Sitting in my kitchen, I cannot help but stare at the mouth-watering selection of glossy chocolate before me.
Under normal circumstances most of it would have disappeared in seconds. But today I’m having to exercise Olympian restraint as a serious Swiss gentleman peers out at me from my laptop.
He’s insistent that not only do we savour each shard, but we also listen to it first. You see, to really appreciate chocolate, you need to hear a tell-tale snap.
‘Actually,’ explains Elias Laderach, reigning World Chocolate Master, ‘it is more of a clean pluck.’
Angela Epstein reveals a selection of the best virtual tasting sessions for socialising during the pandemic
As the country trudges wearily into 2021, I’m so bored of pretending a glass of fizz and a bunch of people talking over one another compensates for a normal social life.
And I’m not the only one — thanks to the pandemic, Zoom tastings have soared in popularity, with sessions for sampling wine, cheese and even coffee.
So today, my friend Sara has joined me and is Zooming from her own kitchen on the other side of town.
What could be better than spending an evening with a world-class craftsman, snaffling some of the greatest chocolate on the planet?
Monsieur Laderach’s sessions are priced at an eye-watering £145 per person per hour. After booking one online and being issued with a Zoom code, a little box of goodies is couriered to our homes.
And it is, well, little. I receive two slender packs of chocolate, not much bigger than a box of After Eights, and a hand-sized slab of chocolate in a cellophane wrapper. Even though these are super-expensive chocolates, worth £68 in total, I’m disappointed.
At the appointed hour of our session, Elias, 32, appears on screen from the Swiss headquarters of his family firm, Laderach Chocolatier Suisse, which has some 90 stores worldwide, with two in London.
We begin our tasting with Laderach’s famous FrischSchoggi, or fresh chocolate slabs.
We’re trying a slab studded with roasted and caramelised Piedmont hazelnuts from Italy (‘the Ferrari of hazelnuts’, Elias explains).
Elias Laderach who is the reigning World Chocolate Master, encourages using all five senses to appreciate chocolate. Pictured: Hotel Chocolat’s pre-Covid tasting experience
Elias encourages us to use all five senses: first checking the sheen and finish of the chocolate, then inhaling it deeply. After that, touch. What does the texture feel like? Next we listen for that ‘clean pluck’ when snapping the slab.
Finally — at last! — we taste. Biting in, I hear the crack of the glazed nuts before my mouth is invaded with a lush, milky sweetness.
Sara sighs and mouths, ‘Heaven’. I just want to keep eating. But because the chocolates are so rich, you can’t eat too many at once.
By the time we try the Grenada — earthy and smoky with notes of banana and honey — we are learning to savour what we are eating.
‘It’s not chocolate to scoff,’ Sara offers helpfully. In fact, by the end of the hour, despite having nibbled on no more than a small handful of chocolate, I’m feeling strangely full.
The next time I buy a bar of chocolate, it tastes a bit plastic. Where are the rich notes, the intense beans? Crikey, perhaps I’m turning into a chocolate snob after all.
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LOOKING TO SPEND LESS? TRY. . .
This Virtual Tasting Experience is hosted by a live expert to teach you all about the world of chocolate. Participants are sent a box of 14 chocolates in advance.
Hotel Chocolat’s virtual experience is hosted by a live expert
Kits from £18.95, cocoa runners.com/calendar
The UK-based firm Cocoa Runners organises free virtual sessions. It is best if you order one of its special tasting kits first, however.
Chocolate Tasting by Jennifer Earle
Guests pre-order Mystery Tasting Packs then have a one-hour Zoom call hosted by Jennifer.
AND IF YOU’RE NOT A CHOCOLATE FAN…
Raise a G&T
From £44, madamgenevaand gent.co.uk
Learn all about the history of gin and be guided through some fabulous cocktails with a specially curated box full of spirits (and tonic, of course).
From £29, thecourtyard dairy.co.uk
Join cheesemaker Andy Swinscoe as he guides you through the best on offer at the Courtyard Dairy in the Yorkshire Dales. You’ll receive six portions to try.
Brew up a storm
From £29.99, stokescoffee.com
Try ‘cupping’ with an expert Master Roaster as they teach you how to brew the perfect cup using samples sent in advance by post.
From £40, localwineschool.com
Try virtual wine tastings with the West London Wine School, with tasting kits.