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BLOG – Chocolate Lock-in: Rare & Vintage meets Summer Fruits

By Raheela Rehman & Dr Stephanie Höhn

Our hosts were Hotel Chocolat’s own Lasse (Laurence) Rassmusen and Yvette Lake, who welcomed us to the after-hours exclusive evening on the 8th July. Greeted with a glass of prosecco or elderflower pressé, we were all then taken to the intimate tasting quarters for our chocolate adventure to begin. Laurence shared a little history of chocolate. Cacao is known to have been drunk as far back as 1900BC. The Aztecs had used cacao in religious rituals, believing that the seeds were a gift from the god of wisdom, Quetzalcoatl. Cacao was valuable and used as a form of currency. It is said that that the Aztec king Montezuma II (1466-1520) consumed large amounts of chocolate, and that he refused to drink anything but chocolate with vanilla.

Laurence first introduced us to Hotel Chocolat’s ‘Tasting Tree’, developed to help you identify descriptive terms for tasting chocolate – especially useful for the chocolate-amateur as myself. The evocative terms branched from the tree:
– Look & Sound
– Mouthfeel
– Aromas
– Taste

Yvette walked us through the evening’s tasting technique: pinch your nose; place the piece of chocolate on the tongue; allow the warmth of the mouth to melt the chocolate; relish the texture; unpinch the nose and allow your olfactory senses to savour the different layers of aromas and flavours. The procedure led to much enjoyment and laughter.

Our first generous sample was the Hotel Chocolat’s signature “70% dark chocolate baton”. We examined the sample’s shine, it’s rich glossy appearance. The lustrous sheen and excellence of finish is dictated by the cacao butter content. We were then requested to bring the piece close to our ears, snap the piece, whilst keenly listening to the sound. The higher the quality of chocolate, the deeper and sharper the sound, and the smoother the chocolate face, with no bubbles. Pinching our noses, we placed the sample on our tongues and let the warmth of the mouth melt the smooth chocolate. We unpiched our noses and let the aroma and then the taste fill our mouth.

Laurence provided a short summary of the chocolate making process:
– Harvesting: cacao pods are harvested, and the seeds with the pulp removed
– Fermentation: the cacao beans with the pulp that surround
them are left for a few days, so that the microbes which feed
on the pulp can ferment the beans
– Drying: the wet beans are then dried
– Roasting: the dried beans are roasted
– Crushing: cacao beans are then crushed, whereby the small cacao pieces are called nibs. The outer husk is removed
– Grinding: the nibs are ground, producing a paste which after further processing provides liquid as the high amount of fat contained in the nib melts and cacao butter (light in colour), which are used for chocolate products

He highlighted some of Hotel Chocolat’s production and quality processes. Chocolate production requires careful process of drying ‘wet’ cacao beans. During this procedure, the substrate on which the cacao beans sit is carefully selected. The flavour of the cacao beans in the process can be affected as they absorb the flavours imbued in the substrate that they sit on. To ensure its highest and consistent quality, Hotel Chocolat maintains the same environmental conditions throughout its production. It receives its cacao beans ‘wet’ and carries out the drying under its optimal conditions themselves to ensure each bean is processed under the same conditions. Laurence explained that the white chocolate is produced with a high cacao butter content, and lower cacao.

The second sample was the “Saint Lucia 85 percent dark chocolate – Rare & Vintage”. This had distinct woody and smoky aromas. The slow cacao roasting process had meant that the beans had not been over-roasted, which in turn ensured the chocolate did not have the bitterness that could
be expected from 85% cacao content.

Between our sampling, we were asked to crack open a chocolate bean that we’d been given and taste the nib. The nib is a small crunchy part at the heart of a roasted cocoa bean, which should melt in your mouth. We were glad to have received two beans, as the first I opened and mixed the husk with the nib, that then naturally resulted in a bitter taste. The second attempt was a success.

Our third heady sample was the Columbian “Aracataca 95% Dark Chocolate – Rare & Vintage”. Access to the plantation was by donkey, and the taste of this particular chocolate is unique due to the soil in which the farms grow their produce, and not so much the climate.

The fourth sample was the “Ghana 85% Dark Chocolate – Rare & Vintage”. After this selection for lovers of pure dark chocolate, we enjoyed a variety of summer fruit chocolates. These included “Peanut Butter and Jelly Selector” (salted peanut praline sandwiched in a raspberry and white chocolate) and the “Strawberry Cup” and were a delight for the sweet tooth. 

Answering the question whether white chocolate is true chocolate, we learnt that the EU requirement is that the product contains a minimum of 30% cocoa. This compares to a minimum 10% requirement in the US. Hotel Chocolat distinguishes its quality by replacing sugar with cocoa. It’s milk chocolate is defined with a minimum of 40% cocoa, dark chocolate with 70% cocoa, and caramel or white chocolates with 35% or more. Hotel Chocolat ethically sources its produce, which guarantees to buy farmers’ entire cocoa harvests. It has established long-term partnerships with farmers to provide better prices and stable trading, and to make sure no child labour is involved. They also invited farmers to the UK to show how the company is run.

We then went on to the prize draw for one lucky winner from the evening, Clare Worley, who received a copy of Hotel Chocolat’s book “The meaning
of Chocolate”.

Our indulgent evening concluded with a shopping spree, where the guests were entitled to use a £10 voucher off anything purchased on the night. Hotel Chocolat also included further discount vouchers to be used on another day. Laurence surprised us one last time with our unexpected final praline chocolate sample.

Hotel Chocolat definition of terms are:
COCOA The more familiar term in the UK for the tree and its harvest. Cocoa is used to refer to the bean once roasting is complete and the processing begins.

COCOA BUTTER The natural vegetable fat which is contained within cocoa beans and cocoa mass, and which gives chocolate its luxurious mouthfeel.

COCOA MASS The finely ground paste of roasted cocoa beans, a very dark brown, half-fluid mass with chocolate aroma. The cocoa butter within it makes it fluid while its cocoa powder gives it colour, taste and aroma.

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