Wish you could visit a chocolate festival, only you don’t live near any or it’s April? Well you can totally have a mini-chocolate festival from the comfort of your own home! Here’s how!
So for me the components of a good chocolate festival are:
- Learning how to taste chocolate (if you don’t know how to already)
- Tasting new chocolate
- Learning new and awesome chocolate stuff
So this is going to be more for folks who can’t get to a shop, since we have the power of the internet! Let’s make a festival you can enjoy in your pajamas!
How To Taste Chocolate
This part’s the easy part – I already wrote a blog post on this! And if you just want the video where I explain tasting chocolate with Barbie Van Horn of Finding Fine Chocolate, here you go:
And have another version tucked in this interview with Lauren Adler of Chocolopolis, short and sweet:
If you’re interested in going intense, Barbie has a video on tasting 100% chocolate bars! 100% bars are super awesome, but there’s enough difference from ‘regular’ chocolate that it’s worth getting the tips from an expert first:
And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with getting a chocolate tasting guide for support! There are a lot of free online options, like this flavor profile map! And I love Eagranie Yuh’s tasting kit flash cards if you’d like something to hold for a reference.
Tasting New Chocolate
Now the tough part: what chocolate to try. This could just be chocolate that’s new to you! Or chocolate you wanted to retry, or everyone involved lists a bar they’re excited about and you all try the set. Really, this part should just be getting whatever chocolate you want, whether or not you share with a friend. (I think this whole thing would be more fun with a small group, whether in person done with covid safety in mind or on Zoom, but maybe that’s not your thing. You make this festival plan as big or small as you want!)
However, if you can’t make up your mind and just want to be sure it’s good chocolate, this is the time I’d seriously consider grabbing a bundle from a shop. Most online chocolate shops offer curated bundles, and some even have mystery bundles, and they’re generally going to be the best of what they carry. That’s so much easier than trying to pick bars from scratch!
I wish there was a replacement for the long gone Chocolopolis Baseline out there, which was sort of a ‘state of bean to bar chocolate’ bundle that was great for learning what to expect. (Am I sitting here wondering if I should curate one? Yes.)
If you’d like some more recommendations for bars to try, here are some I’d go for!
- Any two bars from Fresco Chocolate of the same origin. Fresco Chocolate is one of the few makers in the world to offer multiple roasts on the same beans, so it’s a really neat way to see how roasts impact the beans! (I like starting folks with the Oko-Caribe 72% bars, they’re really approachable, but Fresco writes clear tasting notes so I’d grab whatever feels the most fun!)
- Mission Chocolate Two Rivers. The Two Rivers bar is two single origin 70% chocolates in one bar – and they’re different colors because cacao beans have so much color diversity! (Also it gets you two origins to try in one bar. Win win!)
- Monsoon Bejofo 80%. This one’s become a house favorite for introducing folks to darker chocolates. It’s jammy, bright, and not too astringent. And what’s really cool is you can compare between the 80% and the 64% of the same bean!
- Luisa Abram Chocolate. Luisa Abram is one of the few makers in the world who works with harvesters of wild cacao, as opposed to farm cacao. And I love that the bars are split in half for sharing!
- Soma Old School Milk. I will always recommend this to folks who want to know the full range of chocolate textures. It’s like eating a shortbread cookie! (I also really like Soma’s dark milks, like the Creole Gardens 55%.)
- Creo Chocolate. Creo’s milk chocolate lineup (CW alcohol) is great for folks who want the nostalgia of Hershey and Cadbury but with room to explore.
- Fjak Chocolate. It’s hard to pin down a favorite Fjak white because they just do some funky things with white chocolate, from nibs to lingonberries! (Fjak also counts for wonderful & weird with their Brunost bar, my beloved.)
- Soma Chocolate. Look, their cocoa butter bars are some of the most intense bars on the market, I consider their raspberry bar to be the adult version of warheads, and the rest are just really fun and bold.
- Mission Chocolate Horchata. It’s got puffed rice and cinnamon and it’s really snacky!
Just for the fun of it!
- Fossa Chocolate. Fossa Chocolate highlights Singaporean flavors in their bars, from salted eggs to lychee, and they’re all really good. And while Sugoi Sweets probably has one of the best US collections, I’ve found them in Uwajimaya of all places locally?
- Mission Chocolate Three Theos. It’s the cacao family – cupuaçu (Theobroma grandiflorum), jaguar cacao (Theobroma bicolor), and cacao (Theobroma cacao) – all in one bar! How cool is that?
Learning New Chocolate Facts – Chocolate vlogs & blogs
I’m putting this into ‘tracks’ only so there’s some organization, but really, grab whatever sounds fun here.
Beginner Track: Want to learn how to taste chocolate? How about some recommendations for bars that are vegan, or milk chocolate, or just where to get started? Here’s the way to start!
- Interested in alcohol and chocolate pairings? You should check out Shay of ChocCoffeeWine!
- Interested in learning about really unique bars? Patricia’s work at Eating The Chocolate Alphabet will be up your alley, along with her Instagram!
- Me! – Yeah, got to include myself here, really my YouTube channel. I’ve posted some videos on how to taste chocolate, some amazing beginner bars, and even great brands and resources for vegan chocolate and how to save money when you’re getting started. Check out the chocolate playlist here!
Intermediate Track: Interested in learning about specific bars? Already know what tasting notes you’re looking for? Dear goodness have you got options!
- Finding Fine Chocolate (see the video above) – Barbie Van Horn has one of the most well trained palates and minds when it comes to thinking about chocolate and how it works, and it shows in her posts.
- Victoria Cooksey – Victoria does a mix of single bar reviews and maker interviews on her YouTube and blog, giving you a blend of how things work and what she thinks of bars. She’s also writing at Chocolate Connoisseur Magazine if you want even more of her thoughts.
- Dame Cacao – Max has one of the most thorough chocolate blogs out there!
Professional Track: interested in the professional aspects of chocolate, maybe want to learn in detail how hard it is to source cacao? There aren’t as many public resources, but they do exist!
- Craft Chocolate TV – Manoa Chocolate has been doing a video series talking about chocolate from a maker standpoint, from sourcing cacao to making your first batches. It’s fun to watch period just to learn how they think about chocolate, but it’s definitely being made with professionals in mind.
- Angi Learns How To Chocolate – Angi of Chocolatespiel makes videos on her chocolate making experiments, including confections! If you’re curious about working with cocoa butter, she’s got great resources!
- The Chocolate Journalist – I could argue her blog works for intermediate folks too! But Sharon really focuses on the professional side of chocolate, so it’s a great sneak peek into that world.
- Chocolate Alchemy – John Nanci is one of the pioneers of bean to bar chocolate, and still answering questions and talking recipes! It’s a ton of information!
Putting it all together
So clearly you could go read the blogs, get a ton of info, eat some chocolate. How to make it into a chocolate day though? Now that’s a bit more finessing.
For a beginner or intermediate track day:
- Learn to taste chocolate – watch my video, get a tasting book, or whatever sounds awesome to you!
- Learn how cacao is made bean to bar:
- Take on some of the chocolate above, or a chocolate subscription box or bundle! (I’m really hoping that Yahara Chocolate’s $10 kit comes back at some point, I think you’d all have fun!)
- Make something with chocolate! Why not make plain or cocoa shortbread with multiple cocoa powders or chocolate chunks so you can compare how they impact the flavor? (Here’s one of my favorite shortbread recipes, and this cocoa shortbread recipe looks great!)
For an advanced/pro track day:
- Craft Chocolate TV is a great resource on the whole pro process, I’d start there!
- Arcelia Gallardo of Mission Chocolate has a whole detailed post on making chocolate, along with how to choose your beans: https://missionchocolate.com/blogs/recipes/30581059-making-chocolate-bean-to-bar
- Try making your own chocolate product, even if it’s not a chocolate bar! I’d be making confections all day since you can make simple peanut butter cups without true tempering if you just want really good snacks. (You advanced folks should probably temper them for the practice, but there’s no shame in throwing your chocolate in the fridge and being happy with it.)
How would you have a mini chocolate festival at home?