Eating chocolate is already about as universal a pleasure as we get with food. But there are ways to appreciate it even more, enjoying flavor nuances and textures and smells just as we would with a glass of good wine. Chocolate educator Eagranie Yuh’s background has given her some extreme qualifications to understand and share those joys — she has a master’s degree in organic chemistry, and specialized in artisanal chocolate (and French pastry!) in culinary school. The Vancouver-based food writer also serves on the grand jury of the International Chocolate Awards, and she’s coming to Seattle for two free events May 17 and 18 to celebrate her new “Chocolate Tasting Kit” (Chronicle Books, $24.95.) Yes, samples will be served.
Why take a class or buy an explanatory kit? (Hers includes a 48-page book, flash cards helping attach words to flavors, and a tasting notepad.) Whether you favor Hershey or Askinosie, the education helps break through what has become a complicated marketplace where people talk about only buying “70 percent” chocolate or insist that dark is always better than milk.
“There are a lot of things out there, myths that need busting, basically,” Yuh said. The other part is learning how to savor chocolate with all five senses. “You can come to my classes and I can explain all this to you, but you can actually find it out for yourself with four friends just by sitting and paying attention to what you are tasting.”
The kit includes profiles of some chocolatiers, but no edibles. That choice was made partly so that the kit would have broader distribution and the chocolate wouldn’t “get manhandled” in the process — but also because part of the fun is figuring out your own favorites, Yuh said. “I could say ‘Here’s the chocolate you should have with it,’ but what I like might not be the same thing that you like.”
Yuh will sign kits at Chocolopolis (1527 Queen Anne Ave. N.) from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. May 17, and will speak at The Book Larder (4252 Fremont Ave. N.) from 11 a.m. to noon May 18. Both events are free, but advance registration is appreciated for the Book Larder talk. Here’s an edited, condensed version of our recent phone conversation:
Q: How do you keep a chocolate tasting down-to-earth?
A: “I can be very esoteric when I’m with other (professional) chocolate tasters, but if I’m with a group of people who have never really tasted chocolate before, we have a different conversation. “Does it taste fruity? Does it taste nutty? Does it taste roasted?” Those are pretty identifiable flavors that people can isolate. In the beginning everyone is really quiet because nobody wants to say the ‘wrong’ thing — they’re afraid there is a wrong answer — but as they get more confident, someone will say ‘It tastes a little bit like raspberries!’ Someone else will say ‘Hey, I get that too.’ Part of it, too, comes from just having that confidence and supporting each other. It’s not about ‘Oh, I taste raspberries, and I’m right,” it’s “Hey, I taste raspberries! I get it. I can attach a word to that.” I think it’s fun.”
Q: What’s something that people are surprised to learn about chocolate?
A: “I think people are surprised at the diversity more than anything. A lot of us grew up thinking chocolate was more of a candy. And when people sit down and taste it and look at it and smell it and listen to it and really pay attention to it, suddenly they notice, this chocolate is brighter than that one, or this one actually tastes a little bit like coffee… once you start tasting different chocolates you start realizing they actually have very, very different flavors. It opens up this whole world, and instead of buying the same bar every time you buy a different one because it’s more fun and interesting.”
Q: What are some good Seattle-made chocolates to seek out?
A: “Theo is a great choice, partly because of the product and partly because of the story. I really do like Intrigue Chocolates, I think they have a little shop in Pioneer Square. The chocolatier and co-founder has a botany degree, so he started including herbs in his chocolate… he’s doing some really interesting work. Forte Chocolates (in Mount Vernon) as well…. (and) Chocolopolis does that stuffed fig — insane!”
Q: What are some of your current favorites in other places?
A: “I have to say that Vancouver’s doing some pretty fantastic stuff chocolate-wise. Beta5, they do kind of wacky things that really shouldn’t work but do. For instance…a dark chocolate with Fisherman’s Friend in it. That was so bizarre, but it worked, and they picked the right chocolate for it. I think a lot of chocolatiers throw flavors in things and don’t consider the right chocolate… you might have something really earthy and super dark and moody, or you might have something bright and fruity and fun. Other favorites here, I would have to call out East Van Roasters. It’s a privilege for Vancouver to have a bean-to-bar coop, especially one that is a social enterprise — and in addition to making their own chocolates, they do little confections and tasting squares and amazing hot chocolate. It’s a wonderful space to be in.
Q: If you just want to eat a plain old candy bar from the drugstore, what would you get?
A: “That is a tough one. Part of it is that we have different candy bars in Canada. Do you have Twix down there? I really like Twix, personally, partly because there are two (per package) so I don’t have to fight my husband for the other one. Also, it’s not actually about the chocolate for me, it’s more of a textural thing. You get the cookies, you have the caramel, and the chocolate is a creamy element but I’m not buying it for the chocolate necessarily. If I had to go to a drugstore, we have Lindt everywhere here… it’s not bad. It’s pretty good. (But) here Lindt is probably $3.99 for a bar, and that’s what Theo is coming in at. Given the option, I’d rather buy a Theo bar.”