It’s easy to eat chocolate, right? You just pop it in your mouth and chew. But tasting, well that’s something else entirely. There are lots of ways to experience the sensation of chocolate, starting with the scent and going right through to mouth feel and flavour. Sometimes it’s good to stop and savour chocolate flavours, rather than chomping pieces down without any thought. Lucy Keany from Bean to Bar Chocolate has started a series of monthly Sunday tastings to let people do just that.
Lucy’s Fine Chocolate Tasting Club is tucked away upstairs in the cosy ArtHouse building in Crouch End. The tasting sessions devote 90 minutes to thinking about and exploring the taste of good chocolate. They’re also a great opportunity to meet other chocolate lovers and get expert guidance on some more unusual artisan bars. As the name suggests, this is about fine chocolate so don’t expect to find a bar of Cadbury’s.
The session I went to was focussed on one special brand, Dandelion Chocolate. Dandelion Chocolate is based in San Francisco and has a true purist approach to chocolate. All bars are 70% cocoa and contain only 2 ingredients: cocoa beans and sugar. There’s definitely nowhere to hide poor quality beans when you’re keeping things this simple. Dandelion Chocolate work directly with farmers around the world to source their cocoa beans. They then roast and grind the beans in their factory, rather than buying ready-ground chocolate. If you’re in San Francisco, they have an onsite cafe and access to the factory, so you can see them at work producing their lovely bars.
Each person had a tasting sheet with a selection of chocolate squares laid out. This came with a handy flavour wheel to help guide our senses. We started by breaking each piece, inhaling deeply and making notes on the aroma we smelled. Scents I picked up ranged from honeysuckle and rose, through to pepper and peat as I worked through the chocolate. After the mild torture of not being able to taste anything, we then put small pieces into our mouth and let them melt, making further flavour notes. Amazingly the scent didn’t always correspond to the taste.
There were some unusual chocolate countries represented, such as Liberia and Belize, along with more common Madagascan chocolate. Lucy also added some other brands for contrast, including a Mast Brothers bar with beans sourced from the same location as one of the Dandelion Chocolate bars. I was surprised at how different they tasted. Okay, they both tasted like chocolate, but the Dandelion bar was more complex, with a much smoother feel in my mouth.
Everyone at the tasting clearly loved chocolate, but there was no stuffiness in the discussions and different opinions were welcomed. There’s no right or wrong when it comes to deciding what tastes good to you. Lucy’s Club is a great way to experience and learn about different chocolates you might not normally come across. The sessions vary between chocolate origin, brand and type, including one devoted to good quality milk chocolate in June. At £11 a ticket, they are really good value and a great way to spend a Sunday afternoon. I left feeling very satisfied and happy that I’d had my fine chocolate fix for the day.