SeventyPercent.com is a web site for the hardcore chocolate lover. They devote their lives to tasting, analysing and talking about every intricate flavour and aroma of dark chocolate, in much the same way as wine tasters do.
I’ve always been a little wary of people who take their chocolate that seriously, but last week I took the plunge and went along to one of their tasting sessions. And not just any session, this was their advanced level Connoisseurs Club tasting.
Although I regularly get together with friends to taste chocolate, I’ve avoided events like this in the past. My main concern has been the simple feeling that analysing flavours in such minute detail takes some of the sheer joy out eating chocolate. I’m all for learning about the distinctive flavour characteristics of Madagascan beans and how the farmer and chocolate maker influence the flavours at each stage of the process, but I’ve never really believed that listening to someone reel off a list of Jilly Gooldenesque adjectives would aid my appreciation.
So it was with a mixture of excitement and nervousness that I made my way to the Scotch Whisky Society in Farringdom for this session organised by SeventyPercent’s Martin Christy.
Luckily, there were a few familiar faces in attendance, including our old friends Louise Thomas and Jennifer Earle, so I didn’t feel entirely out of place. Jennifer had brought back some samples from her recent trip to Madagascar, so that formed the main theme of the evening.
But we started off with a 70% Jamaican chocolate from Amedei, comparing individually wrapped squares to the bar form. The two had noticeable differences, with the bar form being more buttery and having a little less flavour than the squares.
We then tried two varieties of Fresco ‘prototype’ chocolate, also Jamaican, for comparison, neither of which were as good as the Amedei.
Next up, we tried a Tobago Cocoa chocolate from Pralus, and a couple of stone ground chocolates, including the Taza 70% that Deanna reviewed last year. The connoisseurs in the room scrunched up their faces in annoyance at this, while others – myself including – enjoyed it for its candy-like sweetness and texture.
Later in the evening, we got to Jennifer’s selection from Madagascar, which was complemented by a couple of bars Martin had brought, and the Hotel Chocolat Madagascan bar I reviewed last week. Unfortunately, some of Jennifer’s chocolate hadn’t survived the journey home particularly well, but there was a good selection. The star of this part of the evening was Jen’s tupperware box of raw beans that she’d picked up off the floor. They really were rather good.
Finally, we got the chance to try some Theobroma Grandiflorum – a relative of the Cacao tree (Theobroma Cacao) that produces the chocolate we know and love. This was a bizarre substance that somehow managed to mix the qualities of chocolate, a burnt fry-up and a little bit of engine oil, in a single chunk of weirdness. An interesting taste, but for educational purposes only.
And that really sums up the evening for me. There were several points in the evening when I marvelled at other people’s ability to describe flavours I could barely detect, but at the same time it wasn’t something that I felt the urge – or the ability – to do myself.
There’s absolutely no doubt that this was a lovely bunch of people who love their chocolate, and despite the constant urge to shout “IT’S JUST CHOCOLATE!” throughout the evening, I found myself having a thoroughly enjoyable time. And you know what… I think I’m going to do it again.