Friday, February 18, 2011

The Educated Palate-CocoJava

Fermented cocoa beans.

I cannot remember where I first heard about The Educated Palate, but as soon as I heard about it, I gathered a few of my girlfriends to register with me as soon as possible. The Educated Palate is put on by the University of Alberta Alumni Association to educate fellow alumni (and non-alumni, I believe) about local food and drink. It is their first set of classes and so far, they proved to be quite popular. The first two (CocoJava and Gourmet tastings with d'Lish) were completely sold out, and the third being not so popular (as of yet), The Localvore's Dilemma.

I have to admit that I am not a huge fan of chocolate or coffee. Don't get me wrong, I like it on the days I crave it but I don't need it to function everyday-nor am I in love with it. However, when this opportunity arose, $25 for a  3-hour informative session (it actually only lasted for 2 hours) on tasting chocolate and coffee and educating you about the origins of it, sounded like a great idea to me.
Their first class, CocoJava was Thursday evening, February 17th. It was located in the soon-to-be Transcend coffeeshop (formerly Axis Cafe) on 103rd Street and Jasper Avenue. This class was originally supposed to be in the former Art Gallery on Jasper, but the organizer of this event sent a last minute email updating us that the event has been moved to the new location of Transcend. Nice! We get first preview.

My girlfriends and I arrived a few minutes late, but were relieved as there were many other people arriving after us. There were tables set up on the lower level of the cafe (there is also an upstairs as well). As our names were checked off the attendance list, we were seated away from the door (thank goodness-it was -30 outside!) against the wall. The space was utilized well, and as most of you know previously from Axis Cafe, the space is very narrow. On our table was a plate of 8 different chocolate varieties, glasses of water, a sheet of paper to write down the taste palate of the chocolate, mints from the Alumni Association and a coupon for each of us for 10% at Kerstin's Chocolate Shop and a free cup of joe from Transcend.
Kerstin of Kerstin Chocolates (L) and Poul Mark of Transcend Coffee (R)
The guest speakers were Kerstin Roos of Kerstin's Chocolates and Poul Mark, owner of Transcend (now two locations). They spoke side by side, alternating on the topic of chocolate and coffee; the origins, how it's made, where it's grown and what flavours to look for. The fact that coffee and chocolate are similar because they hit the same flavour notes (i.e. acidity, nutiness, fruitiness, boldness) made it a perfect match to talk about and pair flavours with. My friends and I were quite lazy (shame on me as I planned to blog about it!-we didn't write down every single name of the chocolate and flavours (a side note that can be improved on in the future is to have the names already listed in front of you).

Me holding a cocoa pod (that contains the cacao beans) and the chocolates we tasted throughout the night. Our favourite was the small, dark and round one.
The chocolates originated mostly from South America (i.e. Ecuador, Bolivia) as well as the coffees. My friends and I agreed that the three coffees we tasted had too much of a sour aftertaste we didn't really enjoy. Most of the chocolates we tasted were also quite bitter, but the one that we all liked the most was also the most expensive-$22 a bar, this chocolate is produced in a small island off the coast of Bolivia. Kerstin explained the reason this chocolate cost so much is because of the high market value of the beans. The chocolate producer paid a high market value for the beans, which means it's of higher quality. Therefore, you get what you pay for. What I thought was amazing was that whenever the coffee tasted acidic and too strong, when paired with the chocolate, it almost drowns out some of the flavour with the chocolate balancing the whole flavour in your mouth.

I've concluded (well before I attended this class) that the quality of chocolate is very important to taste. The lower the quality, the more sugar you get. The higher the quality, the more better quality cocoa beans, more cocoa butter (the oil extracted from the cacao bean to enhance the creaminess of the chocolate) and less sugar. This brings out the natural flavour of the beans,without too much sugar or cream overpowering the chocolate.

This class was put on well with a great opportunity to learn about local food operators in the community and how it it sourced. An improvement that can be made to this class my friends and I all agreed on was the names of the chocolates and coffees. The names should of been listed on a sheet in front of us. Though there was a sheet for us to mark the flavour palates down, the actual names should of been listed as some of the names were quite hard to remember. Other than that, I feel like I learned something new. Even though I'm not a diehard fan of chocolate and/or coffee, it is always good to learn about how local operators source their goods and wherever there is food to sample, I'm in!

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