Tasting - Round I,
tasted on January 15, 2005 — The last three weeks have been
among the coldest I have ever seen in Seattle. The east coast was
warm and we were sitting here
freezing our asses off. I'm not a big coffee drinker so one of
the only hot drinks that's an option for me is hot chocolate.
Needless to say when my friends came up with the idea of a hot
chocolate tasting, I immediately signed up. (Both
DebDu made the
suggestion, but I think credit should ultimately go to DebDu since
she actually made it happen.) I was pretty excited to say the least.
A few days before the event DebDu told us the rules:
- Our goal is to find the best hot chocolate – that means
tasting both mixes and cocoas. It means not making any cakes.
- We’ll use the recipe on the package for each.
- Where the type of
milk is not specified (it’s usually not) or where the recipe
specifies either water or milk, I will use 2% milk. Why 2% milk?
That’s what we typically have in the house & I want to the hot
cocoa we select to taste GREAT as an everyday cocoa.
- I’ll have some palate cleansers –
banana bread &
angel food cake [and
- I will have fresh marshmallows.
As it turns out, it's hard to try ten different hot
chocolates. That said, our palates didn't get too tired as our
favorite came near the end and it was very easy to recognize. The
palate cleansers helped too. There wasn't a spit bucket though it
was required for only the worst one of all - the Washington Huskies
Dawg Gone Good Gourmet Cocoa. Horrible and completely without any
redeeming qualities whatsoever.
Before we get into what happened, I should say that
we came to some conclusions in our quest for perfect hot cocoa.
First, there were many more cocoas we wanted to try (including and
especially Jacques Torres). So we need to do another round of
tasting. Second, a lot of the variables we judged: texture,
sweet/bitter balance, flavor, etc. were partly a function of the
recipe. With an adjusted recipe (other than what they recommended)
some cocoas might have fared better.
Finally, it's important to note that there was some
disagreement when the categories were unveiled. Back when we did
PizzaGanza in March of 2003, there was a category called "Foldability™".
This caused significant uproar as nobody really knew what it meant
and some people decided
to use that column to game the system. In the end we had to make
sure that the winner won with and without that column counted. And
sure enough they did. And as if we were transported back to the
center of that controversy, there was "Dipability™"
staring at us from the
scorecard. Again, nobody knew what it meant so we had to
calculate the results with and without that column. We also at the
last second revised "Richness of Flavor" to be "Quality of Flavor"
so that everyone was in agreement. Our eventual ratings were on:
- Texture and Consistency
- Sweet Bitter Balance
- Quality of Flavor
All cocoas were tasted and rated blind (though the
Hersey's shaped container was kind of hard not to recognize - though
DebDu pointed out that we didn't know whether cocoas were in their
original containers) with the packages only revealed after all
ratings were handed off to our accounting firm for tabulation.
And interestingly enough it was kind of an odd
contest. A lot of the hot cocoas were just mediocre. Some were
interesting as was the Dilettante Ephemere which had a flowery aroma
and tasted a little like almonds to me. And while nothing really
blew us away, two cocoas really stood out above the rest: Scharffen
Berger, and the eventual dark horse winner - McNess. I had more of a
disparity in my scores between the two, but the group overall felt
it was pretty close (one point to be exact). The McNess was the only
cocoa I had that had an absolute firm base of chocolate flavor -
essential in any hot chocolate in my opinion. The Scharffen Berger
wasn't too bad in this category either.
Here are the scores:
all the data from
the hot cocoa tasting.
In the end, not only did we have fun, but we
discovered this retro (packaged) and tasty hot cocoa -
McNess. In addition, many felt vindicated that Scharffen Berger
did well after Cook's lllustrated panned it in their Hot Cocoa-Off.
As I mentioned before, we will need to do a second round including
some brands we missed, and then eventually hold the Hot Cocoa World
Championship where we take our favorite brands and apply them to our
favorite recipes. My quest of course will be to replicate
the best cup of hot chocolate I've ever had. Wish me luck.