VALENTINA VITOLS BELLO is more than a chocolate lover. She’s a connoisseur — so much so, she became a certified chocolate taster a couple of years ago.
Since then, she’s hosted chocolate tastings with friends. They get together, taste chocolate and compare notes as she tells them about a given chocolate’s origins and characteristics.
To do a tasting, you need chocolate, and you need interested friends. You don’t necessarily need to be in the same place.
I joined Valentina, whom I’ve known for years, and a handful of others in a recent videoconference tasting.
“This is one of the things I enjoy the most: sharing chocolate with people,” Valentina told us. She wasn’t about to let a lockdown stop her.
A crucial element in the tasting’s success: ensuring that everyone had the same chocolate.
Before Valentina hosted the event, she contacted Lauren Adler, owner and “chief chocophile” of Chocolopolis, a gourmet chocolate shop in Seattle’s Interbay area.
For this tasting, Adler put together a selection of bars from South America. A native of Venezuela, Valentina has a particular fondness for chocolate from that continent, where it’s produced on small, family-owned farms, each with its own terroir, climate and resulting unique flavor.
Adler said she’s seen an uptick in people asking about her curated chocolate bundles.
“I know from many of my regular customers that they are hosting virtual chocolate tastings as happy hours and as ways to gather with friends,” she said.
She also moved her annual “Chocolate Sweet Sixteen” bracket challenge — people try four bars a week, and the best two move to the next bracket until a champion is crowned — to an online format this year.
One advantage of Valentina’s virtual tasting: She could include friends in San Diego and Atlanta who normally wouldn’t be able to join her for an in-person event. All she had to do was ask Adler to send chocolates to them in advance.
Adler also sent a color-coded wheel describing the flavors a person might encounter in chocolate, as well as a tasting-note card we filled in as we nibbled on the night’s bars.
We’d chatted at the beginning of the conversation — most of us hadn’t known each other beforehand — but once we started tasting, the focus was squarely on the chocolate.
For each bar, we noted the origin (many artisan chocolates are single-origin, meaning all the chocolate comes from the same place), the packaging, the color and texture of the bar, its scent and the sound it made when we broke off a chunk. That was before we ever took a bite.
Chocolate isn’t the only delicacy that’s fun to taste with friends. Adler has teamed up with Alison Leber, aka the Roving Cheese Monger (alisonleber.com), to offer chocolate and cheese tastings. Washington’s wine regions have set up virtual events. Some of them require you to find your own wine. Others have scheduled events. Others will mail you a selection of wines and schedule a private tasting (check individual winery websites for information).
For Valentina, tastings accomplish two goals at once: sharing her passions, and checking in with people she cares about.
“I’m actually talking more to my friends who live far away than I have in years,” she said.