The Chocolate Life

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This is the first in what I hope will be a regular series (at least quarterly) of Group Reviews, a new feature for 2014 here on TheChocolateLife.

The idea behind the reviews is to get members to contribute their opinions about chocolates that are either very popular, have been heavily hyped, and/or that have received strong positive reviews from rating and reviewing web sites and/or awards programs.

The inspiration for the feature comes from José Ortega y Gasset’s 1929 book, The Revolt of the Masses [ Amazon affiliate link ]. In this book, Gasset predicts that future generations will come to rely more heavily on the recommendations of friends, colleagues, and even strangers over those of experts. If asked to choose between the advice of "experts" and the impressions of "regular" people, the majority will turn to the latter. This helps explain why many people tend to trust crowd-sourced aggregate reviews over those from reviewers in established media outlets.

This month's chocolate - Fortunato #4

Fortunato #4 is made by Felchlin (Switzerland) from beans sourced in Peru by Marañon chocolate.

While it hasn't received a lot of love from international chocolate awards (though this might be be because it was not entered, not that judges did not like it), few chocolates have been more overhyped in the media in the past five years than Fortunato #4. Some of the claims made are true (a distinct genetic variety of Nacional thought to have disappeared in the early 1900s) while others clearly are not (the rarest chocolate in the world). 

Think about your response in three parts.

Part 1 :: Present your sensory impressions - Aroma, Taste, and Texture - of the chocolate.

Part 2 :: Give a rating of the chocolate on whatever scale you want (or that you use for your own purposes) - 1 (low) through 10 (high), 1 through 100, or an impressionistic scale from low (This chocolate is so bad that if I were gifted it I would not even regift it to someone I did not care about); to high (This chocolate is so good that I would have to think three times before sharing any, or This is a desert island chocolate).

Part 3 :: This part is optional and can include a discussion about other aspects of the chocolate - including your thoughts on packaging, marketing -- topics that are not central to the chocolate itself.

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Perhaps a suggestion..

one of my observations with the Salon du Chocolat's review system is that the ballot used is pretty good, however there's an amazing lack of calibration between the panelists.  Panelist 1 may think chocolate A is a 5 on the chocolate scale, however another may rate it as a 13.  This results in a muddled sensory review, with a huge standard deviation, and is difficult to interpret.

It may be interesting to take that ballot (it is a decent ballot - not great, but decent), and select standard chocolates (and lots of those chocolates) that equate to a 1, 3, 5, 7, 9 - etc) on that scale, in an attempt to develop a more standardized approach to group evaluation.  Calibration of sensory panels is very difficult, and i don't think that this approach would ever calibration global panels (that's a bit optimistic), but it may be worthwhile to think about how we could lower the standard deviation in these groups such that we're increasingly 'speaking the same language', or at least the same dialect 8-)  

If someone were then so inclined, the ballots could be modified to include a general 'likeabilty' score, and data mined over time to get a picture of what attributes translate to 'good' in the eyes of the general evaluation population.  Or use it as a standardized way to monitor annual variations in flavor profiles, etc.

Something to consider!

Sebastian:

It is something to consider, and something that could grow organically out of the responses. I have been a judge on two different occasions at the International Chocolate Awards (ICA) and I think what they might be doing the best job of "managing subjectivity" at the moment. One of things they can do is in their analysis is to spot statistical outliers - a judge whose rankings are consistently different from the average. The judging forms are posted on their web site.

I know that for the 2013 ICA round more than 300 different judges participated. I don't have the expertise to devise a formal statistical analysis method so it would be difficult for me to work on the normalization and calibration of such an approach. However, I do agree that taking a standardized ballot and having a decent-sized pool of people rate some specific, well-known, chocolates (e.g., Valrhona Manjari, which is one of the reference chocolates at the ICA), would be a good start. That's a different exercise, and one that probably would be worthwhile, in and of itself.

What would other reference (standard) chocolates be do you think?

Actually the statistical part is the easy part - there are lots of programs out there that effectively do that for you, once you have the data.

As far as the balloting goes, it'd probably make sense to start with a subset of a ballot focusing on a few  prime attributes - cocoa intensity, fruit, bitterness, astringency, etc.  A 1-15 or a 1-5 scale is typically used (1-5 is probably easier for this purpose).  At that point it's simply a function of getting with a number of 'good' tasters and evaluating a range of bars (no more than one bar every 20 minutes i'd suggest) under controlled conditions (temperature, quantity, don't drink your starbucks mochachinno before, etc) and agreeing on what constitutes a 3 vs a 5 - this is creating the standards.  I'd suggest sticking with larger mfrs for this, using single material from the same production lot, and then freezing a few bars of it for a 'static' reference point in the future.  That way as you bring new folks on, you can have a sensory 'kit' where you download the ballot, say go buy bars x,y,z which correspond to 1,2,3 on the chocolate intensity scale, for example, to help provide a frame of reference vs what the actual balloted chocolates should be scored against for intensity.

A similar approach has already been recommended to the ICA.  Having participated in these for a long time, my take is they're off to a great start but haven't continually improved their processes to harmonize results.  A big reason of that is the time it takes to create a good sensory process.  it is a difficult thing to manage, and frankly not everyone can taste - there's some concern about needing to tell long time participants their results aren't valid because they don't have a sufficiently discriminating palate.

Clay and Sebastian;

 

Why re-invent the wheel here?  I'm sure that there is some type of rating/award system in place for coffee, and seeing as there are so many parallels between coffee tasting and the direction that chocolate tasting is going why not just mirror those processes?

 

Sebastian brought up one of the significant concerns that I have always had with the ICA: some judges' palates aren't sufficiently discriminating.

 

Just like coffee already has, chocolate is evolving to cater to "personal taste", and everybody's likes and dislikes are different.  Add into the mix the concept of demographic preference (Europeans consumers typically like a darker, more intense chocolate than North American consumers), and you have a rating system that is not only as effective as herding cats, but is also skewed to a particular group of producers which is dependent on where the judges are from and how desensitized they have become to the intensity of the product throughout their careers.

 

Brad

Don't follow the coffee rating system.  It is heavily weighted in favour of the taste of the US Japan and the UK.  Also although good coffees score in the high 80s or 90s... and the maximum is 100... the minimum is (from memory) around about 60.

A true scale should go from 0-100 not 60-100.

Given that chocolate nuances can be many, I'd suggest a more granular scale of 1-100.  You could stay with 1-10 and allow decimal points, but decimal points smack of a lot of math and that freaks people.  People are used to the 1-100 scale, given things like school test scores, the Wine Spectator rating, yada, yada. 

We're getting far afield from asking members to contribute their impressions of a particular chocolate. We can discuss the merits of creating a "new" rating system that addresses these very important issues - but let's do it in a different discussion thread.

Clay - like most people I've heard the back story and know of the chocolate, but have never seen it for sale at a retail level. Is it for sale under the Felchlin brand? I was under the impression that is was been sold in wholesale lots (or at least bulk) from Chef Rubber at one stage, so do people simply re-melt and sell it under their own brand?

I would be interested in trying it if I could get hold of it in Australia

Thanks for any leads

Hi Gap, this Brian Horsley, the bean guy for Marañon Chocolate, writing from Peru.  I posted this already but now i don't see it so reposting, please forgive me if it appears twice.  House of Anvers is the retail representative for Fortunato #4 in Australia.

Saludos, Brian

Thanks Brian

OK - Anvers got some back in stock in the past month or so (having sold out previously) and I received my bars today. First up, reasonably priced for an Australian fine chocolate - I paid $10.50 for a 100g bar which compares very well against the like of Valrhona (~$13 for 70g) or Cluizel in my local area.

I enjoyed the chocolate. It was fairly one-dimensional in flavour (that's not a bad thing) - it tasted like a dark, luscious chocolate without any other strong notes of berries or fruits etc. Beautifully made in terms of texture and melt - mine was quite soft for a dark chocolate and melted away pleasantly.

I'd like to play along but I don't source anything but american bars so I can't play. If you want thoughts I'm happy to give them but we could use a source to purchase from or if you wanted to build a shipment of 3/6/12 months worth of review materials + a spif for yourself I think many of us would be happy to order from you. :D

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