter, slight fruit long finish
Jeremy
#4
raisin good snap no caramel, dark taste, bitter up front tiny crystals
Kellie
#3
raisin clean smokey smooth sweeter upon biting went away quickly
Marianne
#2
smokey, raisin mostly clean smokey creamy, chalky drier
Tom
no rank
burnt, ash tray clean creamy, smooth sweet, nice


#6
Valrhona
71%

smell
break
taste
texture
chew
finish
Beth
no rank
subtle earth, scotch soft olives, sour, acidic chalky, dry butter, acid slight bitter, dry linger, quick finish
Jen
#6
earthy, fruity clean olives, acidity, coffee smooth, dry more acid, sharper up front quick finish, lingering dry
Jeremy
#6
earthy, aromatic sharp break olive, sour pasty a little soft smooth, dry finish
Kellie
#6
raisins clean snap olive, sour, acidic drier, cotton mouth sharper when chewed dry linger
Marianne
#7
sweet, scotchy, earthy smooth olives, scotch, acid, sour, butter or butterscotch lightly chalky chewing has more kick dry and bitter lingers, flavor goes quickly
Tom
no rank
peat-like clean, but not as clean as others slightly sour smooth, no grit least favorite lingers more than others


#7
Green & Black’s
70% (organic)

smell
break
taste
texture
chew
finish
Beth
no rank
fruit mostly clean, a little powdery bitter, acid-coffee, tangy chalky worse, strong burnt, muddy dry
Jen
#7
fruit clean smokey, bitter, acidic, rancid coffee, mud chalky sweeter, more sour cigarettes, long finish
Jeremy
#7
fruity brittle bitter chalky crumbly, sour, dry
Kellie
#7
clean break smokey, olive, bitter, acidic drier cigarettes long, bitter
Marianne
#6
ashy, berry breaks smokey, tangy, strong flavor very dry less smokey
Tom
no rank
tea, black tea clean bitter slightly chalky least favorite (again)


#5
Lindt
70%

smell
break
taste
texture
chew
finish
Beth
no rank
malty, sweet, milk, bananas clean bitter, smokey, acid chalky, smooth woody, bright bananas acidic, dry
Jen
#5
caramel, sweet clean acid, light fruit creamy, dry more fruit, banana acidic finish, medium linger, abrupt end
Jeremy
#5
malty, caramel, milk nice break, sharp fruity gluey sweet, acidic fast finish
Kellie
#5
sweet, malty clean fruity drier, chalky fruitier when chewed mild finish
Marianne
#4
caramel, malt good snap tangy (more than G&B), slight caramel dry sweet up front, ends with tang dry on aftertaste, fast finish
Tom
#2
malty cleanest slight sour-milk smoothest, creamy dry

26 nibbles at “chocolate showdown”

  1. Bridget says:

    Wow, how cool. I love how much reproducibility there is between tasters.

    I’m wondering where you found the different chocolate types? I’m planning a “does quality of chocolate matter” experiment with truffles, and I’d like to use Valrhona, obviously as the high end of the spectrum, but I don’t know where to find it.

  2. peabody says:

    Oh what a fun idea. And yes, I like you could not just have the chocolate tasting be my dessert. Good choice with the ricotta cheesecake. Those are nice and light.

  3. Ruthie says:

    Long time lurker, but the chocolate brought me out of the woodwork to comment.

    I would just love to say: I LOVE Chocolove. Orange peel in 55% dark is my fav. It is second, however, to my local chocolate of choice: Lake Champlain Chocolates.
    http://www.lakechamplainchocolates.com
    They make the food of the gods. The chocolate bars are heavenly, but, oh, their hot chocolate. New World Drinking Chocolate = tin of 70% cacao chocolate shavings.

  4. Jamie in Las Vegas says:

    What an excellent post, fun and informative, without being snooty. Love the charts at the end with everyone’s comments.

    Cool…. how do we get an invite?

    Jamie Vegas

  5. Laura @ HungryAndFrozen says:

    Looks like such a cool evening. Those flowers are gorgeous – at first glance they look like almost like a flock of birds. Amazing to read the reactions of the chocolate tasters – ash tray, rubber, leather? I love Lindt chocolate, have never tried Valhrona because it is insanely expensive over here. Oh and that cheesecake looks intensely good…Glad to hear your tastebuds were in top form to taste all that deliciousness!

  6. Psychgrad says:

    What a neat idea! When I’m not thinking about or preparing food, I do quantitative research. So, something like this would make for a great night with my research-oriented friends.

  7. Holly says:

    I don’t think the strawberries could have possibly looked any more perfectly lined around! So beautiful! And the chocolates look very yummy too!

  8. manggy says:

    Oh, scientists! You forgot to blind the tasters by concealing the names of the chocolate ;) I am certain this is a way to further the cause of Colorado and put down England. Hahaha! I’m joking. Right, Graeme? :D

    Something tells me Tom really, really wants a smoke… :P

    I quite enjoyed the Maya Gold G&B, at least more than Paul’s Organic. Lindt is one of the most available “luxury” chocolates here, I don’t know why I don’t use it more (guilt over melting it, probably). But I do love the taste of Lindt too. Valrhona isn’t available here in tempered bars– it’s only sold as the compound bars (although I use Callebaut, even if it is a little waxy, because it’s cheaper and sold in 500g blocks). I do think that plain eating taste doesn’t correlate all that well with “baked” taste (compared to maybe simple ganaches).

    Finally… Rancid coffee? Mucus-making? Best descriptions evah :)

  9. Christine says:

    Jen – So cool! I love the charts – you always rock the charts :) Cook’s Illustrated or Fine Cooking need to hire you, like now. Really.

    It’s interesting how the Lindt and Valrhona ones ended up on the bottom — I use those two so often for baking and cooking.

    The ricotta strawberry cake is just lovely :)

  10. Tartelette says:

    I love Chocolove Lavender and lemon chocolate bars. What an intense work that was. Great choice of meal and dessert for the tasting!

  11. Nicole says:

    Chocolate’s fabulous and all that, but are you planning on posting the yogurt-tahini dressing? :) We’re finally having some spring-ish days in Seattle, and I’m craving salads.

  12. Kitt says:

    How fun! A little nibble of chocolate is enough for me, but I’m sure craving that salad.

  13. Brittany says:

    This is my kind of party!! Everything looks incredible. What a great idea! The salad looks as good as the chocolate ( I can’t belive I just typed that, but it’s true!)

  14. Rosa says:

    A great party! I bet you had lots of fun tasting those chocolates…

    All that food looks gorgeous! Delicious!

    Cheers,

    Rosa

  15. grace says:

    “mucus-making.” i laughed out loud.
    is that a good or bad quality? :)

  16. Lauren @ Parsnips Aplenty says:

    That chocolate lineup looks like half the sweets aisle at the health food store I worked at a few years back. Ah, memories!

    Also – I’ve tagged you for an award! It’s on my site, in the white bean salad post.

  17. diva says:

    lovely event! must have been so much work. :) lovely cheesecake you have there. it must’ve been nice to have the strawberries to close the meal too. x

  18. Sharona May says:

    What a unique idea for a party!! Love it. The food looks great, too!

    We hosted a wine party last weekend ~ covered the names of the wine and had people taste and decide on a favorite.

    Sharona May

  19. Sarah says:

    Oh my goodness, your friends are so lucky! This is a fabulous idea. Similarly, a friend just told me she went to a cheese tasting party which also sounds like great fun! :)

  20. White On Rice Couple says:

    I would have passed out from a sugar coma after the first three pieces. I’m a salt gal. My suga boy,Todd ,would have made it to the very end. But the salad, that’s all mine!
    How fun! The topping on your cheesecake is beautiful! I’m gonna copy that this weekend!

  21. marcie says:

    man oh man…that ricotta cheesecake looks amazing….do you have a recipe? kickass blog by the way!

  22. jenyu says:

    Bridget – I bought most of the chocolates at our local Whole Foods or at a local gourmet cook store (Peppercorn on Pearl Street Mall). But you probably don’t want to use these chocolates (eating bars as I refer to them). Instead, you probably want to use compound bars for baking and confections. I’d try a Whole Foods or any gourmet store… Wegmans in your area, perhaps?

    Peabody – it was totally fun. It would have been neat to do with some of the food bloggers too, yeah?

    Ruthie – well great to have you commenting and de-lurking! Thanks for plugging your favorite local. I love local businesses :)

    Jamie – ah ha :) It helps to live nearby!!

    Laura – thanks, it was loads of fun! I didn’t expect some of those flavors (olive in Valrhona? but it really was there!) which is why it was so educational for me.

    Psychgrad – yeah, I think quantitative types (4 of us are science trained) have an interesting approach to this sort of tasting – in a good way!

    Holly – thank you!

    Mark – I was thinking of making it blind, but each chocolate has it’s damn logo printed on the bars… It was incredible to taste how different the 55%, 65% and 70% were in the Chocoloves. I don’t doubt that the lower percentage cacao for all of the brands might have tasted more appealing to our group. I think Marianne and Jeremy are the only two who really appreciate the super dark chocolates. I’ve just had much better results from the compound bars. Go figure (and they’re cheaper per ounce!)

    Christine – ha ha, I like charts ;) I was totally surprised with the results too because I looooove Valrhona, but the eating bars are so different from the compound bars. Strange.

    Tartelette – thanks!

    Nicole – ha ha, yeah – I will post that this week for ya. We missed you at the tasting. It wasn’t right not having you and Andrew there :(

    Kitt – yeah, my head began to hurt after the third chocolate. I’m not a chocolate girl myself. Glad I had the salad first!

    Brittany – ha ha!! I prefer the salad to the chocolate :)

    Rosa – thank you :)

    Grace – I am thinking it’s a bad quality. Not something you really want to experience when eating chocolate (or anything for that matter!)

    Lauren – that’s funny because I got half of the chocolates from Whole Foods :) Thanks for the award! I’ve gotten it before, but it’s very sweet of you to tag me :)

    Diva – absolutely, I wanted something fruity and light to clear out all of that chocolate!

    Sharona May – don’t you love food parties? Food is such a social thing for me :)

    Sarah – I nearly went blind tasting the chocolates, I would probably go into cheese coma if there were a cheese tasting ;) I can’t stomach too much of either one!

    WoRC – I nearly did, sistah! If it weren’t for the dinner beforehand, I don’t think I could have handled so much chocolate (and it wasn’t that much). Oooh, what lucky peeps are going to get to eat your dessert? :)

    Marcie – thank you! I will post the ricotta cheesecake recipe this week!

  23. Bridget says:

    Thanks Jen. Wegman’s carries Sharffen Berger. I’ll check out Whole Foods for Guittard and Valrhona. I’m sure there’s goumet food stores in the area, but I don’t know where.

  24. Rachel says:

    Have I mentioned lately how much I frickin’ love this website? You rock the food like no one else I’ve ever seen. I think you’re my new hero. Anyway, accolades aside, I am so totally copying this idea for my next dinner party. Thanks for the great idea!

  25. Chez US says:

    What a fantastic idea for a small intimate party, may have to steal this one! Who does not love chocolate and you had some outstanding ones to try! I have a friend who is the queen of chocolate and she actually runs a company doing ‘team buildings” and chocolate tasting parties – I will have to pass this along, she will love your sense of style!

  26. jenyu says:

    Bridget – good luck with that!

    Rachel – thanks! It’s a lot of fun to do.

    Chez Us – ah, not stealing – sharing! :) Hope you have a great time with it!

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