Thanksgiving Chocolate Tasting

Last weekend, we were thankful to have Richard’s parents in town to celebrate Thanksgiving. For the occasion, we hosted a true blind chocolate tasting adventure. We pulled out Eagranie Yuh’s The Chocolate Tasting Kit (Tasting Kits), Richard conducted a dramatic reading of the instructions, and we handed out pads of paper and pens. I noted the order of the chocolates and cut the bars into small pieces, then tried to forget which was which as I passed them around. The other 5 tasters were completely blind.

We tasted 13 chocolate bars (avoiding any flavored chocolate) and surprisingly, there were no truly clear winners. We are amazed by the variation of tastes and preferences among us!

Chocolate tasting

Dan & Sarah tasting chocolate

A few tidbits of learning we are taking away from this experience:

  • Thirteen is probably too many chocolates to provide detailed tasting notes on each all at once. Eight would have been a better number
  • Chocolate smell fatigue happened around bar 6 or 7, when all the bars started to smell very similar.
  • We are not very good at describing the appearance of small pieces of bars – they were either dark or light brown and either shiny or not shiny. We could not come up with many more descriptors.
  • The sheer difference between the taste of chocolate when it first enters our mouth and when it melts away is astonishing. We noted some that shifted from fruity to astringent or from buttery caramel to toasty.
  • Each of us used a slightly different overall ranking system. Some ranked 1-13; others high, medium and low; others with an A-D scale, and others with words like “meh,” “yum,” and “no.” In the future, we may encourage a single scale for the overall ranking, in order to evaluate them at the end!
  • We all had very different opinions, so the notes below are an amalgamation, not an average. We also tended to get harsher over time – perhaps because of our dislike of higher percentages or perhaps because of our gained knowledge as we moved through the tasting.
  • None of us are professional chocolate tasters. We all really enjoyed the experience and took it seriously while having fun (it’s basically required to have fun when tasting chocolate)! Don’t take our opinions as facts – rather as impressions of the chocolate we tasted under the circumstances in which we tasted it.

And now, the bars we tasted and what we thought… enjoy, pick up some bars, and let us know what you think, too!

Christopher Elbow 63% with roasted cocoa nibs

  1. Where did we get it: we picked this one up on a trip to Kansas City where we visited the shop and tried some very tasty chocolates
  2. How did it rank: 2 high, 1 medium, 3 low
  3. Some notes: bland taste, earthy and nutty, crunchy bits

Ikea’s dark chocolate bar

  1. Where did we get it: we bought this for comparison recently to remind us of commercial chocolate flavor and texture
  2. How did it rank: 2 high, 3 medium, 1 low
  3. Some notes: sweet, almost milky, hot chocolate, coffee finish

Lillie Belle’s 65% Whiskey in the Bar

  1. Where did we get it: we picked this up at Cacao in Portland a couple months ago
  2. How did it rank: 1 high, 3 medium, 2 low
  3. Some notes: faint flavor, caramel, dull, dry/bitter finish

Cocanu’s 68% Abeja: dark chocolate, baked milk, and bee pollen

  1. Where did we get it: visiting Sebastian in Portland a couple months ago
  2. How did it rank: 3 high, 2 medium, 1 low
  3. Some notes: slightly grainy, melted quickly, creamy molasses

Root Chocolate 70% Madagascar

  1. Where did we get it: we made it!
  2. How did it rank: 4 high, 1 medium, 1 low
  3. Some notes: fruit and citrus, nutty smell, raisin, dry but lingering flavor, complex

Dave Huston’ 70% Upala, Costa Rica

  1. Where did we get it: visiting with our buddy a few weeks ago
  2. How did it rank: 1 high, 1 medium, 4 low
  3. Some notes: smells fruity, bold flavors, burnt ending, pirate, smoky

Root Chocolate 70% Siriana, Costa Rica

  1. Where did we get it: we made it!
  2. How did it rank: 1 high, 1 medium, 4 low
  3. Some notes: sharp, tart, very dry and astringent, roasted, cocoa powdery

Root Chocolate 70% Oko Caribe, Dominican Republic

  1. Where did we get it: this was our first batch in the Premier Wonder Grinder!
  2. How did it rank: 3 high, 3 medium, 0 low
  3. Some notes: lots of flavors, milky, dairy, roasted marshmallow, earthy

Taza’s 70% Cacao Puro

  1. Where did we get it: we bought a mixed flavor pack at Cacao in Portland a couple months ago, I’ve been wanting to try Taza for a long time, since one of my favorite memories with chocolate was eating Mayordomo (a very similar style) in Oaxaca, Mexico
  2. How did it rank: 2 high, 2 medium, 2 low
  3. Some notes: granules – polarizing, sweet buttery flavor

Castronovo 72% Criollo+Trinitario, Sierra Nevada, Colombia

  1. Where did we get it: I bought it at The Chocolate Garage during my first visit many months ago. We intend to go back and taste more chocolate there soon!
  2. How did it rank: 3 high, 2 medium, 1 low
  3. Some notes: spices, buttery, toasted cream, black tea, not exciting, caramel

Root Chocolate 75% Venezuela

  1. Where did we get it: we roasted the beans with John Nanci in Oregon, then we made it!
  2. How did it rank: 2 high, 3 medium, 1 low
  3. Some notes: generic, almond, plastic, intense deep chocolate

Root Chocolate 85% Madagascar

  1. Where did we get it: we made it!
  2. How did it rank: 1 high, 3 medium, 2 low
  3. Some notes: hard, tangy, acidic, chemical burnt, slightly grainy

Taza’s 85% Super Dark

  1. Where did we get it: we bought a mixed flavor pack at Cacao in Portland a couple months ago, I’ve been wanting to try Taza for a long time, since one of my favorite memories with chocolate was eating Mayordomo (a very similar style) in Oaxaca, Mexico
  2. How did it rank: 0 high, 1 medium, 4 low
  3. Some notes: coffee, spicy, bitter finish, smell like dairy
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Siriana Cacao

About a month ago, Piper reached out to me through The Chocolate Life. (Have I mentioned how much I appreciate the connections I’ve made to the local and online chocolate-making community?) She let me know that a dear friend of hers moved to Costa Rica this year, purchased some land and began farming. His plot is surrounded by farmers who having been doing the same for hundreds of years. His goal was two fold, to save the land from developers (tourists attractions), and to help other farmers move their beans at good prices.

That caught my attention. Saving the land, working together with farmers to promote their economic well-being… I was sold. And I’m glad I was!

Piper told me that “the cacao is grown in Matina conton in the Talamanca region of Costa Rica. The trees are indigenous to the area, so these are considered Fine beans. All the practices are organic and sustainable. The beans have been fermented, and sundried and are considered Raw. They are considered one of the best tasting beans in the world by the ICCO and the Tasting salons in Paris. And this year, they had a good spring harvest and the fall harvest will be incredible because of the rains (they thought El’nino would cause a drought). It should be a vintage year.”

Well, we purchased a 2 lb sample from Piper through Siriana Cacao, and made a new batch of chocolate this week. We have a few new tools that helped us along in the process, and the result was both delicious and fun!

Siriana Cacao cut test

First of all, we did a cut test on the beans and they looked a little purple but overall flaky and dark and good! I’ll go into the details of cut testing in another post, but suffice it to say for now that it means they were fermented well – not too much and not too little. Goldie-locks, style.Champion Juicer, modified

Then, after a solid 5 minutes at 400 degrees and 20 minutes at 250 in the oven, we pulled out our first new tool, the Champion Juicer! Chocolate Alchemy sells this for $265, but we found a refurbished one on Ebay for $99. This tool serves as both cracker of beans and later as a way to create the first crude liquor before setting the Premier Wonder Grinder to work. Ours is a littler older than we expected, so we don’t quite trust it to create the liquor. For cracking, though, (and with a few creative modifications to keep our kitchen relatively clean) it was amazing!

wide winnowing basket

We then tried another interesting tool for winnowing – the wider, shallower basket, thanks to a suggestion on our Winnowing Woes post. It worked marginally better at first, then the nibs started flying away along with the husks. So, we returned to the large bin method. We ended up with a 76% yield from full beans to winnowed nibs. We recently learned that a perfect winnowing process would result in a 88% yield, but that almost doesn’t exist in the industry. So, we’re still working on a solution for this portion of the process.

We heated the beans and stone grinder in advance, at the suggestion of some local chocolate-makers, and left the chocolate refining & conching for 24 hours in the wonder grinder this time. The result was beautifully dark (70% again) rich chocolate.

infrared thermometer

Once again, we struggled with the tempering process, though this time we had some extra help in the form of an infrared thermometer as well as a food thermometer. Our first attempt at tempering did not pass the paper test, so we left it overnight and remelted the next day to try again. The second attempt wasn’t perfect, either, but we think it was closer that it has been in the past. There’s still some bloom on some of the bars, but the largest one is beautifully smooth and shiny!

Siriana chocolateSiriana chocolate flakes

The result, 813 grams of delicious Siriana chocolate. Richard’s new favorite part are the flakes or shards that come off the tempering table when we’re done. And I’m actually enjoying our ice cube tray molds, even more than the official bar molds we bought online!

Thank you, Piper!