Diving Into the World of Chocolate at the Callebaut Chocolate Academy

I spent a delicious morning yesterday diving into the world of chocolate at the Callebaut Chocolate Academy. The class was Chocolate 101. It was a thorough overview of the chocolate making process that concluded with a chocolate tasting and demonstration of chocolate crystallization by Chef Richard Cusick.

I’m not going to pretend that tasting chocolate on a Monday morning is any kind of a hardship. It’s hard to think of anything I’d rather do. Chef Richard led us through the tasting, beginning with five dark chocolates and finishing with a few milk and white chocolates. I’d never been to a chocolate tasting before, and was amazed at the wide range of tasting notes each different chocolate delivered.

If you’re thinking of having a chocolate tasting, you just have to follow a few simple steps to really take the time to taste chocolate.

  1. First smell the chocolate. Breathe in deep, close your eyes, and take a good sniff.
  2. Now pop a piece of the chocolate in your mouth. Don’t bite it. Just close your mouth and let it melt on your tongue. Move it around in your mouth, letting the chocolate hit your taste buds. Higher quality chocolates will have more cocoa butter and will melt faster, coating your mouth more.
  3. As the taste hits you, call out the first flavor you think of. Do you taste caramel? Fruit? Floral? Nuts?
  4. Breathe air in through your mouth to intensify the flavor.
  5. Repeat. Enjoy. Eat it slowly, truly tasting every bite.

Before getting into the tasting, we watched a video about the chocolate production process which really came to life as we sampled. Chef Richard added a lot to the presentation, emphasizing key points, explaining which parts of the process affect the final product. I’m still much more of an expert in chocolate eating, but I did take away the following key points on chocolate production:

  • Cocoa trees grow year-round in equatorial regions like Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire, Cameroon, Nigeria, Liberia, Indonesia, Cuba, Malaysia, and Venezuela. Each cocoa tree takes four to seven years to grow and is harvested by hand. On average, a cocoa tree produces 40 to 60 cocoa pods a year that are harvested by hand by the farmers. In West Africa alone, there are over a million farmers growing cocoa.
  • Once the farmers harvest their pods, they crack them and dry them in the sun before ferrying them to a central location to be sold. Children are often involved in the process, and the public outcry on child labor in cocoa production is growing. Chocolate companies have responded by tracking the beans purchased back to the individual farms to offer chocolate that’s been produced to meet Fair Trade Standards or organic standards, as well as chocolate produced with maximum efficiency and lowest cost.
  • Cocoa convoys are escorted by armed guards. Cocoa is a precious commodity and there is not enough to meet the world’s demands. Last year, when the Ivory Coast stopped shipping its cocoa, the price of cocoa went up drastically.
  • Where the cocoa grows obviously affects the final chocolate taste, but how it is roasted, and then separated into chocolate liquor, cocoa powder, and cocoa butter also plays an important role. Cocoa processed in Belgium is noticeably different than when it is processed in France.
  • Many dark chocolate bars list the percentage of cocoa, but all that is really telling consumers is how much sugar is in the bar. The real test of quality in a fine chocolate bar is the amount of cocoa butter it contains. Two chocolate bars may have the same cocoa percentage, but one could be filled with cheaper cocoa powder and would melt in your mouth in a far less luxurious way.

Many of the chocolates I tasted are only available in bulk, but regardless, I’m excited to continue exploring different chocolates in my baking, especially when I need a truly exciting chocolate to drizzle gleaming ganache on a birthday cake. And the next time I nibble on a piece of chocolate, I’ll take the time to really taste it, and think of all the people that worked to bring it to my mouth.

2 Responses to Diving Into the World of Chocolate at the Callebaut Chocolate Academy

  1. Hey thanks for sharing your experience. I am sure it will be a fun thing to do but I am not sure when will I get to do that.

    Your post made me crave for chocolate so now I will have to go out and get few..:)

  2. I’d never been tasting chocolates before, But I was confused about the taste of some chocolates. I started to buy one until such a time I was so busy collecting any brand of it. In terms of gift giving my friend expected always what’s inside of my gift. because chocolates is the one I of my assets of gift giving.

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