Growing up in 70s Britain on a diet of Cadbury Flake, Dairy Milk and Terry’s Chocolate Orange, I had absolutely no idea what a cocoa pod looked like. Now, when I stand in front of a class of primary school children with my replica pod, they know exactly what it is and where it grows. They even know all about the Aztecs and are already very familiar with the concept of fair trade. That’s because chocolate is on the National Curriculum.
I adore teaching primary children about chocolate. I love their amazement when they discover chocolate comes from a fruit and can taste fruity; their fascination with the tiny midge that pollinates the flowers; and their delight at discovering that they too could become a chocolate judge. Okay so they will still go home and enjoy their Cadbury Flake, Fruit & Nut bar or Terry’s Chocolate Orange but they are also genuinely enthused about there being alternatives (even vegan ones!) that taste incredible, are made locally and give farmers a fair income rather than just a fair trade label.
It’s not just primary school children who are fascinated by chocolate. For a craft chocolate lover, nothing beats seeing the expressions on someone’s face the first time they taste the citrus and red berry notes of a dark Madagascan bar, or their surprise and subsequent dismay when they compare the aroma and mouthfeel of a stunning fine dark milk with their regular milk chocolate. This is what drives us to share our experiences and the reason many fine chocolate tasters and makers have made it their mission to educate others.
THE CHOCOLATE CURRICULUM
Learning to taste is the first step to understanding fine chocolate; when you discover its taste potential, you invariably want to learn more about the makers, the places to buy it and how it compares with industrial chocolate. Then your curiosity is piqued and you want to learn about varieties, the farmers and the tropical ecosystems they depend on. This is where you may stumble because the appreciation of fine chocolate is still in its infancy. You don’t have a country’s appellation credentials to guide you—international standards are work in progress. So, gaining an understanding of the structure and practices of the industry is the next step in your chocolate education.
Taste, transparency and craftsmanship are the cornerstones of chocolate education.
Taste: sensorial tasting, the science of chocolate, flavour development and identification, the effects of terroir on flavour, ingredients and chocolate alchemy;
Transparency: origins, terroir and varieties, the lives of the farmers, tropical ecosystems and different trading structures;
Craftsmanship: makers, styles, production methods, packaging and marketing.
The history of chocolate, of course, is a subject all of its own, weaving in and out of these key themes.
WHO ARE THE EDUCATORS?
There are formal chocolate education organisations: the Europe-based International Institute of Cacao and Chocolate Tasters (IICCT) and US-based Fine Cacao and Chocolate Institute (FCCI) both offer educational programmes. You will find contact details for both on the Resources page. Then there are those of us who have turned our passion for chocolate and education into a profession. The role of both educational establishments and independent educators (and I include specialist retailers in this category too) is to introduce you to bars, tools and people that will help you hone your tasting skills, articulate your tasting experience, navigate the choice of bars and judge quality on your own. You will find links organisations and individuals on the RESOURCES page.
All craft chocolate makers are educators too. Yes, they are trying to sell you chocolate but they are craftspeople and pioneers. They are as passionate about the farmers, trade and cocoa-growing environments as they are about making and selling good chocolate. And who is going to know more about the source of their beans than the makers themselves? So, talk to them, attend their tastings, and go to their events. There is so much to learn from them!
Educators don’t just teach, they need to learn too. I teach through real life and online discovery experiences, one-to-one sessions, pairing events, corporate events, private parties and ‘How to be a Fine Chocolate Taster’ primary school workshops.
I am continuing my own learning journey by visiting makers and markets, participating in conferences and tastings and judging in international award rounds. Also, in partnership with chocolatier Lindsay Gardner, I run Louth Chocolate Tasters, a community tasting club. These sessions give me the opportunity to explore themes, discover new bars and compare opinions with other tasters. In a similar vein, I also pair chocolate with good reads for the Louth Literary Coven book club. You can read more about this on the BOOKS AND CHOCOLATE page.
There are always so many more bars to taste and so much more to learn!
More online chocolate education:
My Cocoa Encounters RESOURCES page introduces you to more blogs, books, organisations and educators.
Visit the CLASSES AND EXPERIENCES for tuition in tasting.
Cacao Magazine’s blog features regular posts linked to the chocolate curriculum: https://readcacao.com/blog/why-choose-bean-to-bar-craft-chocolate/
Cocoa Runners post regularly on their educational new pages and have an extensive CHOCOPEDIA! https://cocoarunners.com/news/
All chocolate aficionados can learn from the Chocolate Journalist’s education posts: https://www.thechocolatejournalist.com/blog?category=EDUCATION