The Chocolate Tasting Club Christmas 2010 Collection

Posted by in Misc on January 15 2011 | Leave A Comment

Observant readers might be wondering why I’m writing about Christmas 2010 chocolates that you couldn’t possibly buy in January 2011. There is method (of sorts) in this madness, I assure you.

These “Chocolate Tasting Club” chocolates were a Christmas gift from my lovely friend Pollyanna, and they were interesting enough to me that I wanted to write about them.

You see, The Chocolate Tasting Club is actually a Hotel Chocolat venture, but seemingly not one they like to talk about. In fact, the only mention of Hotel Chocolat is on the protective plastic sheet covering the chocolates inside the box.

The “club” operates on a subscription basis. Pay your membership fee and every month you get sent a new offering along with a scorecard to rate the chocolates.

The chocolates themselves are (as far as I can tell) simply repackaged Hotel Chocolat offerings. A couple even have the Hotel Chocolat ‘HC’ logo embossed on them. We’ve actually written about most of them before, so I’m not going to do an in depth review here, but they’re a nice mix of dark, milk and white chocolates with lots of alcoholic and fruity varieties.

It’s the way they’re sold that interests me most. Given Hotel Chocolat’s upmarket branding, it’s a little odd that The Chocolate Tasting Club is advertised on television with the cheesiest, most cringeworthy mini informercials imaginable. Lucky for you, the only version I can find on YouTube has no sound, because that really is the worst part.

I asked a couple of friends who have experience of The Club what they thought about it. One said that they hated every single chocolate they tried, while the other was more positive, saying she enjoyed regularly getting a random selection of things to try that she wouldn’t have normally bought.

There’s no doubting I’ll get through all the chocolates in this box without complaint, so I can’t quite put my finger on what it is that irks me about The Club. I think perhaps it’s because it reminds me of the music & video club I joined many years ago. They sent you free movies and promised you a great deal to start out with, but made their real money by relying on the fact that most people were too lazy to ever cancel their subscription.

I’ve no idea if that’s what’s going on with The Club, but it has that vibe about it. For me, the fact that they chose not to use Hotel Chocolat branding just reinforces that feeling.

Do you have experience of The Chocolate Tasting Club or similar clubs? Have I got this completely wrong? I’d love to hear your feedback, good or bad.

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Comments On This Post

  1. The club was going for over 10 years before they opened their first shop, so one could almost say that HC was a Chocolate Tasting Club venture rather than the other way around! ;)

    I never signed up as I thought it a bit pricey, but I was aware of it for a few years.

    Then, I stumbled across the first HC shop they opened and loved their 6 packs, which I have a feeling were only £2 each if you bought 3 packs, back then. Really great deal and some excellent truffles!

  2. I love the idea of a blog that’s all about chcolate. Picture #2 has a mouth-watering selection.

  3. Colin Robinson

    I’m in the 2nd category – love getting a box of chocolates and not knowing what will be in it! Their Christmas & Easter collections are looked forward to. The Club also gives you a card that entitles you to 5% off any purchase in their shops (for when you do know what you want).

  4. Michael (Chocablog Staff)

    A friend sent me a couple of boxes from the Chocolate Tasting Club a few years back, and I really enjoyed the concept but nearly choked on them when I saw how much it was going to cost to join.
    Rogers Chocolates in BC, Canada do one as well, but they just send out a variety of their existing range rather than making anything new for members. I like the idea of getting something different and unique if I was in such a club.
    The bottom line is that I’d probably never join up myself because of the cost, but if someone wanted to subscribe me as a gift I’d be very happy about their decision. I might even share some of the boxes with them…

  5. Ana

    I was not aware of the connection, but my first thought before even reading or looking at the pictures in full size was “those look like Hotel Chocolat!”

    I haven’t had any experience with such clubs, but I think I’d be somewhere in the middle. Getting a random selection of things I had not tried before would certainly be nice before actually sinking my teeth into them. But then there is the why I had not tried them before. I couldn’t find them, I kept postponing because there were more interesting chocolates, I had doubts about them or… they contain something I would never touch. In this last case, those chocolates would go to someone else. There would be no point in trying something that I know I’m going to hate. In the third case… if I have doubts, there’s usually a reason (like they contain something that I can tolerate, but I don’t really like). But curiosity is stronger than fear in my case and that has lead to many “I knew I shouldn’t have tried that!” over the years.

  6. Paul Vincent

    The original mechanism of the Chocolate Teasting Club – which was started by ChocExpress, several years prior to their rebranding as Hotel Chocolat – was that it collected together a mixture of bars and filled chocolates from a whole array of independent European chocolatiers (Copeneur, Ickx, Jacali, Rhederer, Hermes, Thomas Borau, to name but a few). All these chocolatiers had their own production facilities and shops, and worked to mutual advantage with the CTC: the chocolatiers provided the chocs, often using the CTC to test-market possible new lines; the CTC compiled these into monthly selections, sent them out to members, collected back scores and comments from members, and fed them back to the chocolatiers. The variety of couvertures, visual designs, and fillings was dazzling in those days, since so many independent artisans were involved. The rot set in when Hotel Chocolat decided that they would make all their own chocolates (mostly – some are still made by outside facilities, but to HC/CTC’s specifications). Since then, the quality of the selections has still been high, but there’s an inevitable sameiness to the selections, since they originate from the same factories. It’s of course impossible for them to sustain a high level of imagination and originality to the extent of finding at least 14 genuinely new filled chocolates each and every month. It would be honest of them to abandon this pretense, since many of the chocs really do crop up again and again in superficially different guises, but let’s face it, they’re a big business first and foremost nowadays, and a chocolatier very much second. It’s all about the money, and they sell over 40,000 boxes of the monthly CTC selections every month, at a cost of £18 a box. That’s annual revenue of about £9 million a year. I dropped out of the club once I noticed the repetitious sameiness, and the fact that the “club” element was less and less about the members’ feedback (though they go through the motions of pretending our feedback still matters). I rejoined a year ago, but only taking one box every 3 months. Sadly, though still very enjoyable, the sameiness continues, so I’ll probably give up on them completely very soon, especially now that there are so many truly first class chocolatiers selling their goodies via their own websites.

  7. Dom (Chocablog Staff)

    That’s really interesting, Paul.

    I agree about the ‘sameness’ – it’s something that’s evident in Hotel Chocolat as a whole. The UK chocolate industry has changed radically in the last few years, so perhaps we all just expect something a little more innovative and creative these days.

  8. Wow… that’s some interesting opinions! I had tried it before but after awhile realised that the selection was getting similar and we just were not eating it fast enough. Sad but true.

    I have to admit, it lookslike it is just the existing range repackaged and if they no longer make new stuff like they used to (I thought they had different chocolatiers make stuff for the box) it might not be worth it but then again…

    A regular supply of HC chocolate delivered to my door has an attractiveness to it.

  9. My wife and I have been subscribers to the Tasting Club for several years now, and on the whole are very satisfied, but there are definitely some things to watch out for.
    We only tend to get a box every 2/3 months, and are happy enough with the variety, but I can imagine if you got one every month it could definitely get “samey”.
    The special event boxes they do can be very good (like Easter & Christmas), or quite misplaced/bizarre – things like the “Murder Mystery box” or Stein bear. we just want good chocolate, none of this other stuff!
    It is the sheer volume of marketing material we can sent that is annoying though – we got the phone calls stopped, but there isn’t a week that goes by where we get at least one piece of literature from them, and to both of us, despite us sharing the same address.
    So although I would recommend the Tasting Club for the chocolates, don’t get them too often and watch the marketing stuff you sign up too.
    Oh, and you do get to try stuff you can’t get in Hotel Chocolate shops, as I now get annoyed when I can’t get more of the ones I like in store!

  10. Sal

    I’ve had a couple of special offer boxes at about £6 – £9, but due to getting dates mixed up, I’ve also had one of the £17 ones. And *then* I cancelled. I did like what I got – I don’t like alcohol so I had the non-filled collection but the last time I got an offer I decided that I’d rather go to a store and spend my £6 – £9 on the small selection packs that I actually fancied trying.

    And yes, the incessant phone calls to try to get you to come back are annoying. I’ve taken to telling them where to go and hanging up – it does create a nice feeling of satisfaction!

  11. Laura

    I was a member of the Hotel Chocolat Tasting Club for about a year a few years ago and got sick of it quite quickly. At first it was a novelty to get a nice box of chocolates whenever I wanted one (or forgot to cancel in advance!), but it got a bit samey. I also think the quality of the chocolates went downhill – as soon as I found a nicer ‘premium’ selection in a supermarket one day, for over half the price, that was the day I cancelled.

    I too was surprised that they have moved away from the HC branding of their club – I suppose it’s just to grab customers that might consider HC quite expensive or just for buying presents.

  12. I was given a six-month subscription as a present for my 40th birthday. (Some friends clubbed together.)
    I loved it! SUre, there were a few that I didn’t like, but mostly it was a great treat to have a selection arrive every month and sit with my wife in front of a film and sample them all. We joined in wholeheartedly, rating each chocolate and submitting scores on line, then comparing our scores with the average after each month.

    Not sure I’d have enjoyed it so much if I’d paid, though!

    Pictures of my boxes here: http://www.flickr.com/photos/coultart/sets/72157613641478979/detail/

  13. I am also very interested in this club.But i do not know whether it is good or not after reading these different comments.Whatever, the chocolates in the photo are really attractive.

  14. Dom

    As the co-founder of both The Chocolate Tasting Club and Hotel Chocolat, I have been following the discussion with interest and would like to put the record straight on a number of fronts.

    Paul is right when he says that The Chocolate Tasting Club (started 13 years ago) came before Hotel Chocolat (8 years ago). We are very open about the links between them, to the extent that club members receive a discount in Hotel Chocolat stores on presentation of their membership card, we feature lots of news about HC in the club’s magazine and, yes, we often use HC chocolate moulds when we are creating new recipes (more about his later). From the outside the link is not obvious, as they are separate companies and separate brands, but club members are well aware and seem to like it.

    The link is very important to me because the club is the crucible of our recipe development. The vast majority of new ideas we have are first tested in the club’s monthly tasting selections. We then receive masses of qualitative feedback and quantitative data from members’ scorecards. We use this to decide on which chocolates should make their way into the HC range, as well as keeping the club’s recipes heading in the right direction. The monthly tasting boxes (with classic, dark only, no alcohol options) are the way we test new recipes. The box you reviewed, Dom, is a Christmas special where we put the emphasis less on testing, more on winning recipes for Christmas.

    It is members’ scoring over the years which has given us the confidence to push ahead with initiatives such as ‘More Cocoa Less Sugar’ – a less sweet approach to pralines and milk chocolate in particular.

    There is a strong drum beat of innovation within the club and HC (14 new recipes every month) but we are not keen on novelty developments for the sake of it. It is very easy to succumb to the ‘ennui’ of always seeking out wacky flavour combinations, but that probably means you need to take a break from chocolate eating and assess what you really like.

    When I first started the club we were not a chocolate maker ourselves and we featured chocolates from the best around Europe. Very quickly though, we worked our way through their entire recipe collections and found that they actually did not create many new recipes at all. Soon we found that we were doing the recipe development ourselves (and through the annual Design A Chocolate Competition, open to members). This led to us creating our own chocolate making factory in Cambridgeshire and 500 new UK manufacturing jobs later, it is going well. When we are innovating new recipes for the club, we choose whichever shape we think will work best and sometimes this is a mould which is HC branded. Sharing resources makes sense and ultimately means we spend our budget on great ingredients like the best hazelnuts or higher cocoa content chocolate, rather than things that don’t add to the members’ enjoyment.

    The reason the club is still very successful, with 100,000 UK members, is that we fundamentally offer

    - innovative new recipes with member scoring

    - always authentic and good ingredients, delivered fresh

    - better value in return for regular shipments (at a pace to suit members)

    The club was never intended to be suitable for everyone, but I am grateful for the happy band of tasters who continue to make it such a vibrant entity.

    Regards

    Angus Thirlwell

  15. Orielwen

    I used to subscribe to the Chocolate Tasting Club, but stopped, not just for the cost but because there’d always be one or two chocolates I couldn’t eat. If they did a Coffee-Free Selection I’d well reconsider joining.

  16. We were given a gift membership of the Chocolate Tasting Club – which was clearly part of Hotel Chocolat – around 5 years ago.

    Unfortunately, they pride themselves on fitting it into boxes which slide neatly through your letterbox, meaning that the dog got to it before we did. With no way to ask for them to require the postman to knock (perhaps the option of a larger box, or signed for postage?) we had to divert the subscription to Mike’s work, and haven’t recommended it to others or taken it up again for that reason. However, the chocolates – when we did get to them – were very pleasant.

  17. Dom (Chocablog Staff)

    @Angus – thanks for the comments and feedback.

    @Flash – I’d suggest that’s more of a canine issue than a club issue. :)

    I’d *guess* most people would rather have a box that fits through the letterbox and not have to arrange to pick-up missed deliveries from Royal Mail. As someone who gets sent chocolate samples regularly, I’d much rather it all fitted through the letterbox. (Not that this particular box did!)

  18. Sally

    I’ve been a member of the CTC for several years. It gives you a discount on-line and in the shop, which is great for buying presents for other people.
    You don’t have to have a delivery every month, and yes the chocolates are a mixed bag, the descriptions are pretty comprehensive so you can work out which ones you might want to foist onto someone else to try, but if you’re the kind of person who’s put off the concept by the one chocolate in the box that makes you go “bleurgh”… live a little, eh? It’s not like they have bacon in (Dom!).

    Incidentally, I have an unusually small letterbox, which means I have to have mine delivered to a friends house, never been a problem having a different delivery and invoice address. To the dog-choc-chomping people, my mum got around her dog savaging the post by fitting a cage behind the letter box!

  19. Hi Sally – re the dog chomping, we did consider a box behind the door but I have a narrow hallway and can only just get my wheelchair through the doorframe; if there was a box behind stopping it opening even slightly then I would be stuck. But thanks for the idea!

    Dom, if they had a choice of packaging I’d be happy – perhaps you could tick “large box” or “postbox sized” – after all, Amazon seem to put the tiniest items in a ridiculously big box…

  20. manuela

    Looks like you touched a raw nerve there Dom with the hotel-choco man himself replying!!
    To be honest I really liked there offerings when they sourced the chocolates from artisan chocolatiers, but now that they make it all themselves its soooo samey, everything is just one sort of a praline or another.
    They are just so average to me, if I want something special I can get great chocolates at a lot of places nowadays.

  21. Mrs. Chocolat

    I just received a shipment of the choclate tasting club chocolates after responding to and email from a sub company. In any event I live in the US and they don’t offer membership. I found this to be annoying. Like a bully teasing you . However I did find out that their choclate is indeed Hotel Choclat confectionaries. I think what they are trying to do is expand their consumer base. I think they are going global. I love the flavor of their choclates. Their liquor infused chocolates where the best I have ever tasted. The bleuberry bon bon specifically it was like biting into a fresh blueberry so crisp and tangy. Oh well price be damned I will buy from hotel choclat

  22. Valerie Williams

    I joined the club just before Christmas. I paid $9.99 (and got 1000 points from mypoints for trying them). I ordered the dark chocolates. I have rated two of them with an 8, and ten of them a 10. I have 3 more to try yet I think. I did cancel because 25.95 is more than I want to spend for chocolates. If they did call me, I would tell them i’d come back if I could try the regular ones for $9.95. lol. I am happy w/ them though.

  23. Hello,

    Just to reply to Manuela directly.

    I can totally understand why Hotel Chocolat / Chocolat Tasting Club decided to go down the route of mass producing all the chocolates themselves (and they have some truly delicious ones too).

    However, http://www.cocoaboutique.com/blog do source all their chocolates from Artisan and Master Chocolatiers so this might be something of interest to you? New chocolates, new chocolatiers and new stories and secrets every month.

    Interesting debate everyone! :-)

    Darren

    • Tom Saunders

      Looks like CocoaBoutique have stopped offering a monthly subscription club. Now just a online chocolate shop – not very interesting, when you can just go and buy all of the chocolates from the chocolatiers directly.