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Q. How should I store To’ak chocolate?

Definitely not in a freezer. And a refrigerator should only be used as a last resort—for example, if you live in Dubai and don’t have air conditioning. If you live in a home where the indoor temperature doesn’t exceed 24 C (75 F), it’s best to simply store it at room temperature, in a dry place that is protected from sunlight and other strong odors. For example, in a cupboard. You can also store it in a wine cooler; in this case, we advise you to first put the package of chocolate inside a ziplock bag, to protect it from moisture inside the wine cooler. Dark chocolate likes to be stored within the temperature range of 12-22 C (53-72 F), with 24 (75 F) usually acceptable.

Q. What if I live in Hong Kong (or New York) in an apartment without air conditioning in July?

Then you probably shouldn’t buy a bar of To’ak, and instead invest in some sort of cooling system.
 Hong Kong gets hot! So does New York.

Q. No, seriously. What should I do?

If you live in an extremely hot place and do not have air conditioning, and it’s in the middle of summer, you should still never put To’ak chocolate into a freezer. If you have a wine cooler, you should store it there—although first put the package into a ziplock bag. If you don’t have a wine cooler, then you can you could put it into a zip lock bag and store it in your refrigerator, and ideally adjust the temperature of the refrigerator to a moderate setting. In this case, the zip lock bag would be mandatory, to protect it from moisture. But honestly, in that situation we would recommend storing the chocolate at someone else’s dwelling (a friend or family member) who does have air conditioning, and ask them to keep it in a cupboard for you. And you should probably invite them to the tasting.

Q. How long is the shelf time?

Officially, the shelf life is two years when in bar form. Unofficially, it should last longer than that, but after a while the aroma may fade.

Q. Once I open a bar of To’ak Chocolate, how long will it remain viable to eat?

Well, it probably won’t “go bad” for a very long time…as in, decades. (Remember, there is no milk or even extra cacao butter in To’ak…some dark chocolate has been documented to last a century). But the thing is, once the packaging has been opened and the chocolate is exposed to air and other odors, you will notice that the aromas begin to gradually diminish over the course of days. It will still be good for tasting for a few days after opening it, as long as you carefully re-wrap the bar. But the best time to taste our chocolate is the same day you unwrap it.

Q. Should I try to age a bar of To’ak chocolate for several years?

You could try that, and it could be interesting, but we don’t advise it. The best way to age chocolate is before tempering and formation into bars, which is what we’re doing in Quito. This requires optimal temperature and humidity conditions (which Quito is blessed with year-round, fortunately) and also requires proper tempering and molding equipment. So we recommend that you leave the aging to us—your job is to enjoy the chocolate within a few days or months of acquiring it.

Q. How long will it take to receive my order?

Orders to North America and Europe will arrive within 3-4 business days. Orders to the rest of the world may take up to 6 business days. If you order the bar in Ecuador, come by and pick it up in Quito whenever you’d like.

Q. Will there be import taxes or customs duties or any other extra charge?

No. We take care of that ourselves. Once you submit your payment to us, your only task is to receive the chocolate and enjoy it.

Q. What happens if my chocolate is damaged when it arrives?

First of all, we apologize if this happens. We’ve spent a great deal of time and resources trying to figure out the best possible way to protect your chocolate during shipment. If you elected “Signature required” and your chocolate is severely discolored upon arrival due to extreme weather, please send us an email at info@toakchocolate.com. In the subject heading of your email, please write “Damaged Shipment”. Include your name, phone number, order confirmation number, tracking number, and also please attach a photo of the chocolate so that we can learn what went wrong. We will then contact you directly, either by email or by phone. If the bar or the bean is broken, but otherwise the coloration of the bar is normal, the bar is considered still in good form for tasting and enjoyment.

Q. At what temperature should To’ak chocolate be tasted?

To’ak should always be tasted at room temperature. If the ambient temperature is significantly colder than room temperature, the aroma and flavor may be muted. If the temperature is warmer than room temperature, the chocolate may begin to melt, which will alter the texture as well as some of the aromas and flavor characteristics. As a general rule of thumb, as long as the ambient temperature is comfortable enough to sit in without sweating or feeling cold, the conditions for tasting should be fine.

Q. What is the best way to taste To’ak chocolate?

One way to enhance the experience is to include a few other bars of pure dark chocolate from other parts of the world (cacao range 70%-90%). Try each of these chocolates first, before trying To’ak. This helps train the palate to perceive nuances of flavor in each of the different expressions of chocolate. Regardless, the best way is to gather a bunch of friends or family members and do a tasting as a group—a single bar of To’ak has been known to accommodate up to 8 people, though 3-4 people per bar is the ideal number. This idea is that this is something for people to share together. And while you’re at it, you might as well ask your guests to bring over their favorite bottle of something. This can lead to a very entertaining night.

Q. Is there a ritual to dark chocolate tasting, similar to wine tasting?

That’s a very important question, thank you for asking. And the answer is yes. There is both a simple way and an elaborate way to taste dark chocolate. The elaborate way is not required, but it is more fun and it really will help you delve more deeply into the experience, in a sensory context. For a comprehensive tutorial on dark chocolate tasting, take a look at the Tasting Guide on our website. But above all, remember one thing: To’ak chocolate was made to express its aroma, first and foremost. So before popping it in your mouth, be sure to give it a good long smell, as if it were a glass of wine. If you skip this step, you will only be cheating yourself.

Q. What are the tasting utensils for? Do I have to use them?

Our fingers often carry other odors—soap we’ve used, food we’ve handled, skin oil, etc. Sometimes these aromas can hinder your ability to explore the aroma of a piece of chocolate when it’s held in your fingers. The tasting utensil is our effort to mitigate this situation. Some people find it useful, other people do not. Use them if you’d like. They are optional.

Q. What does To’ak chocolate pair with?
Wine? Whiskey? Tell me.

In our opinion, aged cognac and armagnac work the best—for example Kelt XO and VSOP, Frapin XO and VSOP…not to mention Louis XIII, if you have it. The next best option is well-aged whisky, particularly those that aren’t too peaty or too woody. In the realm of single malt Scotch, Aberlour 18yr is one of our favorites, first introduced to us by the good people of Seven Grand in L.A. Japanese whisky can work quite well, too, with the Yamazaki 18yr being a top choice. For more affordable whiskey pairing options, look to Ireland—Tyrconnell has a series of 10yr whiskeys aged in port, sherry and madeira casks that all work well, and even your average Bushmills pairs quite nicely.

Bourbon whiskey can be a bit tougher, though—especially young ones, which tend to cut through the chocolate. It sounds snobby but it’s actually the truth that the best bourbon pairings we’ve found are Pappy Van Winkle 23yr and 20yr, courtesy of the Violet Hour in Chicago. In the case of Pappy 20yr and 23yr, the age has allowed the woody-ness and booze to mellow out enough for the chocolate to shine. Another great Bourbon pairing that is relatively more affordable is Orphan Barrel 20yr.

In the realm of aged rum, El Dorado 20yr and Navazos Palazzi are our favorites thus far. For more unconventional yet fascinating pairings, we’ve found several expressions of mescal and tequila añejo that are good fun with To’ak, and on one wild night we even found an absinthe that worked well—compliments of Bourbon & Branch in San Francisco. Owen Dugan, the resident chocolate expert at the Wine Spectator, recommends pairing To’ak chocolate with Romariz Vintage Port 2011.

Wine, however, is a trickier proposition. Red wine tends to not work well with dark chocolate—the tannins of the chocolate compete with the tannins of the wine. But then again, you never know…pairing is both a science and a mystery.

A complete list of pairing recommendations can be found in our Tasting Guide. If you find interesting pairings that we have not yet listed on our website, please let us know—particularly in the field of wine. We once tried a pinot noir that paired well but it was in the midst of a party and we did not have the presence of mind to write down the vintage…it’s out there somewhere.

Q. How do I do a pairing, technically speaking?
Do I drink the spirit and eat the chocolate at the same time, or one after the other?

First, you’ll want to get to know both elements—chocolate and spirit—on their own terms. So first try the chocolate on its own, and then try the spirit on its own. Now comes the marriage. There are different ways this can be done. The way we like to do is a three step process. First, put a piece of the chocolate in your mouth and let the melting process get underway (10 seconds is a good amount of time, with To’ak). Next, take a sip of the spirit, bathing the chocolate for a few seconds. Then swallow the spirit but hold the chocolate in your mouth as it continues to melt. After a delay of a few seconds, you will often experience the burst of a new flavor, which represents the progeny of both spirit and chocolate working together. If this new flavor is pleasant, then the pairing has worked.