Last week we were once again invited by Academy of Chocolate (AoC) to participate in the judging of their annual chocolate competition. We have done it for the past few years and we didn’t have to think twice before we said yes. The competition is held annually around February/March in London. This year there were about 1200 entries from all over the world for the Academy of Chocolate competition, and the entries include a variety of filled chocolates, flavoured chocolate bars, unflavoured chocolate bars (bean-to-bar and tree-to-bar), drinking chocolates and packaging. Last week the judging was for the categories of filled chocolates and flavoured bars.
The judges come from a variety of background – some are chocolatiers/chocolate makers, some are food writers, some are bloggers or chocolate enthusiasts, etc. For the chocolatiers and chocolate makers, many would have entered their products into competition also, but the staff at the Academy ensures that the competitors do not see their own products being evaluated on their day(s) of judging. As for us, we have not entered any chocolates into the competition this year, and we felt far more relaxed and enjoyed the judging even more.
Each judging table is made up of 3-5 people, and there are 6 tables in each judging session - a head judge is appointed at each table and he/she will be responsible for gathering the feedback and scores from the other judges at the table. Each judging session lasts 2.5 hours, and usually around 25-35 products are judged by each table. Each judge would evaluate a chocolate individually first and assign the scores based on a variety of criteria, before discussing with the other judges at the table in order to decide the score for the table - sometimes everyone would have very similar feedback, but occasionally the scores can vary considerably between judges, and it's the head judge who will ensure that there's a consensus for all the judges at the table. Each table would decide on whether the product is worthy of an award or not, and if it is, whether it's a bronze, silver or gold - for each score, there's a sub-division into whether it's borderline (with a "-" or "+" sign) or not (without the sign). The table score, together with a summary of comments/feedback, would be entered onto the computer by the head judge at the table.
Each product would be judged by 2 tables - The product scores from the 2 tables would then be compared: If the scores are the same, then the product would be assigned the award level (or no award); if they are different, that’s when the product would be re-judged and adjudicated by the Grand Jury panel.
Apart from AoC competition, there is another chocolate competition called the International Chocolate Awards (ICA) which takes places in different places around the world - this is a competition organised by a different organisation altogether. Chocolatiers and chocolate-makers submit their products to their regional competition (for example, this week it's the judging of the Italian/Mediterranean chocolatiers competition in Florence). The winners in the regional competition will then be eligible to submit their winning products to the World Competition - usually that takes place in October, with the results announced at the World Final in London. As an entrant to this competition, we are not allowed to judge at this competition - however, the judging system and rules are published on the ICA website, and from what we can gather, the judging system is quite different from the AoC one.
As we mentioned earlier, each session we have to go through quite a lot of products in the space of two and a half hours - so on average we can only spend about 5 minutes to taste the chocolate, discuss with other judges and agree on a score and comment. This really leaves at most 1-2 minutes to make a personal judgement on all aspects for each chocolate - doing this in such a short time is not easy, and by the time you get beyond 20 chocolates, your taste bud starts to feel rather tired. You may also think that after eating so many chocolates, you would not want to see any food at all. But surprisingly, when you finish a day of judging, having consumed close to 60-70 chocolates, you would actually want to eat a big savoury meal.
In the next few blog posts, we'll share with you how we evaluate filled chocolates and chocolate bars when it comes to judging (not just at competitions, but how we do this internally at Fifth Dimension also!). Here are some of the chocolates that we have won awards at Academy of Chocolate and International Chocolate Awards in the last few years.