I have always loved eating chocolate. But I will not eat it again!!
Tasting it is a much better experience.
Chocolate has always played a part in modern courtship rituals. Valentine’s Day centers around pronouncing our love by way of flowers and chocolate and maybe adding a little wine. I have always loved chocolate, however, I recently woke up to the fact that I really did not understand chocolate. I was really missing out on the experience that chocolate can bring. What was I missing out on? I will sum it up as “Chocolate Tasting”.
You really have not really experienced chocolate until you do a chocolate tasting. People frequently eat cheese and drink wine. People who really enjoy those delicacies, learn by tasting. There are experiences showing people how to properly evaluate wines, and also cheese. Once you do develop those skills, partaking in both wines and cheeses becomes much more enjoyable. I have just been introduced to Chocolate Tasting and I believe my love for chocolate has taken a new depth.
Welcome to the Luxury Chocolate by To’ak
A few weeks ago, I received an email from a marketing/PR firm offering the opportunity to participate in an online chocolate experience. To be honest, I was shocked to get the invitation. The limited food writing I do for others is ghostwritten. To be frank, I do not update the Cooking To Impress site as often as I should.
The experience was for a new product line from the luxury chocolate firm To’ak. The Alchemy collection with eight varieties joins the current four collections. The Master Series is their top-of-the-line collection. I am certain it will be something I will never be able to taste. Crafted in a very limited number, the chocolate comes with original art. The next release of the Master Series will be available for $490. The previous release weight was just under 2 ounces. The Alchemy collection is more affordable.
Who is To’ak
To’ak is an Ecuadorian tree-to-bar chocolate producer. The creation of chocolate has a few key components with different skill sets. Once a farmer harvests the bean, a chocolate maker goes through a multiple-step process to create a chocolate liquor or chocolate couverture. This chocolate couverture is different from the ones you find on the retail market. A chocolatier takes this raw resource and uses it to create a chocolate creation. Generally, a chocolate maker and a chocolatier are different firms. Most of the best-known luxury chocolate brands are not involved in the beginning processes. A tree/bean-to-bar producer handcrafts chocolates, working with the farmers and crafting the process to the final product.
To’ak handcrafts some of the most expensive chocolates in the world. They use a variety of cacao, Ancient Nacional cacao, thought to have been extinct until some were discovered in 2009.
Let me quote from their website:
To’ak started from a rainforest conservation project in Ecuador and has become the global pioneer of luxury dark chocolate. We responsibly source our chocolate collections from a cacao variety that many experts believed to be extinct as recently as 2009. It’s called Ancient Nacional, which is native to Ecuador.
We are reimagining what is possible with craft chocolate through aging, art, culture, and responsible sourcing. We established the world’s first long-term chocolate aging program, our most revered editions have been cask-aged for up to six years, and we take pride in our exquisite packing and design. Because of this, we have extremely limited production runs.
My Online Tasting Experience
The Alchemy series is 65% Cacao and has 8 varieties. When I opened the package that was mailed to me, I found a special pouch. The pouch is made by the brand Ozchin, and is designed to protect the contents from outside odors. The pouch was locked, so we would not be tempted to sneak a taste before the tasting experience. The first portion of our experience had the company founders explaining about the company and the processes involved with making their chocolate creations. They also discuss finding the artist who created the packaging images. After that overview, they gave us the combination for the lock. Inside were four 2-ounce packages.
- Caramelized Pop Amaranth: Amaranth is an ancient grain that is similar to quinoa and is considered a superfood. Roasted and popped, it is a common snack. In this creation, it is covered with caramel and a layer of cacao butter.
- Amazonian Ants: Keep this a secret until after your friends taste this incredible chocolate. The citronella aroma is not from the cacao or added fruit. It is from grounded-up lemon ants.
- Galápagos Orange & Salt: If you remember your high school science, you will recognize the Galápagos Islands from the studies of Charles Darwin and his “On the Origin of Species”. While it is believed that oranges were introduced to the island by sailors to provide a source of fresh fruit when they sailed nearby, the taste is something unique. The salt is also sourced from the island’s salt flats.
- Malva Flower: Malva olorosa is an aphrodisiac and carminative medicinal plant used by ancestral Andean cultures.
They walked us through the process of tasting each of the four varieties. We learned in the first portion of the online experience that the base was the same for each of these chocolates. The experience with each of these was incredible. For my taste, the Galápagos Orange & Salt was the best followed by the Amazonian Ants and then by the Caramelized Pop Amaranth. While the Malva Flower did not rank as high for me as the others, I will try it again. I want to try it paired with a nice Brut champagne. Yes, that is a lowercase “c”. Champagne, with a capital “C”, has to come from the Champagne region of France. Sparkling wines from outside the region, even using the same grapes and process, can not be capitalized.
After the online tasting was finished, I took a couple of pieces over to my next-door neighbor. One was the ants and the other was the orange. I talked him through the tasting process and asked about his reaction to each. I could tell from his facial reaction he liked the first piece which was the Amazon Ants. Summarizing his review, he thought it was great. When he started to taste the second piece, I had a hard time keeping from laughing. I could see his face light up and his eyes open wide. His reaction was “WOW”. After we talked about the chocolates and the experience for a few minutes, he asked why the one was called Amazon Ants. I told him, that grounded lemon ants were the special ingredient. His reaction was, “I ate ants?”, then admitted it tasted great.
The Art Of Chocolate Tasting
In wine tasting, there are different styles of tasting, however, they all revolve around the five “s”. These are See, Swirl, Sniff, Sip, and Savor. Chocolate tasting can follow a similar process:
- See: When we go to an expensive restaurant, our food will be carefully plated to give the most appealing look. It is often said we eat with our eyes. Look at your chocolate, what is the visible impression?
- Smell: Aroma is an important component to taste. In wine tasting, we swirl the wine in a glass and then sniff it. For chocolate, gentling rub a small piece of chocolate between your thumb and forefinger. Cup your hand, bring the chocolate to your nose, and sniff with slow breaths. At first, you may only smell chocolate, however, with some practice, you may be able to detect aromas that are more complex.
- Snap: Texture is also an important component of taste. When we snap a slim piece of chocolate, the sound will give us an indication of the texture as well as the content. Milk chocolate will have a softer snap because the high amount of dairy and cocoa butter makes the chocolate softer. Chocolates with a high cacao percentage will have a sharper snap.
- Savor: Now it is finally time to put a small piece of chocolate into your mouth. Generally, you will not want to chew it, but you might need to crunch slightly some types. Allow the chocolate to rest on your tongue and bring it to the roof of your mouth.
- Feel the chocolate melt in your mouth, is it smooth and creamy or does it feel greasy?
- Does it seem to start to melt rapidly, or is it a slow process?
- Is the taste constant or does it seem to build up to a peak?
- Does the flavor change the longer it is in your mouth?
- How long does the flavor last?
- Start over: We know you are going to, snap off another piece and try the savor step again.
Hover over the bottom of the PDF for the menu to change pages
Do Not Stop With One Type of Chocolate
When you go to a wine-tasting event, there are a number of different wines to taste. Find four or five different chocolates and taste each one at a time. Select chocolates in different price brackets. If you look online, you can find a number of examples of chocolate-tasting scorecards. Record your impressions before moving on to the next one. Remember to clean your palate between the tastings.
What were your impressions of the different types of chocolates?
I did a mini test between Hershey’s Dark Chocolate, Lindt’s Intense Orange Dark, and To’ak’s Galápagos Orange & Salt. It may not of been fair to Hershey as they do not have a chocolate and orange combination. While the snap was similar between all three, all the other elements were vastly different. Sorry Hershey, compared to the other two, you barely rank as chocolate. Lindt is good but far short of To’ak.
Coming Soon A Chocolate Tasting To Impress.
I am planning a small dinner party in a few months. Instead of appetizers, I am going to do a blind chocolate tasting. I plan on doing 6 different chocolates. Three will be brands found in grocery stores. One will be from a local chocolatier. I will have one from To’ak and I will find another tree to bar creator for the final piece. Until then, I will continue to taste chocolates instead of just eating them. Hopefully, develop my tasting skills and move on to chocolate and wine pairings. I have the other 4 varieties of Alchemy on their way and the vineyard up the street has some outstanding white wines.