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Preparing for and Conducting Your Own Chocolate Tasting Party

Chocolate Swirls Hosting any social event, regardless of the size or whether it is for neighbors, relatives, friends and/or work associates, presents a wonderful opportunity to create a memorable event for all those present.  The challenge for the host is always the same when it comes to planning:  “What can I organize to promote both atmosphere and entertainment for my guests?”  Whether you are hosting a book club meeting, fundraiser, baby shower, evening with couples of friends or family get-together, chocolate tasting has unique attributes that make it the perfect structure for any of these events.

  • First, the tasting itself provides a common experience between guests that will promote interaction and discussion.  Each person present will have some degree of expertise with chocolate when they walk in the door.  Each participant will have an individual preference and opinion for each chocolate tasted which is something easily expressed as you progress through the chocolates.  Chocolate tasting can be done in any about any setting from formal to casual and is generally perceived as being less intimidating than some other tasting events (such as wine or cheese tasting.)
  • Chocolate can be enjoyed by all ages so if your event includes a range of ages, everyone can still participate in the tasting and discussion.
  • You can easily combine chocolate tasting with other activities like wine parings for an adult event or with an old favorite movie for a rainy evening with a close friend.
  • Your guests will leave with a broader knowledge of the variants of chocolate available today and a better idea of their personal preferences.  In general the United States population has had very little exposure to dark chocolate (as opposed to the milk chocolate we are used to seeing at the grocery markets and drug stores.)  A general understanding of cacao content and the differences between white chocolate, milk chocolate and dark chocolate, flavored and filled chocolates, are easily understood and an understanding of these may be helpful in the future as greater accessibility to dark chocolates in the United States grows.
  • In addition chocolate tasting can be experienced either by itself, as a compliment to a light luncheon or supper party or in conjunction with other non-food activities.  It can last from as little as 20 minutes or take in excess of several hours, depending on the attention span of the participants and the time available.
  • Finally, the preparation for chocolate tasting on the part of the host is minimal and the result can be quite elegant and memorable.

The following are some basic steps to follow in planning and coordinating your chocolate tasting.

First:  Decide on the number of chocolate selections you want to offer:

We suggest that you offer your guests a selection of between 7 and 12 chocolates at the first party.  (Each chocolate selection will normally take about 10-15 minutes to taste and review.)  For later parties you might choose to branch out and focus on some of the outstanding flavored chocolates (such as Earl Grey, ginger or orange) or filled chocolates (such as truffles or bonbons).  For the first tasting however, we suggest that you begin with pure dark bar chocolate.  This will allow your guests to compare the textures and personalities of the chocolates themselves as offered by the different leading chocolatiers in the world.

Then, schedule a date, time and accommodations for your tasting:

  •  The optimum times of day for a chocolate tasting are either mid-afternoon or mid-evening, an hour or so after lunch or dinner.  Try to avoid conducting your tasting directly following a heavy meal because your guests will be too full to appreciate the tasting.  Likewise, if they are hungry it will be difficult for them to pay proper attention to the notes and flavors they taste.  If your event is going to include serving food prior to the tasting, make your selections on the lighter side and make sure to mention to your guests that the chocolate tasting should not be done on a full stomach.  You will also want to make the chocolate the primary dessert offering.
  • Also, do your best to provide a comfortable environment for your guests.  While, tasting can be done in literally any setting, the ideal setting is one with comfortable seating and a table large enough to accommodate each of the participants and lighting sufficient to read about each selection and fill out the opinion cards provided with your kit.  You will also need enough light to be able to evaluate the color of the different chocolate selections.

 Next, plan the guest list and invite the guests:

  •  The amazing thing about chocolate is that almost anyone of any age can enjoy chocolate, making it a wonderful opportunity for a wide variety of groups.  [Remember that children taste things more acutely than adults because they have a greater number of taste buds and, thereby, generally have stronger reactions to unusual flavors.]  We suggest a group size anywhere from 2 to 10 for optimum interaction and discussion.  As with any gathering, try to invite people whom you believe will enjoy each other’s company and will be willing to participate in friendly discussions and offer opinions.  Also, people who enjoy learning and trying new things are more likely to enjoy the tasting.
  • When you invite your guests, make sure to mention to them not to eat a heavy meal before arriving.
  • Sending out invitations can be a fun and creative part of planning and a get-together with a chocolate theme can inspire fun ways to prepare invitations, whether they are electronic invitations or paper.

 Before the tasting:

  • Each person participating in the tasting will need a water glass (or wine glass if you are coupling the chocolate tasting with wine), scorecard and a pencil.   You will also need to provide napkins and a pitcher of room temperature water to refill glasses.
  • Additionally, provide one or more of the following to your guests:
  • Unsalted crackers of biscuits (such as Carr’s brand) or other bland crackers;
  • Sorbet (a fruit flavor such lemon or strawberry works well);
  • Ladyfingers or pound cake.

Conducting discussions:

  •  We suggest that if your guests have had little or no exposure to dark chocolate, your tasting should begin with the lowest cacao content bar.  Work up the scale from there ending with a product with content of 82% or less.  (This allows the palate to acclimate to the lower sugar content.)  Also for this type of group, read the description for each chocolate before it is tasted so your guests will have guidance on the qualities they can expect to experience from that sample.
  • On the other hand, if your guests are familiar with dark chocolate, work from the higher cacao end of the spectrum down, finishing with the lightest chocolate.  For a group of more experienced tasters we also suggest that you do not read the description of the chocolate until after the discussion of that sample has been completed so the will not influence the taster’s findings.
  • As the host, make sure to stimulate discussion while your guests cleanse their palates and make sure to emphasize that there is no right or wrong, only individual preferences.  Also, remind your guests to make notes on their scorecards about which chocolate they liked, disliked or were indifferent to so they can further explore other chocolates in that range.  Encourage your guests to take their scorecards with them when they leave so they will have them as a foundation for future explorations into the chocolate realm.

 Finally, thank your guests for coming:

A simple but elegant gesture is to thank your guests for participating with a quick follow-up note or e-Mail a day or two following the event.

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