I am honored to feature the work of my first guest blogger, Nate Ayer! Nate is a DC-area writer and blogger, published in the Washingtonian. He lives with his wife, Hilary, on Capitol Hill. Nate and Hilary attended our chocolate tasting the other night, and I’m delighted to present Nate’s opinion on the matter (Sorry, the [lack of] spacing was impossible to remedy.):
“It’s a what?” I asked Hilary.
“Chocolate tasting. You go and you taste chocolate,” she said.
You’d think that the name of the event would have been pretty self-explanatory but the expression on my face must have begged for the definition.
With just the concept “you go and taste chocolate,” I filled in the rest of the details in my head: Overpriced dark chocolate with unpronounceable French names, served on frou-frou little doilies, with the chocolate expert (a chocolateusse—that’s what her title will be) extolling the exquisite yet subtle differences between what seem to me two identical candy bars.
But by the end of the night, I discovered that most of my preconceived notions were wrong. If you’re already a chocolate-lover, I don’t have to sell you on the fun of a chocolate tasting. (If you want advice on how to put one together, ask Nancy.) But if you’re skeptical of how fun—and unpretentious—a chocolate tasting can be, take a look at my attitudes before and after the event:
Before: Only a bunch of phonies would throw or attend a chocolate tasting.
After: That depends entirely on whom you invite.
At office parties, wedding receptions, and other semi-obligatory “celebrations,” alongside people whom I care nothing for, I become a total phony (and you do too; don’t try to deny it)—it’s much more acceptable to be insincerely interested in others than to sincerely not care. End result: room full of phonies.
But, if you’re with real friends, who have other real interests, then a chocolate tasting can just be something fun and new to try among people whom you already like and have pre-screened for phoniness.
Before: A chocolate tasting has to be snooty.
After: Not so.
If snootiness is your thing, then snoot away. But Nancy’s party was very informal, with baseball caps and jeans, and guests sitting on the carpet. The chocolates were passed around on mismatched plates. And we all felt right at home.
Before: Chocolate is chocolate; it all tastes the same.
After: Unless you compare them side-by-side.
In a big factory where cacao from everywhere all gets mixed together, the end result is homogenized taste. But hi-end chocolates very often use the cacao beans from a single plantation, or at least plantations from a single area. Whatever distinguishes those plants from other plants also distinguishes the taste of the chocolate.
When you have chocolates made entirely from specific plantations, and you cleanse your palate between tastes, then anyone can tell the difference between the chocolates. Some people at the party said they tasted vanilla, or fruit, or something specific in the chocolate. I’m kind of skeptical about anyone who claims to identify specific flavors, except for cocoa and sugar, in two-ingredient chocolate. But I’ll admit that the different chocolates did taste different.
Before: Nancy is a chocolateusse.
After: Actually, I don’t think there’s a naming convention on chocolate experts yet. This isn’t really a judgment like my other accusations were. But you can use this musing to out-snoot another guest should the need arise.
A chocolatier (the feminine version would be chocolateusse) is someone who makes chocolates. But Nancy’s expertise has become something more similar to what a sommelier, or wine expert, does. The New York Times has used the term “chocolate sommelier,” (and Nancy too, and she speaks French) but linguistically, I don’t think the term makes sense.
When it all comes down to it, it’s just inconsistency with what the French terms imply. I say we abandon French and switch to Spanish (chocolate comes from South America anyway): chocolate aficionado.
Before: Sitting around talking about chocolate is going to be lame.
After: That depends on what you enjoy.
If you can’t pull yourself away from SportsCenter for an hour then you probably won’t enjoy a chocolate tasting. Same goes for your X-Box, PlayStation, stamp collection, or other antisocial addiction. But, if you like spending time with friends, then how bad can it be if you spend time with your friends, and eat chocolate at the same time?
There you have it. If I haven’t convinced you that you would enjoy a chocolate tasting, then it’s your own fault for missing out. Wives, if this hasn’t convinced your husbands to go to the chocolate tasting, maybe you’ll have more fun with just your girlfriends.
Thank you, Nancy, for the great chocolate tasting, and for my time on Dark Chocolate Daily.
Thank you, Nate! I really enjoyed reading your take on chocolate.