International Chocolate Awards come to Canada: My Judging experience

Have you ever eaten 40 kinds of chocolate in one day? I just did. Yup. You read that number correctly. 40. Different. Kinds of Chocolate. It was a day of extreme chocolate for me.

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Why? Well, I was fortunate to participate in judging the 2014 International Chocolate Awards – Canada region, that recently took place in Vancouver last week.

I have not done anything like this before, and it was certainly a memorable experience. I hope to return next year! After learning how to make chocolate in Pastry School and the serious level of skills required to make a brilliant piece of chocolate, I thoroughly enjoyed this experience. Canada has some highly talented chocolatiers, and many of them are in Vancouver too.

Close up photos of the chocolate entrant samples were not really permitted because we could not reveal the identity of the entrants before the awards were released last week. So my phone was tucked away for most of the sessions. But don’t dismay, at the bottom of this post I have a link to the list of the winners. First I want to describe my experience as a first time chocolate judge.

I arrived at Vancouver Community College, who was a supporting sponsor of the event by proving space for the judging. I arrived in a classroom upstairs, with about 20 other judges. We were welcomed and introduced briefly to the event.

We then calibrated our palettes with three kinds of couverture chocolate, seen in the photo above (bottom left). This helped us ensure our palettes have not disappeared throughout the afternoon, we repeated tasting one of these chocolates after each few samples. You knew you were okay if you could still taste the fruitiness in the original chocolate.

I should mention how one tastes chocolate, as some of you may be wondering this. Well, there are a million ways to do so, it’s like of like tasting wine. But ultimately, I enjoy taking a small bite and then you let it melt between your tongue and the roof of your mouth. If you close your eyes, sometimes you an taste the different elements more clearly. You get better with practice.

One of the best parts of the experience was enjoying soupy polenta. Odd, I know.

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But seriously, after tasting that much chocolate it was the best palette cleanser. Like when you are sampling perfumes and there are some coffee beans to help clear your sense of smell. Soupy polenta is the same for your taste buds.

I tried some amazing chocolates too, I recognized some of the chocolate work from local Vancouver chocolatiers.

They asked us to grade flavours and certain properties of the chocolate based on a scale. There were a variety of judges too, from people in non-food industry lines of work to chocolate educators. A wide panel of chocolate consumers, overall.

Here are a few photos of the day.

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We received the samples in these little cups, that were anonymously numbered. We only could read the description.

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Among the flavour combinations I tried, here are a few:
– rose and mint dark chocolate
– peach and chili dark chocolate
– green apple and dark chocolate
– orange juice caramel inside dark chocolate
– ginger orange carrot and milk chocolate
– strawberry with candied basil in milk chocolate
– there was even shiitake mushrooms inside milk chocolate with Hawaiian sea salt (not my favourite but brilliant thinking outside the box)
– eucalyptus and menthol inside 72% dark chocolate
– rosemary caramel and salted almonds, this was very good
– strawberry and champagne in white chocolate – superb
– lemon and fresh dill in white chocolate
– blueberry and Saskatoon berry in white chocolate, loved this one too
– dried raspberry and lemon oil with almonds in white chocolate
– one of the last ones was pumpkin and chai spice with caramelized white chocolate – perfect flavour to end my day on.

I should clarify that we signed up for sessions and each one is 90 minutes. I signed up for two in the same day. There were more the next day, and if I judge next year I will be sure to split them over two days. Each session tasted about 20 chocolates across various categories. Collectively all the sessions judge all the chocolate entries for canada entrants.

Next up is London, UK.

To learn more about the awards and competition, visit www.internationalchocolateswards.com. You can read the full press release detailing winners from the Canada round of awards online here.

Also, if you want to host your own chocolate tasting party then I recommend you check out the Chocolate Tasting Kit by The Well Tempered Chocolatier (@eagranieyuh). She is a local author and creator of the kit – it’s even available at chapters! Makes a great gift idea.

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