Shivering, I walked out of a biting sub-zero winter night, seeking shelter in a bright and warm coffee shop. Welcomed by smiles, a hot drink and piles of different chocolates laid out over all the tables I might well be in a favourite dream. But no, better than a dream, Mr P has been called away on business and I have skilfully talked myself into taking his place on the latest tasting event that Out of Office Coffee have to offer. #awesomes! You might well remember Rob’s favourable introduction to Out of Office Coffee, but since opening they have quickly become a favourite midday hang out for Mr P. They take getting a decent cup of coffee (or tea) very seriously and their passion for top quality products shines through. As such, they have a range of premium, single origin, craft chocolate to tempt you and tonight ladies and gentlemen, in the latest round of their evening events, I was to be spoilt by getting to try them all in a chocolate tasting extravaganza hosted by Spencer from artisan chocolate supplier Cocoa Runners!
Now, I am well known for my love of chocolate. And it seems I am not alone, as the same amount of chocolate was sold last year in the UK as all music and books put together! What chocolate lovers us Brits are! For me, however, unlike Mr Ribs’ fine pallet I tend to go for the dodgier mass-market end of all things sweet. Chocolate? Yes please! But none of that dark, 70% stuff. No, no. The more milk and sugar generally the better. And in our house I have one small comrade-in-arms who is never shy in joining me for a bar of dairy magic! And so it was, on this cold January evening that The Child and I were in for a chocolate journey like no other. Here was an opportunity to introduce myself to the world of fine chocolate tasting, to hone my pallet and teach the child to enjoy the higher quality things in life. We were warned from the off that we would not like or enjoy all that was to offer with Spencer promising to put our tastebuds through their paces.
And he was right, but that is exactly the point. After a hot drink, several enthusiastic trials of Out of Office’s delicious goodies (rocky road, poppyseed cake and blondies) The Child and I felt ready to tackle the challenge before us. We stared sceptically at the 15 chocolates laid out and just as you are told not to judge a book by its cover – but often do, we picked out the 3 or 4 ‘safe’ milkier looking options that we felt would offer some sanctuary in between some of the other darker, more challenging selections. So there and then we made a pact between us to try them all anyway. The Child optimistically declared ‘the white one we’ll have last – it’ll be the best!’ And with Spencer as our knowledgeable guide we set off on our tasting adventure.
This Out of Office evening event was packed full of information and fun – as well as a few little surprises! Through tasting 15 different craft chocolates from all over world – covering Peru to the USA, Madagascar to Guatemala we learnt about Cocoa Runners, who specialise in single grower bean to bar chocolate, representing smaller scale chocolate farmers who are interested not just in the quality of the beans producing a more superior chocolate, but also in being more sustainable in their practises. For example we learnt that deforestation of rainforests for mass-market cocoa production has had a devastating impact particularly in Ghana and across the West of Africa.
The first chocolates we tried were 70% dark chocolate bars selected to teach us about the importance of cocoa origins in affecting how chocolate tastes. The first, Belvie Lam Dong from Vietnam, was my preference between these two offerings – being slightly spicy and smooth. Having explored place, we learnt lots about how the crafting process can change both the texture of the chocolate and taste of it – there was some grainy less refined options through to smoother and silkier ones. Robsribs would have been gutted to miss the smokiest chocolate ever that tasted like it was right out of the BBQ pit (it certainly divided the room) and the nutty chocolate nibs which I expected to hate were surprisingly tasty. If you love toe curlingly, bitter tastes ‘Original Beans, Peru’ would have been for you but the biggest surprise was perhaps that I don’t dislike dark chocolate nearly as much as I thought! We are definitely keeping quiet that I ended up loving (and buying) a bar of 72% Blanxart Organic Dark Chocolate from the Dominican Republic – which quite literally snuck in on the party and took it up 3 notches! It was fascinating to learn more about the chocolate industry as a whole – to hear what goes in to mass-market chocolate vs. small-scale artisan bars and how to measure the quality. Most importantly we got the opportunity to meet a room full of other like-minded chocolate lovers and compare notes.
The Child reports: Beforehand we chose our safe/ favourite chocolates. Guess what?! After we chose them, they ended up being NOT SAFE!!!!!!! Some of them were an abomination on my taste buds!!!!! Some were extremely bitter, others were smoky, or spicy but I’m glad I tried all of them, even if I didn’t like them. But I definitely think that the white one was the best! I was sad when they had run out of it in the shop and we couldn’t buy a bar. I would like to go to another event because it’s good to try new things – especially if its a CUP-CAKE or CANDYFLOSS ONE!!!!!!!!!!
If you fancy partaking in one of Out of Office tasting events, tickets are available in store or check out their website: outofofficecoffee.co.uk. For this event tickets were sold, but Rob we were guests of Out of Office. As for Cocoa Runners – they offer a monthly subscription service for £18.95, whereby you will receive in the post a choice of 4 artisan bars from their 800 strong gourmet selection (and they promise you’ll never get a duplicate!). For more information check out Out Of Office Coffee for their various events and if you want to get your chocolate fix then look no further than: cocoarunners.com