It turned out Kerstin's husband and business partner would be leading the tasting. So, after 5 others joined us in the tiny store front, we began our evening.
He spoke for about an hour about where the beans come from, and the three different kinds of beans - Forastero (75% of chocolate is made from these beans, grown in Africa, the trees are hardy and can withstand different climate variations), Criollo (About 3% of the world's beans come from these trees in different regions of the world; they are harder to produce, as the slightest change in weather can cause them to die), and Trinitario (Thought to be a mixture of the best atributes of both). Most main stream chocolates (ie. Hershey's) mix all three until they get the guaranteed, consistent flavour of their brand.
He went on to speak about how chocolate goes from the bean to the bar - the fermentation process, the roasting, mixing, conching, and tempering. Check out this link for all the steps: http://www.allchocolate.com/understanding/how_chocolate_is_made/at_factory.aspx. He mentioned that he once saw a list that went over 52 steps to get the bean from tree to bar.
After the history and process information, which did turn out to be extremely necessary, helpful, and interesting, we went on next to what we had all come for - the tasting.
Something similar to wine, the goal is to find different aromas, flavour notes, and textures within the chocolate. The best way to experience these delicate flavours is to taste small pieces of single origin chocolate bars, which Kerstin does import. Because the bean is affected so much by geography, weather, and other environmental fluctuations, single origin bars allow taste-buds to pick up the mild nuances.
So we filled up our water glasses and went on to sample 10 different pieces of chocolate. The first was Hershey's, which everyone found very sugary, not really tasting much else. This was followed by three other milk chocolates with high cocoa content (dark milk chocolate). While I enjoyed one of Kerstin's Chocophilia bars, the Venezuelan 48%, my favourite was the Bonnat chocolate, a French creation with beans from Asfarth (an island in Sumatra), it was a 65% milk chocolate. Although it contained nothing other than milk, cocoa, sugar and cocoa butter, it tasted like a hazelnut truffle and was lovely and silky to the tongue.
The last 6 selections were classified as dark chocolate. The first was from Laura Secord - none of us could taste anything other than a strong flavour of something burnt, and apparently the point was to taste over roasted beans. Zed found his favourite in these selections by Patric, a choclatier in the midwest United States. A 67% chocolate from Madagascar, it smelled wonderful, like dried fruit (prunes), and tasted like fruit, hazelnuts and earthiness. It completely won Zed over.
As we neared the end of our sampling, we were all having a chocolate overload - it is difficult to handle so much well made chocolate at once, he told us, you only need a small piece to enjoy its full effects.
At the end of our tasting he offered us a sample of the stores newest creations, Mocha Meltaways, which I have raved about previously, and then let us peruse the store. Z and I ended up selecting a milk chocolate Santa (a gift for a niece), a milk selection of Christmas bark (with dried fruit and nuts), and a bar of the Bonnat and Patric chocolates we enjoyed so much.
This is a great season to check out the store - with some unique Christmas creations, various imported bars, baking chocolate, and Kerstin's always stocked items (ie. Drinking chocolate and Chocophilia bars), it definitely puts a welcome spin on the time old gift of chocolate.
A new tasting is scheduled each month. Tickets to chocolate tastings (~$20 per person) and making classes (~$65 per person) are available on the website, in store, or by phone.
10139 - 112 Street
T-W (10-5) Th-F (10-7) S (10-5) Su-M (Closed)
If you would like to create your own chocolate tasting event, or to learn more about chocolate in general, check out this link: http://www.allchocolate.com/enjoying/intro_to_chocolate/