Every year, some of the best chocolatiers in the DMV area (DC, Maryland, Virginia), as well as a few other states and countries, come together for DC’s Chocolate Festival. The event is located at the gorgeous Marriott Wardman Park, and is sponsored by The Chocolate House. The Chocolate House, which is in Dupont Circle, is home to over 300 Artisan and fine chocolate brands. While I have yet to visit the store, I know that after this experience, I will definitely be going in the future!
At this annual Chocolate Festival, not only do you have the opportunity to sample chocolate from some of the best artisan and fine chocolatiers in the area and beyond, but you can attend several classes throughout the day to learn more about chocolate. My friend, Susan, and I bought tickets to this event months ago. We both love chocolate, especially dark, but know very little about it. We were excited to attend some classes to learn not just about how it is made, but about how to taste it.
Forgive me for sounding diva/snooty, but whenever I go to festivals, I have to buy the VIP tickets. Why? Two words: Early access. With almost any VIP festival ticket that you buy, you are able to get in an hour earlier than regular ticket buyers. This early access allows you to taste and talk with vendors before the masses come. You can ask questions and get answers that aren’t rushed or interrupted. It is more personal. As soon as everyone else comes, that relaxed atmosphere is gone. You usually have to weave your way around people as you push and shove your way up to the vendor’s table. If you ask questions, you’ll get a quick answer. God forbid you ask another question, and the people behind you get angry that you are making them wait so long. Samples are often picked over, and items to purchase run out. So trust me when I say that it is worth the extra money to buy VIP to festivals of any kind, whether it be wine, chocolate, beer, food, etc…You will enjoy the event so much more!
Having the VIP tickets, we got to get inside the venue about half an hour early (we got there a little late). There weren’t many other VIP holders, so we had the ability to go to any of the 25 vendors and try their chocolates without any lines. It was lovely. We weren’t rushed, we could savor the samples, ask questions about how they made their chocolate, and hear detailed answers. The vendors asked us how we liked the chocolate and gave us recommendations of other flavors to try. Some made small talk with us about how they got into chocolate making. We had real conversations. We had enough time to visit about half of the vendors before we went to our first (and only) class.
The class was called Maximizing Your Enjoyment of Chocolate. It was taught by a man named Lowe Bibby, the author of a website called Chocofiles, where he reviews several bars of chocolate for their taste and quality. In this class, he taught us how to truly taste chocolate. Similar to wine, chocolate tasting uses all of the senses. He phrased the senses as, “see, snap, sniff, and savor.”
See is when you not only look at the packaging, but the quality of the chocolate as well. He mentioned that if you see white/grey spots on a chocolate, it is called “bloom”, and is not good. This means that the chocolate has a heat burn. Snap uses your sense of hearing. How a bar snaps when you break it can determine the temperature of the bar and if it is a proper temperature for consumption. Sniff is just as what you think it would be. Lastly, and most importantly, is savoring. By letting the chocolate sit on your tongue, moving it to the roof of your mouth, and letting it melt in your mouth, the flavors have a better chance of escaping and going to your taste buds.
I noticed a lot of similarities when tasting chocolate as I do wine. Many of the same adjectives can be used to describe chocolate as to describe wine; floral, savory, fruity, acidic, etc… In addition, not only does tasting require the senses, it requires savoring those senses. Chocolate isn’t meant to be bitten and quickly swallowed, just like wine isn’t meant to be chugged. To truly experience the taste, you must do so slowly. Lastly, Mr. Bibby said something that really struck me to be true about tasting in general; “The more you know, the more you’ll experience, and the more you experience, the more you’ll enjoy.” When I first got into wine, I only knew if I liked a wine or I didn’t. I didn’t have much of a wine vocabulary, nor did I understand what I was tasting. Now that I have learned a little, I enjoy tasting/drinking wine so much more. Same goes for chocolate, except I have no knowledge of it whatsoever. I basically smelled and tasted only chocolate. I couldn’t detect any other flavors other than chocolate, but I can tell you that I enjoyed it!
After getting out of the class, Susan and I finished sampling the vendors that we hadn’t yet tried. Let me tell you, that relaxed and quiet atmosphere that was there before was gone. This place was bustling with people, and you had to wait in lines/huddles to get to the vendor. Once you finally did, their spiel was rather quick and not as personable as before. People were crowding around you, and after getting bumped into a few dozen times, Susan and I hit our limit. After tasting all of the vendors, we decided to call it quits, not going to any further classes.
With the exception of one time slot, there was only one class occurring at a time. Most of the ones we wanted to go to were later in the day, and we didn’t want to spend time waiting at the hotel until the classes we wanted to attend started. So, after about two hours from start to finish, we left. While this was a tad disappointing, it was not so disappointing that we didn’t enjoy ourselves…not at all! We rather had a blast, and each went home a little more knowledgable than before and with exceptional chocolate bars in our shopping bags.