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You Say “Cocoa” and I Say “Cacao” — Let’s Call the Whole Thing Chocolate!

When Monique Wells, of invited me for a chocolate tasting, do you think for one moment I said anything but emphatically “Yes!?” I have always subscribed to my mother’s theory that life isn’t worth living without at least one morsel of good dark chocolate per day to stay healthy.

It’s not a joke. According to many sources, chocolate (particularly the dark variety) can lower your blood pressure, help improve blood flow and prevent clotting as well as hardening of the arteries. Because of the increased blood flow, it helps improve your cognitive brain function, has a positive effect from the phenylethylamine (PEA) which is the same chemical your brain creates when you’re falling in love and releases endorphins which make you feel happier. The caffeine in chocolate is a mild stimulant, but of course, has much less than coffee (1.5 ounces of dark chocolate contains 27mg of caffeine, while one eight ounce cup of coffee contains 200mg.)

Believe it or not, the flavonoids in dark chocolate reduce insulin resistance and it has a low glycemic index, so it helps control blood sugar. Plus, it’s chock full of antioxidants that help your body free itself of free radicals which cause aging and cancer. It gets even better — dark chocolate contains theobromine that hardens tooth enamel and therefore reduces the risk of cavities and it’s high in vitamins and minerals such as potassium, copper, magnesium and iron. Again, these minerals prevent heart diseases and diabetes.

So, it’s no wonder my mother is still ‘full of piss and vinegar’ at the age of 96! I hope to live to her age and be touting the same secret of success while downing a bit of chocolate every day!

chocolate tasting Marie-Hélène Gantois - photo by Tom ReevesMarie-Hélène Gantois teaches chocolateMarie-Hélène Gantois, founder of Mococha on rue Mouffetard (number 89, 5th arrondissement) led the tasting and provided the chocolates. Monique translated for Marie-Hèlene and husband, Tom Reeves, co-hosted and photographed the event. Attendees were a variety of transplanted Parisians…bloggers, photographers, diplomats, chefs…some of whom had been in Paris a short time and others a lifetime. One thing we all had in common, aside from our love of Paris, was our love of chocolate!

Marie-Hélène first told us that our personalities affect our chocolate experience and gave us a chocolate personality test created by a sociologist, reminiscent of the Myers-Briggs type indicator. You could be a “Choco-Festive,” “Choco-Adventurer” or “Choco-Intuitive.” We all scored quite differently. We then moved on to learn about how chocolate is made (quite a complicated process!), where the beans are grown (Côte d’Ivoire, Ghana, Indonesia, Cameroon, Nigeria, Brazil, Ecuador, Malaysia and others), how chocolate can take on the taste of other plants grown near the cocoa plants (tobacco, coffee, banana, etc.).

chocolate tasting group -  photo by Tom ReevesChocolate tasting group – by Tom ReevesAnd then we learned how to taste it correctly. No, you don’t just take a bite, chew it up and swallow it down. Tasting it correctly is similar to tasting wine, but fortunately, as Marie-Hélène pointed out, you don’t have to spit it out!

Here’s how: remove distractions (get zen); clear you palate (with apple, bread or water); take enough of a morsel to take in the full flavor (without cramming your mouth full); let the chocolate get to room temperature and rub it between your fingers to release the flavor (then lick your fingers after!); observe it; break it to hear the snap; smell it, then place it on your tongue and let it melt while observing the taste and texture with your eyes closed.

Are you in heaven yet? With good chocolate, none will be bad! But at least your palate will become more discerning with practice.

Chocolate tasting guidesChocolate tasting guidesThe shop offers chocolate from three master makers: Fabrice Gillotte, Jacques Bellanger and Patrice Chapon. We tasted squares of chocolate made by the same one of them — Patrice Chapon, but each was made from different beans — from Equador, Peru and Cuba. If you had learned the art of tasting well, you could taste the tobacco flavor in the Cuban chocolate. (No, fortunately it did not taste like a Cuban cigar!)

That wasn’t the end of the tasting, but just the beginning. Squares and disks were passed around, each flavored with something special — like basil or ginger, wasabi or cinnamon. I left there with browner eyes than I arrived along with a bag of leftovers and a box of chocolates for future tastings, with a big smile on my face and madly in love…with chocolate.

Special notes:

In 1615, Anne of Austria, daughter of Philip III of Spain, introduced a cocoa beverage to her new husband, Louis XIII of France, and to the French court. Henceforth, the French court embraced chocolate.

“Cocoa” and “Cacao” are both correct. From Even for a bi-lingual Mexican-American chocolatier the story of how we have both of these words at our disposal is not easy to tell. The botanical name for the tree that chocolate comes from is Theobroma Cacao. The word cacao comes from the Olmec people from what is now Mexico, and is believed to be the closest pronunciation to the original name of the plant. History shows that chocolate then changed hands from the Olmec to the Mayans to the Spanish. The word cacao is the only word ever used in any of the hispanic languages to describe what English speakers think of as cocoa. It is actually widely believed that the word cocoa has its origins in a spelling mistake. A mistake which was never corrected, and perhaps found easier to pronounce, quite successfully overtook the correct form.

Special thanks to Monique and Tom of for the opportunity to taste chocolate, meet so many lovely people and for taking such great photos of the event!

A la prochaine…

Adrian Leeds, Parler Paris smelling chocolateAdrian Leeds

Editor, Parler Paris & Director of The Adrian Leeds Group, LLC

(smelling chocolate)

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Kathleen Spivak at Parler Paris Après-MidiP.S. See you tomorrow at Après Midi…It’s tomorrow! You’re invited to Parler Paris Après-Midi on November 12 when author Kathleen Spivack will read from her new book With Robert Lowell and His Circle (University Press of New England, 2012), a touching and deeply revealing look into the lives and thoughts of some of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. Join us from 3 p.m. to 5 p.m. at La Pierre du Marais for lively conversation and to make new friends.


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