Monday, February 06, 2006
Chocolate Tasters......or Scoffers
At the end of last year I finished my 'serious job' to try my hand at entering the world of food. As I have a sort of chocolate qualification (and more relevantly, a passion for the stuff) I grabbed the opportunity to work at what is possibly one of London's quirkiest chocolate shops. Although I'd hoped for a marketing or pr job, thus using my prior experience and skills, I decided to plummet into the deep end, to go back to basics and to be a 'shopgirl' in the mad pre-Christmas rush. An eye-opener indeed! Christmas is the chocolate world's second busiest time of the year (Easter is the bonkers time, what else do people exchange other than chocolate eggs?) and so a baptism of fire was undertaken, but my goodness, apart from anything else, what an insight into people, both their characters and habits. Take for example, attitudes to free samples. I soon realised that when faced with a tantalizing tray of cocoa titbits, people tend to fall into one of three camps.
The first, the 'sidler', edges rather nervously up to the counter and rather furtively, their hand will slide its way up to the proffered plate. A morsel will be snatched, popped into the receiving mouth and hurriedly chewed, without stopping to consider what they are hastily munching. And this entire procedure (lasting approximately 30 seconds) is performed without making eye contact with the chocolate vendor. I wonder that the sidler derives any pleasure from this exercise as one needs to savour chocolate, to let it melt in one's mouth as it yields its subtle aromas and flavours in waves that caress one's tastebuds before culminating in a crescendo of 'wow'.
Then there are the 'scoffers'. These creatures blatantly grab large fistfuls and stuff them unceremoniously into their (I'm sad to say) equally large mouths. These people, often having consumed their afternoon tea at the shop's pleasure, rarely continue to actually make a purchase. Indeed their is something of a sense of proud about them as they swagger out of the door. Interestingly the scoffers often hunt in packs and although I hate to point the finger, no matter how chocolatey, they are usually upper-middle class, loudly spoken and rather brusque. Money and privilege does not necessarily imbue one with charming manners or taste. The scoffers share a lack of interest in what they are tasting with the sidlers.
The third type are every chocolate-seller's favourite. The 'tasters'. These pleasant individuals are actually interested in what they are putting into their mouths and one imagines that they rarely let inferior goods make their way past their lips. They take pleasure in letting the cocoa butter melt and in letting the flavours unfurl in their mouths and in gauging the intensity which each sample contains. These sweet people allow one to talk about the sample, in return for which, we hopefully have helped the customer to have discovered a new delight or to widen their taste memory-bank a little.
As my time at the chocolate shop comes to an end (the need to make money is calling me back temporarily to grown-up work) I realise that I have learnt an awful lot about people. Their choice of chocolates is even more of an character insight.........................