Part 2, how to have a Coffee & Chocolate Pairing Party
Want to have a tasting adventure? Try something new, either on your own or with friends? Have a chocolate and coffee pairing party! (For more info on this dynamic duo, pairing suggestions and a tasting mat check out the first part of this adventure “Chocolate and Coffee, Adventure Tasting Exploration” ) Below are the basics for the party – how to conduct the pairing adventure!
Use all your senses, not just taste
To get the most out of this experience, use all your physical senses to explore:
Sight – admire the packaging. Small batch chocolatiers put a lot of time into packaging to tell their story and compete on the store shelves. Take time to consider the shine of the chocolate (the shinier, the better “tempered” – though vegan bars tend to have no shine). Notice too, the color differences between the chocolates. If you bought bars with “inclusions” (i.e. nuts, fruits etc) see how they change the shape and texture. Coffees may also have color differences.
Sound – listen for the snap when you break the pieces of chocolate. Which ones have a crisp snap? Which ones have a more gentle snap? If you’re at home and want a coffee shop background, check out this Spotify Playlist: Coffee Shop Ambiance
Smell – For the coffee, bring your nose to the cup rim and inhale it’s aroma. Some coffees have deep layers of complexity. Do you detect notes of chocolate, pepper, citrus or earthy, sweetness or acidity? For the chocolate, when you open the package what scents waft over you? When you break the piece, hold them up to your nose and breath in the smells. Are there distinct smells such as nuts, or subtle scents like vanilla, spices or fruit? Does dark smell different than the lighter versions?
Touch – as you hold the chocolate what do you feel as you gently rub the piece? Is it smooth? Do fruits or nuts make it bumpy? Does it have a grainy feel? (Some stone-ground chocolates made in the ancient Mayan methods will have this texture.)
And now for Taste
By now you should have the coffee poured and the chocolate pieces set up and labeled. Onward to the best part of this event, the adventure tasting exploration!
One “goal” for this adventure is to see if you can discover that elusive “mouth-gasm.” That “1+1=3” explosion of a third flavor that isn’t found in one ingredient alone, but when together…WOW!
- Take the first piece of chocolate (the lightest) and place it on your tongue. Pay attention to the initial flavors as it starts to melt. If you want this adventure to feel more like a wine tasting, inhale through your mouth and out your nose. This is supposed to fully activate the flavors and aromas. If you can, discover the flavor notes. You could even have the chocolate cover all parts of your tongue (the parts that taste salt, sour, sweet and bitter).
- Next, take a sip of coffee while you still have chocolate in your mouth. Do you detect any differences? Does the pair taste better together or worse?
- Take another sip of coffee. Have any after-flavors appeared? Is one stronger than the other?
- If you are doing this with friends, discuss each person’s interpretation. Remember – everyone’s palate is their own! There are no wrong answers.
- Try the different combinations. Write down your thoughts, and any impressions before and after. At one tasting party, we decided which combinations each of us wanted to try, so that more options were shared.
- Let me know which combination you like best! (in the comments below…and if you enjoyed this – please share)
Results from my research
While you are probably busy getting your own adventure together, I thought I’d quick share the results from my own research. (This means I am not an affiliate and was not paid for my opinions.) I went to my local Starbucks for easiest access to a variety of coffee. I also used their Italian Roast Via (the instant kind you can make at home).
- Italian Roast (Via) – I liked it best paired with the darker chocolate as well as Endangered Species Tiger (espresso beans + dark chocolate). This brand is fairly easy to find in “fine” markets. I like the bonus of their helping endangered species!
- Any dark roast – if you pair it with Taza’s chili chocolate (any of their spicy bars) be prepared for a kick. This would be good for cold days, as the extra warmth really revs you up.
- Espresso and Nitro Cold Brew have caramel tones, so would pair well with most dark chocolates with caramel flavors. I really liked them with the Tcho Toffee + Sea Salt bar. (I learned at the recent NW Chocolate Festival this is pronounced “cho”)
- Dark roast, Pike or Starbuck’s seasonal Christmas blend – any dark chocolate is pairs well. But we liked the Tcho’s 81% better than Lindt’s 70% or even the Chocolove Hazelnut (the coffees have a nutty undertone). Tcho’s 81% has a smooth, non-bitter flavor that enhanced the dark coffees richly.
- The blonde roast went really well with Theo’s Peanut Butter Cup. I believe every now and then you will see these for sale at the Starbuck’s counter. We were not expecting much with this particular pairing, but ended up agreeing we liked it the most.
What are your results?
The magic of these pairings is that there are no “wrong” answers. Sometimes you’ll discover a certain chocolate will not taste great with a coffee, but maybe your friend loves it. Your palate is your palate! Let me know (in the comments!) what you discovered as your favorite, or even your worst.