The tasting included three samples each from Merkur, Sprüngli and Teuscher. In order to conduct a blind taste test, I attempted to find samples of the same type of chocolate with few distinguishing characteristics so that participants would have a more difficult time determining which chocolate belonged to which chocolatier. To that end, I selected three types of truffles: milk chocolate, coffee-flavored chocolate (either mocha or espresso) and dark chocolate.
All of the chocolates were purchased within an hour of each other on Friday afternoon in order to ensure that their level of freshness would still be acceptable and would be at the same level. Indeed, walking around Central Zürich with a few hundred francs worth of chocolates in their very distinctive bags perhaps should have required the services of a security escort!
There were two tastings in order to accommodate the number of people interested as well as the varied schedules. The first was conducted on Sunday afternoon. The second was conducted on Monday afternoon. The results below are the combined scores from both sessions.
The chocolates were tasted in three rounds. Each plate of chocolates was labeled A, B or C in order to ensure it was a blind taste. I even plated the chocolates an hour before the tastings began because I knew I would forget which chocolate was which!
In between chocolates, participants nibbled plain crackers and sipped unflavored water (mit und ohne gas) to "cleanse the palate." They indicated on the scoring sheets what their preference was for each round. There was also room for comments, and there were many comments as people felt very strongly about their choices. 15 participants turned in scoring sheets.
There were some surprising results.
Round 1: Milk Chocolate Truffle
Merkur: 8 votes
Sprüngli: 7 votes
Teuscher: 0 votes
Merkur: nice and creamy; interesting contrast between filling and shell; good flavor; very delicate; carmel-ly and smooth
Sprüngli: doesn't melt as well; good filling; more flavorful, nice contrast; full flavor; fruity, sugary; alcohol taste
Teuscher: dry and powdery; too sweet; moldy; too much cocoa; Yuk!
Merkur and Sprüngli are very close on this one. Both are extremely good chocolates and it came down to a matter of personal preference. Indeed, one participant and Swiss national was extremely surprised at how good the Merkur sample was after she discovered which chocolate was which. She was convinced the milk chocolate she did not like was Merkur's.
Teuscher was a disappointing surprise. We all felt let down by their milk chocolate truffle. It simply was not good. Frankly, it couldn't stand on it's own, much less when compared to other chocolates. One participant suggested that perhaps it was a bad batch. That may be the explanation, but it is no excuse. C'mon Teuscher, work on your Quality Control! Whether or not this is a bad batch, this milk chocolate truffle needs fixing.
Round 2: Coffee-Flavored Chocolate Truffle
Teuscher: 11 votes
Sprüngli: 4 votes
Merkur: 0 votes
Teuscher: strongest coffee flavor of three, good texture; very dark chocolate outside, rich coffee/chocolate flavor, very nice; perfect texture, strong Arabica; dense and rich; fruity, cakey
Sprüngli: Nice balance, not too strong; bitter on the inside, didn't melt as well; too sweet; sweet and smooth with a mild coffee flavor; smooth, but no real flavor; tastes like coffee smells
Merkur: not as coffee-tasting; dirt flavored; dark center, bland outside; blah
Teuscher is the choice for those who love coffee and/or espresso. It had the strongest flavor and most closely resembled the actual taste of espresso. For someone unaccustomed to drinking coffee, it even packed a caffeine jolt. Sprüngli was the choice among those few present who are not coffee drinkers. It had a nice, sweet taste with coffee essence.
Merkur was the disappointment in this round. As stated above, "dirt flavored" and "blah."
Round 3: Dark Chocolate
Sprüngli: 7 votes
Teuscher: 6 votes
Merkur: 2 votes
Sprüngli: best dark flavor, a little more bitter; good taste, but bitter aftertaste; just o.k., too sweet; very creamy, melted easily; tart; booze-y; solid flavor
Teuscher: not strong dark, powdery; very rich, buttery inside; creamy and sweet; smooth with full flavor; dense, cakey; fudge
Merkur: little spicy, really sweet; licorice-y; liquidly; a little bitter; too dark; watery on the inside
This one was another close one and people took the longest deciding which they preferred. One of the participants remarked that she didn't think that any of them were fabulous, but she picked which one she thought the best among the three offerings. Between Sprüngli and Teuscher it came down to a matter of personal taste -- do you like your dark chocolate bitter or semi-sweet?
Merkur seemed to be merely acceptable to those few among the participants who do not like dark chocolate. Which says to me that dark chocolate lovers are best served elsewhere and those who do not like dark chocolates are unlikely to ever purchase them anyway. Merkur might want to rethink their recipe!
Sprüngli: 18 votes
Teuscher: 17 votes
Merkur: 10 votes
Given that Sprüngli performed well in each round and had the most number of votes overall, one must conclude that they have an excellent and consistent product. If you are looking for an all-around good chocolate in Zürich, I recommend you head to the nearest Sprüngli store!
And if I were Teuscher, I would take a careful second look at my milk chocolates. Even with a total bomb in one of the three rounds, they nearly beat out Sprüngli. Tweak that recipe and/or process and you could easily step into the role of Tournament Champion!
And finally, Merkur, we love your entrepreneurship and the crazy, wild flavors you come up with. Your creativity astounds. But you may wish to narrow your focus and concentrate on a smaller number of chocolates rather than offering a huge array with mixed results. Your milk chocolate shows you can excel. We want to see more excellence from you. Harsh? Perhaps? But we are among friends and you need to hear this.
What Would We Do Differently?
At the end of the first tasting, a participant recommended that we should have scored all chocolates on a scale of 1 to 10 instead of just allowing one vote for your favorite per round. I heartily agree. In the future that is what we will do.
And I assure you, there will be more Chocolate Tastings in the future!
In addition, I would limit the number of chocolates tasted. It is possible we tasted so many chocolates in one session that our taste buds were dulled. (Not to mention our waistlines expanded!)
And finally, I believe it would be constructive to have fewer tasters at one time or to group them differently. Given space contraints, it was difficult to arrange the larger group on Sunday into a cohesive discussion of the chocolate. The smaller group on Monday allowed for a more thorough discussion of the merits of each chocolate.
I am certain that as time goes on and there are more tastings, the process will evolve further.
If you would like to recommend a chocolate for tasting, would like to host a similar Chocolate Project in your area or would like to volunteer your services as an Official Chocolate Project Taster, please post a comment or send me an e-mail at email@example.com.
There are a lot of chocolates in this world. The need for volunteers is great!
DISCLAIMER: The methodology of this Chocolate Project can in no way, shape or form be considered scientific. The results can certainly, and indeed should be, called into question. The author strongly recommends you have your own Chocolate Tasting Project at your earliest convenience to either prove or disprove the results!