How to rock the NW Chocolate Festival!

So the NW Chocolate Festival is coming up on November 9! Here’s your guide for making the most of this awesome weekend – and eating the most chocolate.

Full disclosure: I posted the original of this on Seattle Dessert Geek; I’ve brought it over and *significantly* updated it for 2019. I was also given a Media Pass in 2018 and am an Educator for the Festival in 2019.

The short version:

  • Drink water and pace yourself. You’re at a chocolate festival, not an eating competition, and water will help keep your palate up for the adventure.
  • Eat something that’s not chocolate every so often. Again, your stomach will thank you. Go for protein if possible.
  • Best ‘bang for buck’ way to spend a day there: Try everything that sounds great, take notes, buy a few bars to eat in the comfort of your own home as a private tasting. (Don’t feel pressured to buy though.)
  • Learn to taste chocolate before you go, or attend a chocolate tasting while you’re there. Craft chocolate doesn’t eat like a Hershey’s bar, and this will give you a serious confidence boost.

For way, way more, read on.

What’s the NW Chocolate Festival like?

The Chocolate Festival has two areas: the upper show floor, with tasting booths (where you’ll spend most of your time); and the lower floor, with more chocolate equipment booths and the workshops/lecture spaces.

Each company there will have something to taste, often many somethings/their whole line. These are usually chunks of chocolate served on plates with tongs to reduce contamination/germs, and some places will serve you. Ask if you’re unsure. (Con crud is still a Thing, even at a two day chocolate show. Especially at a two day chocolate show.)

Most companies will also have bars/confections for sale. You are not required to purchase anything at the show. Don’t feel pressured to buy anything.

One exception: limited edition flavors. Fresco and Green Bean to Bar Japan are two of the many that make items just for the Festival, and these will sell out on day one. (I am still regretting not buying Green Bean to Bar’s green lemon bar two years later.) If you see a bar that’s limited edition and you liked it, get it now or forever hold your peace.

Then there are the workshops. These vary a ton in content, from introductory tastings/talks to demonstrations to professional development. I’d definitely read the descriptions and make plans before you go – ideally with vibrating phone reminders 10-15 minutes ahead of the talk so you have enough time to get there. (A five minute warning will not cut it because you will almost certainly get distracted walking over.)

Some consistent things I’ve seen happen every year:

Fran’s will have a huge booth. With amazing giveaways. They do that.

Someone will have a breakout product and everyone will line up for it and block traffic.

Several brands will incorrectly estimate the amount of product they needed to bring (or there will be a delivery error, or both) and they will sell out of everything – by the afternoon of day one. Be kind to them, but also make sure to buy if you really want something.

A note on accessibility: it’s escalators, with semi-hidden elevators to get between floors. It’s not the greatest for wheelchair access, and I haven’t heard anything on ASL translators on site, but I think some folks bring their own.

How much time should I spend there?

The absolute minimum you should spend at the chocolate festival is 2-3 hours: enough time for one round of tasting, a break, then another tasting. Less than that and you’ll feel rushed. (That’s show floor time, not time spent waiting in line. And those lines can be bad.)

At least one day is ideal. You want enough time to do several tastings, eat some stuff, take a lunch break, and see some workshops. I’m personally going both days in case my palate decides to mutiny on day one (it’s happened before) and so I’m not stressed out to complete everything in one day.

No matter what, you will not taste everything. The more okay you are with that, the less stressed you’ll feel.

How do I best eat chocolate?

First, let me walk you through how to taste chocolate:

If you’re feeling nervous still about tasting chocolate, I highly suggest taking a chocolate tasting class at a shop like Chocolopolis or trying out the Chocolate Tasting Kit by Eagranie Yuh. It doesn’t come with chocolate, but it’s a great set of tools for starting out:

(Another great option is the Chocolate Tasting Course by Chocolate Bar NZ, which comes with chocolate to try but the instructions are more minimal.)

Because here’s the thing: the Chocolate Festival is not the optimal space for evaluating chocolate. It’s full of florescent lights and slightly cramped spaces and lots of talking, along with everyone around you grabbing samples while you’re tasting. (Yes, people will be polite, but it’s still a convention floor.)

The best thing you can do is figure out how to best evaluate chocolate for yourself in those conditions and rock it. One way to do this is to find the quietest corner and make that your space. My method is to close my eyes or letting my eyes unfocus while I concentrate on what I’m tasting. If you’re uncomfortable with bothering folks with your dead eye stare, tilt your head towards the chocolate on the table and everyone around you will totally think you’re staring at the chocolate.

If at all possible, have some money (~$20-$40 is a good minimum, ideally in cash in case the wifi is acting up) set aside to buy a few of your favorite bars to taste in the comfort of your own home. That’s how I get the best ‘bang for my buck’ from the event: taste a bunch, buy my top 3-4 bars, then taste at home a few days later. (Don’t feel like you must do this. I just find it super helpful.)

Also: take notes of what you like, what percentages, and why. Even a quick note on your phone with a photo or a video describing it will help jog your memory later.

How can I best eat a ton of chocolate?

  • Step 1: Drink water. With craft chocolate your palate maxes out at 5-6 pieces in a row if you’re tasting effectively. Drink water between each piece to cleanse your palate, and as you go to keep your energy up.
  • Step 2: Pace yourself. Get in your 5-6 tastings/until you feel full, go see a talk, go back out. Just eating and eating chocolate will make you feel awful. It’s not Halloween candy, and you will get full more quickly than you might expect.
  • Step 3: Eat something that’s not chocolate. It might feel counter-intuitive, but eating something savory will give your taste buds a break and also probably make you feel better. (The Festival should have food trucks, getting a snack also gets you that break.)

What shouldn’t I miss?

Ooh, the tough one.

Honestly, I can’t answer what you should/shouldn’t miss, because we have different palates. So, here’s what I’m excited for (honestly, I’m excited for everything, these are just some of the ones I’ll be making a beeline for that aren’t Intrigue or other obvious places):

  • Green Bear to Bar Japan. These wonderful folks have wowed me the last two years with their amazing yuzu and green lemon bars. I still regret not buying the Green Lemon, the most refreshing 70% bar I’ve ever encountered. Whatever they bring as their limited release bar will almost certainly be a delight.
  • Mission Chocolate. Full disclosure, I’m in a panel with the founder, but dang is she making some neat inclusion bars! I got to try the guava the other day and it was epic with cheese.
  • Hogarth Chocolate. Hogarth has quickly catapulted from ‘I’ve never heard of them’ in 2017 to making me stop in my tracks. They just released a white chocolate bar with walnuts and maple, and I am so jealous that you’ll all get to eat it while I’ll be over here being allergic.
  • Theo & Philo Chocolate. I haven’t tried them yet, but anyone who’s willing to put super sour calamansi in a chocolate bar has my attention.
  • Sweets Escalier. This (also) Japanese brand does really neat things with smoked chocolate, particular sakura wood. It’s always neat to see what he’s created this year.

Talks I’m excited for:

  • Fresh Cacao Tasting (Saturday, 12 & 1 pm) – If you haven’t had it before, fresh cacao tastes nothing like you’d expect. The outer stuff, or mucilage, is almost like a cross between lychee and tangerine, and unroasted cacao beans are dang bitter. It’s worth trying at least once!
  • Inclusions: Innovative Additions to Chocolate (Saturday, 2 pm) – I’m talking this year! With Patricia of Eating the Chocolate Alphabet and the makers behind Intrigue Chocolate, Gaston Chocolat, and Mission Chocolate! And we’re geeking out about inclusions and tasting chocolate! You totally all should join us.
  • Keynote: Leadership In The Chocolate Industry. (Saturday, 3 pm) – There are some really heavy hitters in this group, so it’ll be neat to learn more about working in chocolate!
  • One Origin, Five Makers (Sunday, 2pm) – This one is on the technical side, but every maker who works with chocolate does things a bit differently, and I’m curious to see this presented.

I’m visiting Seattle; is there anything I should see?

I’d make dinner plans! You’re probably going to be eating chocolate all day, and want something easy and fast when it’s over. (That and if you’re only there for the weekend you’ll miss all the brunches and Pike Place Market. Which is worth visiting and has indi chocolate making bean to bar chocolate on site!)

In 2018 the food truck list was actually pretty decent, which helped for lunch but not dinner. I’d be grabbing something light – and likely a salad or something super high in protein to offset the sugar and carbs you just consumed.

For dinner recommendations the Eater 38 restaurant list is rather solid, and I’d grab something on the lighter side like a salad if possible. You’re going to be more full than you might expect, and heavy meals will feel uncomfortable. (Though if you see something you have to try, try it!)

And that’s it! Let me know if you’re attending the NW Chocolate Festival or if you have any questions!

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