A couple of months ago I went to a friend’s birthday at Hotel Chocolat’s Bean to Bar class at their shop and school on Monmouth St, Covent Garden. I’ve done a couple of chocolate classes before for work events or hen parties, so I was interested to see how this one would compare.
We were greeted by the staff who took our coats and showed us to our table which was laid out with everything we would need for the class including some all-important bubbles! There were bowls of cocoa beans, nibs and butter in the middle of the tables as well as a cocoa pod so we could see what they look like, and some leaflets with information about the farming of cocoa and the production of the chocolate we eat.
Once we had settled in, our host chocolatier introduced himself and we learned all about the cocoa plant, how and where it grows, how it is harvested, which parts are used for which purposes, and the qualities they provide to the end product – the chocolate bar! We got to try some different chocolate samples from different regions and it’s amazing how chocolate takes on certain flavours from where it is grown and produced. We were also able to try some cocoa fruit which was a new experience for me. The fruit comes as a pale, thick liquid and the flavour is mild, but I just found it pretty disgusting.
Our host chocolatier went on to talk us through the process of producing chocolate and the various methods and machines that are used at the different stages of roasting, grinding etc. Then we had our chance to play! We ground up cocoa nibs in a pestle and mortar until they started to form a paste as the nibs broke down and the cocoa butter was released, to which we then added some more cocoa butter to make truly melt-in-the-mouth chocolate…in theory.
It took a bit of time and a lot of elbow grease (Mark may have helped out too), but in the end my chocolate was ready to temper by adding in some more melted chocolate. Tempering is all about controlling the temperature of the chocolate to influence its crystal structure so that when it sets it has a good shine and snaps when broken. Finally, it was time to pour the chocolate into moulds and it smelled divine! I should get a medal for not just eating it all there and then! I mean look at it…
Once the chocolate was in the moulds, they were put to one side to set and we watched the chocolatier do a marble tempering demonstration. Pouring melted chocolate over a cool marble slab is another way of tempering and the chocolatier made it look easier than I think it really is…
We finished the class with a cup of Hotel Chocolat’s Cacao Breakfast tea which is made with cocoa shells and has a beautiful woody chocolate flavour that’s almost on the savoury side. I’ve been hooked ever since! My favourite is their Cacao & Ginger tea.
We left with our chocolate and a goody bag with some of their range of single origin chocolate. Our handmade chocolate had a great flavour but was quite grainy as you really need machines to grind the beans properly for a really long time to make smooth chocolate. Generally, I would have loved a little more hands-on interaction in the class and to be able to do a bit more with chocolate as it felt like a lot of watching and listening, but it was certainly different to what I had done before and was really informative and interesting.
I have not be asked by Hotel Chocolat to write this review and I paid for the class in full.