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My earliest memories of chocolate were when, as a child, our parents returned from a holiday and brought almost half a bag full of different flavours and varieties. That was my first true "melting moment", as until then I had never experienced chocolate literally melt in my mouth or my fingers if we held it for too long. In retrospect, I can say that subliminally sensual experience was the start of my love affair with chocolates.
Chocolate took a back seat with engineering and then banking becoming a priority. Ironically, it was my travels as a banker with Deutsche Bank that rekindled this passion. The chilly climes of Europe led to endless cups of hot chocolate, reviving dormant memories of those "melting moments".
It was traipsing around Germany, somewhere in Dusseldorf about 5-6 years ago when I stumbled upon a chocolatier offering chilly, pepper and spiced chocolates long before they had become the rage. Germany, incidentally, is the highest consumer of chocolate in Europe. The variety of chocolates and tasting clubs in Europe are astounding and it made me realise that chocolate lovers do come from all walks of life, the only common denominator being their passion for chocolate.
My curiosity aroused, I was now into exploring the vast variety of chocolates on offer. One day, on the invitation of a friend and chocolatier, Raffaella Baruzzo, I attended a tea pairing in Chelsea at Bellocq-Tea Atelier. Now, I've known chocolate to be associated with coffee, wines and spirits, so this was a first time experience for me. As the tea grew lighter and airy so did the chocolate. I walked away amazed by the subtleties.
Over the years, I have been asked what my favourite chocolate is. This poses a dilemma as unlike some of the other chocolate connoisseurs, I am a man of varied interests and although I love my organic 80 per cent cocoa and Maya Gold (55 per cent cocoa infused with delicate spices), my heart really yearns for wider variety. To me, the richness and innovation of the human spirit striving to discover and invent newer masterpieces is the holy grail, be it chocolate or something else. Above all, fresh chocolate is the best;chocolates that haven't spent months in a warehouse, which means no artificial preservatives.
The right chocolate for you is the one you like! Just as the world renowned sommeliers have always maintain this for wines, so do the greatest chocolate connoisseurs. Do take time to try different types of chocolates and learn to appreciate them. They are a lot like wine and terroir (taste of place) matters because the taste changes from region to region, depending on the water and milk. A few things that I tend to keep in mind while tasting chocolate are:
A good chocolate should always have a smooth and shiny surface indicating that the cocoa butter in it is well tempered. The smoother the texture, the better the 'melt-in-your-mouth' experience;
Remember your nose does the first 90 per cent of the tasting job - your tongue does the rest! Relish the aroma of a good chocolate before you bite into it. Good chocolate will not have the overpowering smell of vanilla or sugar.
Lastly the bite. Always ensure that the chocolate is spread all around your mouth to taste all the flavours intensely. Tinges of sour and acidity are signs of a good chocolate, but astringency is a bad sign associated with poor quality chocolate. Sugar in small quantity enhances the flavour, but in larger quantities it drowns
it. The flavour of a good
chocolate lingers for
minutes, take time
to enjoy it!
The three varieties of cocoa beans are:
Premium, expensive and the most sought after
Widely used, aromatic with robust flavour
Used mostly by the big manufacturers and blended with other premium cocoa beans by smaller producers
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