Roxanne: A blind tasting works really well. First, give them a piece of regular mik chocolate - (just say, "TRY THIS". Then give them a piece of good, dark chocolate and say, "NOW TRY THIS". I have done blind tastings with chocolates from different origins. I will print out a sheet with the different origins and they have to guess which one comes from Venezuala, which comes from Switzerland, Belgium, etc Have fun!
Hi Craig, you're kind of suggesting that milk is worst than dark. It would well worth it, Roxanne, if you gave a regular piece of milk chocolate to your guests, then gave them an outstanding piece of milk chocolate, say, from Askinoise, or Recchiuti, or Bonnat. You're sort of comparing apples to oranges the other way.
If you've never done this before (and it sounds like you might not have), then the first order of business is to just have fun and use it as a learning adventure as much for yourself as for your guests.
My advice to you is to go to the local supermarket and look in the candy section and, if you live in a reasonably metropolitan area, you'll find at least a half-dozens bars you can choose from from a variety of manufacturers. (if not, try a Whole Foods or some other gourmet store.) You don't have to spend a lot of money on exotic chocolate to get started. The first time I did this I found four different Lindt bars in a local A&P all labeled bittersweet. I (and my guests) were astonished at the range of bitterness and sweetness that we found. In many ways, that's a more impressive discovery than working with really expensive chocolate.
Now because you don't have much experience doing this, the best way to get the discussion going is by comparing the tastes of two chocolates at a time. It's easy for people to make comparative judgments about which one is sweeter, which one is more bitter, which one is fruity (or not), which has more vanilla in it, etc., than asking them to identify specific flavors. You can ask your guests which one of each pairing they prefer. If you do a round-robin tasting where you pair all of the chocolates with all of the others, you can get to a good understanding of what you like in a chocolate pretty quickly.
Comparing apples to apples (as Mindy points out) is good. Milks with Milks, Darks with Darks. If your guests don't have a lot of experience, asking them to guess origins might be a little frustrating - though that depends on the group dynamics and how the question gets asked and answered.
Thank you Clay and Mindy, I'm pleased that you offered your expert advice on tastings, and yes this is my first one. Not a novice to chocolate, but this is close to a science and I do want to compare apples to apples, or should I say...cocoa to cocoa. I now have your book and I will refer to the tasting pyramid section. I live in New York, therefore, I have access to the best. I'd like to include the newest trend- Raw chocolate. I'll stay with bars, and will include just one round of milk chocolate. It's all a matter of taste, I can see that milk chocolate may get bumped in the early round, since I and most of my friends prefer dark. So does a great Milk like Askinoise's, stand a chance to holding up in round 2 against a premium dark? Will the fix be in? The findings will be noteworthy and will post.
I think you're trying to do too much in one tasting. Focus on one thing at a time, and think about doing this in multiple sitting. If you overload it you risk taking the fun out of it. I would say at most 8 chocolates in one tasting, all the "same type" (whatever that happens to be).
And, because people's individual taste sensibilities are involved I have to beg to differ: it's nowhere near close to a science. Think of a tasting as a piece of performance art that's supposed to be fun.