If you intend to ever attend a chocolate tasting session at XOXOLAT, which I highly recommend, you may not want to read further. ** spoiler alert **
For Christmas last year, Kat bought a few of us a chocolate tasting session at XOXOLAT, a chocolate shop located on Burrard St.
I had no expectations of this class. In fact, I really didn't even know it was a chocolate tasting session until we got there. I had no idea how long it would last. I just wrote off the night to spend some time with the girls, and I knew chocolate was involved.
I have my moments with chocolate. I know, you're going to ask, what kinda girl wouldn't like chocolate?? I do. I do like chocolate. But I don't always love chocolate. I go through phases. Sometimes, I'd crave them. And when I do, I want them all the time. Everyday. Sometimes, I just don't. I guess it depends on what it is. I rarely order chocolate ice cream. I almost always prefer vanilla. I also rarely order chocolate desserts. I usually prefer the rest over say... chocolate cake. But it's not like I don't like them. I suppose I don't always prefer chocolate flavoured things. But, I love chocolate chocolate. This really isn't any useful background story to my experience at XOXOLAT, aside from the fact that I'm no chocolate snob and I went in with no expectations.
I've been to a few wine tasting classes to learn the basics of wine. If you have too, you would know that there are different notes that you could pick up from a simple taste or even smell. Same goes for chocolate. I never really thought about this before. Of course they have notes. I always wondered why sometimes I like dark chocolate, and sometimes I don't. It may very possibly be where the cocoa beans are from and what different notes each different type of chocolate may have. Did you know there could be over 400 notes you can find in one chocolate? Pretty amazing.
"Who only likes to eat milk chocolate? Just be honest. I was one of them. I used to only eat Caramilks. Now, I love dark. So, let me bring you to the dark side...".
Hodie, the owner of XOXOLAT, gave us a fantastic overview of chocolate. She was informative and enthusiastic, and did her lecture with sprinkles of humour. In between, we got to taste nibs, which are 100% cocoa straight from the cocoa bean. We learned about how it is made into chocolate, and then we got to taste the 100% cocoa chocolate too. Then, a 85%. We got to take another 85% from a different region, and you could dinstinctly tell the difference between the woody, nutty notes of one and the citrusy, sour notes of the other. She got us to try a 70% before going back up to 75%, and it's funny how we all liked the 75% better. The shot of dark chocolate drink (which was essentially a chocolate bar melted down) was to die for.
After having it in its purest form (which is basically chocolate mass, chocolate butter, and sugar with none of the chemicals that are found in cheaper grocery-store chocolates), we got some fun ones that were infused with flavours. There was lavender, sour cherry chili, cardamom, taco chips and lime, and even bacon. None of which were subtle. My favorite had to be their sea salt one. It's that balance of sweet and salty that I love.
"I have customers coming into the shop telling me they eat only Belgium chocolate, and I say to them, oh you poor thing!." There are some really fine chocolate from Italy, France, and many other different places. In fact, I think the company that won the world's best chocolate bar this year is in Italy. Belgium and Swiss chocolate are great she says, but the finest of the finest... well, she'll teach you all about them in her class.
She'll also teach you that the separations (the white stuff on your chocolate that looks like mould) doesn't ruin the chocolate. Chocolate is chocolate. Dark chocolate can keep for 10 years, way past all its expiry dates. You can simply melt it and temper it back to its original. Just as long as water doesn't touch chocolate. If you've ever tried melting chocolate with the double boiler method and got a bit of water into your chocolate, you'll know that it wrecks it. (I've personally done that and have seen it). She says there's no better way to say it but it looks like, well... poo. It does. Hence, she recommends never to use a double boiler to melt chocolate, but simply on the stove at the lowest heat possible.
And even if you do get water into melted chocolate, don't throw it away. You can melt it, add water, and turn it into a drink. Add cream and make it a ganache. Stick it in a fridge and turn it into fudge. It just won't ever be a bar again. She even offered for you to bring in any ruined chocolate and she'll help you save it one way or another.
Chocolate should be made only with cocoa mass, cocoa butter, and sugar. Sometimes maybe vanilla to enhance its flavour. Things like carnuba wax (which is also the same stuff you find in your car wax) is a pure replacement for the cocoa butter component. Same with soy lecithin, also used simply as an emulsifier. Milk powder to make milk chocolate is another replacement ingredient. The truth is, cocoa butter is expensive. That component in cocoa beans is of more value. Hence, all these other ingredients are used in place of cocoa butter. Unfortunately, everything comes down to money. 70-80% of cocoa tree crops are grown in Africa now. But soon, if we don't continue our support for cocoa, these trees will be chopped down for say... beef farms for McD's burgers. All. About. Money. It's not about boycotting all Hershey's and Caramilk's or throwing all your money into expensive chocolates, but with this knowledge, now you have the choice.
I could go on. Clearly, I enjoyed my hour at XOXOLAT very much. At the end of it all, everyone got a box of 16 chocolates in a fancy bamboo box. To be honest, I would have been just as satisfied walking out empty-handed. I would totally recommend the chocolate tasting sessions at XOXOLAT to anyone. Simply because Hodie was a pleasure to listen to. Even though I may have shared most of what I learned today, I'm sure there is a million and one other things she could educate you on should you choose to sign up for her sessions.
(photos to come).