Chocolate tasting with Zara’s Chocolates

This evening Zara gave us a delicious insight into the world of the chocolatier while skilfully delivering an interesting and highly informative talk on the history of all things chocolate.

The concept of chocolate tasting:‘Chocolate’s chocolate, isn’t it?’

This evening Zara carefully wove her talk around 6 different chocolate tasting experiences exploding the myth that, with the obvious exception of milk, dark and white, there’s very little difference within these types of chocolate.

As dark chocolate can be made up of between anywhere in the range of 65 – 76% cocoa solids the strength of flavour can clearly be adjusted and controlled. The range for milk chocolate is considerably less at 40% at its higher end and so lowering the percentage will impact on the intensity of the flavour.

Also, just as with wine, chocolate (or more specifically the cocoa bean from which it is made) is an agricultural product where soil and climate affect the flavours that come through.

Then there are 3 types of cocoa bean to consider:

  • The Criollo bean – known as the king of beans.From South and Central America. In limited supply.
  • The Forastero bean – harder. Used for blending.From Brazil and Africa.
  • The Trinitario bean – Robust but with a softer flavour. From Trinidad.

So. Re-cap time. Percentage of cocoa solids, growing conditions and type of bean. So many variables, so many chocolates. Time to taste!

Tasting 1 – A milk chocolate

Zara stressed the importance of aroma and taste.’Smell it, then let it melt in your mouth.’ She insisted we take two pieces as the first ‘cleanses the palate’ allowing us to fully savour the second. Quite right Zara. Might even take 3…

Tasting 2 – A dark chocolate from Cuba

70% cocoa solids. We tasted it. Zara shared her tasting notes – spicy. Made from the Trinitario bean – robust but not too bitter.

The history of chocolate and how we have come to love it

Back to the talk! And Chocolate history in a (cocoa)nutshell

The cocoa tree was cultivated as far back as 3000 years ago by the Olmecs in the rainforests of the Gulf of Mexico.

The Mayans continued with the cultivation. The pods were seen as an offering from god to man. A luxury drink was made with the beans – flavoured with chilli, vanilla and aniseed. To our palettes it would seem bitter, cold and greasy.

900AD the Aztecs and Toltecs continue to grow cocoa beans. The drink they make from it is said to give energy and enhanced sexual powers. Popular at weddings. Given to warriors.

Brought to Europe in the 16th century by the Spanish who saw it as liquid gold. (Colombus had tasted the chocolate drink over a decade earlier but failed to see its economic potential…)

The Spanish added sugar and the drink became very fashionable, served frothed up with bread (the start of chocolate and churros).

1828 Van Huten developed the process known as ‘dutching’ which eliminated the greasiness making way for the production of chocolate as we know it.

Frys (based in Bristol) and Cadburys (based in Birmingham) invested in a dutching machine. Frys were first to market a chocolate bar in 1847 viable for large scale production.

1905 saw mass production of Dairy Milk (all chocolate had been dark prior to this).

By the 1930’s 90% of the population could afford chocolate.

History done, time for another tasting break!

Tasting 3 – Venezuelan dark chocolate

72% made from Criollo and Trinitario beans.
Tasting notes: less sweet, more tangy and fruity.

Back to the Beans

How the beans are treated affects taste. Different fermentation and drying techniques impact greatly on flavour. Beans dried over fire, for example, as happens in Papua New Guinea, give the chocolate a smoky flavour.

Tasting 4

This chocolate tastes earthier than the others and that is due to the fermentation process (link to Zara’s talk)

Tasting 5– A chocolate from Ecuador

76% cocoa made with Forastero beans
Tasting notes: hazelnut and fruity.

The Art of the Chocolatier

Zara cleverly rounds off the evening with an insight into her world.

When the chocolate is made then the chocolatier takes over and ‘does things with it’.

What Zara has done is displayed on the table in front of her – truffles, salted caramels, bars, discs, chocolate teacups and saucers…

However before Zara can create her treats, she must temper the chocolate – a notoriously difficult process (not for the fainthearted). Thereby ending on a tempering tale so terrifying – a nightmare of thermometers, timing and weather conditions – that makes me see the chocolate on the table in front of Zara with respectful eyes (and I taste it at home 30 minutes later with a heightened sense of appreciation…).

Tasting 6 – Ghana

One last tasting, chocolate from Ghana, 40%. Buttery and rich, a delightful way to end!

Zara’s Chocolates

228 North Street, Bristol BS3 1JD
0117 953 3892

For more information about the history and production of chocolate:

Several members asked about fairtrade chocolate. For further details on fairtrade chocolate: