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Many people suggest that the first year of marriage is the hardest (I’ve also heard the seventh is a tough one – we’ll see about that) but I look on that year with great fondness.

My husband and I made it our mission to try nearly every restaurant in Seattle. We kept a notebook about where we went, what we ate, what we loved and what disgusted us – luckily that didn’t happen very often as we did loads of research before picking our final destination. Every Friday night we would ready ourselves to hit the town, notebook in hand and an eager palette.

Those were the beginning days of my love affair with food. As with any new found love, everything was thrilling and new. Gabe and I were bursting with excitement and wanted to share our new love. We decided to host a tasting party.

A tasting party is the perfect way to compare, educate and truly savor whatever it is that you are tasting. I might also add that for a couple of debt ridden, minimum wage earners it was a very economical way for us to entertain. For us, well really I should say me, the choice of what to taste was easy. Chocolate.

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Recently at a chocolate class I taught I relived my fond memories and facilitated another chocolate tasting. It was just as fun and eye opening as the first.

On white plates I arranged six small-ish pieces of chocolate. (There was  a seventh but that was flavored so I opted to keep that separate.

1. Hershey’s Special Dark

2. Lindt 70%

3. Valrhona Guanja 70%

4. Scharffen Berger

5. Trader Joes Swiss 70%

6. Felchlin

7. (the wild card) Theo Chocolate’s Bread and Chocolate bar (tiny rye bread crumbs are coated in butter sprinkled with salt then toasted in the oven and blended with dark chocolate – reminiscent of a Crackle bar – but so much more.)

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As with tasting wine there are many factors that come into play when tasting chocolate. There are five categories to examine, three of which happen before the chocolate even touches your lips.

Each chocolate sample was tasted separately while examining all five of the following categories.

Appearance – What does is look like? Sheen, bloom, even texture, color. Color should be even with a nice gloss, no discoloration, spots or cloudiness.

Snap – What does it sound like when you break it or bite into it? Should sound clear, crisp – this is a sign of a proper temper. The chocolate should not bend or crumble.

Aroma – Similar to tasting wine. This is a matter of subjectivity. Fruity, spicy, floral, etc. Anything goes. Do you smell leather, tobacco, dirty socks? Say it.

Mouthfeel – Smooth, not grainy or gritty. It can feel velvety or creamy, or it can be waxy or greasy.

Taste – Descriptors similar to aroma. Allow the chocolate to slowly melt on the tongue. Different tastes will emerge at different stages of consumption.

We discussed each sample separately then compared them to the others.

The results are always quite entertaining. Many people knew right away what number one was and if they didn’t know they did pick up the fact that there was no snap, the texture was gritty and the appearance was lackluster.

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Often tasters are surprised and impressed with their ability to discern the distinctions between each sample. To many chocolate eaters dark chocolate is dark chocolate, so to be able to compare seven samples side by side the differences become quite clear.

I was happy to hear that among the favorites of many were #3 and #6 (Valrhona and Felchlin). One lady said that she has been baking with Scharffen Berger for some time but failed to taste it on its own. When she did she realized that she did not much care for it and then proceeded to buy one pound of the Valrhona.

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In no way are these tastings meant to trick the participants. If #1 is truly their favorite that’s great. When trying wine, many sommeliers will tell you that you need to trust your own instincts and don’t let experts and a price tag tell you what you do and do not like. A tasting is a very entertaining way to exercise your taste buds and to figure out what chocolate suits you.

To learn more about hosting tasting parties check out this great book.

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Hosting and being a part of a tasting club is a great experience. It can be as formal or relaxed as you like. I hope you try it and if you do let me know how it goes!

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