Hazel Lee, Founder of the chocolate tasting map 'Taste with Colour'

I finally met up with Hazel on a hot Saturday morning for a couple of hours.  We wiled away the hours covering a lot of topics but top of the list was ... of course ... chocolate.

I hope you enjoy our Q&A session below.

What is your earliest memory of chocolate?

It’s very interesting that I have never been asked this before! I am not sure about my earliest memory of chocolate, but my first experience of fine chocolate was back in 2008 when I tasted a rum soaked raisin enrobed in chocolate from Hotel Chocolat in Windsor. The flavour, texture and overall quality of the chocolate was so different from the standard “high street” confectionery. From that moment I was hooked and ended up working at the Hotel Chocolat store in Guildford during the holidays when I was at university.

How has your food science background led you to your chocolate?

At university we learned about flavour chemistry and the Maillard reaction (which is a complex chemical reaction that contributes many delicious brown flavours that we find in chocolate and other brown foods). I found it fascinating how chocolate, with such a simple ingredients list, could be so complex and varied in flavour depending on many different factors (genetics, fermentation, drying, roasting etc.).

Chocolate is my number one but I am also interested in other foods and drinks that have a very short ingredients list yet are complex in flavour like wine, coffee and cheese.

You have created the most gorgeous and visual way to taste chocolate with your Taste with Colour design.  Tell us a little more about it ...

Through various chocolate tastings and judging I struggled to identify individual flavour notes that I was experiencing but I did perceive some colours in my mind which were related to flavour. I created “Taste With Colour” as a simple and approachable tool to help myself identify more flavours in chocolate through colours. A few friends in the industry convinced me to start selling it and now it has been sold in over 20 different countries!

I have already released a Brazilian version which has been translated into Portuguese with some additional flavours unique to Brazil including cupuaçu (cacao’s cousin – Theobroma Grandiflorum) and pitanga (Brazilian cherry).

How do we use it when tasting?

When tasting chocolate, close your eyes and simply allow the chocolate to melt and see what colours come to your mind. Head to that area of the map and look at the different flavours associated with those colours.

For example, I often see burgundy, red or purple colours in my mind when tasting bars made from Kokoa Kamili beans (from Tanzania). I head to these coloured areas of the map and then the various flavours associated with these colours prompt me to identify the individual flavour notes that I am experiencing e.g. dried cherries.

Sometimes people can identify flavour notes immediately and they can then see the colours associated with those flavours and see if it helps prompt any more flavour notes that they are experiencing.

What was the inspiration to bring c olour to tasting?

Simply that I connect flavour with colour! I am also a big fan of colour in general (I appreciate colourful flowers, clothing, arts and crafts). I also experience so much from chocolate through the plethora of flavours and I love that the map enables people to see more than just another shade of brown and bring bars to life in a visual way.

Have you got an absolute favourite origin or flavour combination for chocolate?

I actually don’t think I have! I love variety and I love trying new things. I always seem to gravitate towards fruitier bars or a very comforting and creamy milk such as Fruition Chocolate’s Brown Butter Milk Chocolate.

Hot chocolate or chocolate brownie?

This is a tough one! I am quite particular with both… I would probably say chocolate brownie but it has to be squidgy-bellied!

Your next travel destination ....

Thailand has been on my radar for a while. I visited back in 2009 but this was before I fell in love with chocolate. I had such a great time on that trip that I would love to go back and also visit a Thai cocoa farm after recently experimenting with some Thai cacao! Brazil is also on my list – unfortunately I couldn’t make the chocolate festival there this year so I plan to go next year. I can’t wait to taste some of these incredible Brazilian fruits and nuts for myself and see this gorgeous country and its people!

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