The Educator: Ecole Chocolat
Pam Williams started her first chocolate business in 1981. Captivated by making her own chocolates, she has made her career in the chocolate industry and 10 years ago, opened an online chocolate school, Ecole Chocolat, with its head office in Vancouver, British Columbia. Ecole Chocolat attracts chocolate learners from all corners of the globe as programs are delivered entirely online. In the Master Chocolate Programs, students get to travel to different chocolate countries.
On tasting chocolate: First of all, taste with a clean palate. I like mornings myself before my palate gets hit with all the spicy/savory later in the day. But that is purely a personal choice. Be consistent your tasting method so you build up a sensory library of chocolates you have tasted before in exactly the same way. I suggest to our students that they keep a journal of their tastings to refer back to.
Number of chocolates per tasting: No more than six samples, preferably four. The scientific research into sampling indicates that after four taste comparisons, the palate becomes jaded and individual flavors are harder to pick out.
On trading up: When trading up to a higher quality chocolate bar, you’ll discover how much better a bar made with fine chocolate tastes! The best way to test this is to buy a premium bar of chocolate and also your favorite drug/grocery store bar. Taste the premium bar first and then follow with your grocery store bar. I think you will find a very big difference in flavor tasting them in that order.
INTERVIEW: Pam Williams, Founder of Ecole Chocolat, Vancouver, Canada
01 As an expert chocolate taster/educator, how should a novice taster approach the daunting task of tasting chocolate?
There are thousands of webpages on the best way to taste chocolate – your favorite chocolatier or chocolate maker has one. But again its all subjective. Use whichever method you like but be consistent with it so you build up a sensory library of chocolates you have tasted before in exactly the same way. I suggest to our students that they keep a journal of their tastings to refer back to.
02 How many types of chocolate should you taste in one sitting?
No more than 6 samples, preferably 4. The scientific research into sampling indicates that after 4 taste comparisons, the palate becomes jaded and individual flavors are harder to pick out. Different types of chocolate or all the same type. OR: All within the same brand? Different brands? Same bean different brands? Dark, milk, white? or different percentages of dark? Pick one focus for each tasting and it could be any of the above. I think a small focused tasting is the way to really learn about chocolate flavor and more importantly remember what you learn.
03 When you taste chocolate, do you taste along with other foods or beverages to help bring out certain characteristics of a bar?
Not for me. I prefer to concentrate on chocolate flavor and other tastes/flavors just get in the way.
04 What is the biggest shock when trading up or graduating from grocery store chocolate to a more premium/hand made/higher quality product?
The shock is how much better a bar made with fine chocolate tastes! The best way to test this is to buy a premium bar of chocolate and also your favorite drug/grocery store bar. Taste the premium bar first and then follow with your grocery store bar. I think you will find a very big difference in flavor tasting them in that order.
Photo Source: Ecole Chocolat/Pam Williams
05 Who is doing a good job with chocolate these days?
There are so many its hard to keep track. Its not really about a particular country anymore. A fine chocolate maker or manufacturer will select fine flavor cacao from any country (making sure the post harvest processes are up to his or her standards) and turn those beans into a beautiful chocolate. Back to who – chocolate is just like wine, a Cabernet from California is not inherently better or worse than a Bordeaux, just different. We have a list of chocolate makers on our website which is a good place to start.
06 When it comes to technique, is there a “proper” way to taste chocolate – the equivalent of swirl, swish and spit (wine)?
Not really, but make sure to get your nose into the action. Smell the aroma before and while you are tasting it.
07 How did you get into the chocolate business?
Love of the idea of making my own chocolates which turned into a passion the more I learned about chocolate itself.
08 Where are is Ecole Chocolat based?
Our head offices are in Vancouver BC Canada but our students come from all over the world as our core programs are delivered 100% online. We also take graduates to different chocolate countries in our Master Programs. I consider us a truly global educational group.
09 How long have you been involved with the world of chocolate?
I started my first chocolate business in 1981.
10 Who is Ecole Chocolat best suited for?
Our students are all adults with busy lives. They all come with an enthusiasm and passion for chocolate and a need to hone their expertise in chocolate work. Some want to start a business while others are just interested in being the best they can be in their knowledge and chocolate skills. We have organized the readings, technique exercises and assignments for the average student to complete in approximately 6 – 8 hours each week. We wanted our students to be able to study over one weekend session or by putting in about an hour each day during the duration of a program.