I am Dr. Chocolate. In 2008, I earned a PhD from the University of Washington by studying chocolate. Now, I am on the hunt for the best chocolate in the world.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Success at the UW Bothell Chocolate Festival!

Every year at UW Bothell, I teach a class called Chocolate: A Global Inquiry. It's the only undergraduate class devoted to chocolate, and I use this food as a focus for teaching everything from global political economy to history to business management and advertising. Normally, I end the class with a fifty-question multiple-choice final examination, but this year I decided to do something different: a chocolate festival.

My 38 students prepared for the entire 10-week quarter, learning about this industry and its trade. We studied industrial history, manufacture, issues of slave labor, chocolate advertisements, and even literature and film -- and by the end, I had 38 chocolate experts who were ready to be ambassadors for this food.

To prepare for the festival, each student found a single-origin chocolate and created a full flavor profile, an advertisement, and a poster. They brought all these things to our classroom yesterday morning and we set up the room festival-style, with colorful posters on display and sample trays. The UW Bothell photographer arrived with his camera. We put on a CD called Music from the Chocolate Lands by Putamayo, pushed play on a slideshow of cocoa-farm-to-chocolate-factory photos, and then we opened our doors.

Poster for Dandelion Colombia 70%
I really did not know what to expect after that. I had never held a chocolate festival as part of my class, and our advertising was limited to a poster created by one of my students and a few emails to the campus listserv. We also started at the early hour of 9am (typically by this time of day I have already eaten a handful of chocolate, but I realize that not everybody does this). I was nervous: What if there wasn't enough chocolate? What if there was too much chocolate? What if nobody came, and my students sat there by themselves, awkwardly, behind their lonely tables for the entire class period?

My favorite poster
Well. As soon as we opened the doors, they came. Faculty, staff, students, librarians, friends -- everybody. Within moments the room was packed, and visitors kept pouring in. I stayed by the door, greeting new arrivals and pointing out the different world regions on display. We'd arranged the room by bean origin -- Africa, Asia-Pacific, Central America and the Caribbean, and South America. Over 40 chocolates in all, representing all the major growing regions.

Full festival
Unknown to my students, I had set up a basket near the door with different chocolate questions on little slips of paper, and encouraged festival-goers to take one and ask the question to the students. I thought it would encourage visitors and students to interact beyond the sampling, and bring an educational component to the festival in line with the class itself.

Mayan temple with Mexico chocolate
Let me say, I have never been more proud of a class! Dozens of people stopped to tell me that every student had expertly answered the questions, and that they learned so much about chocolate. Students led visitors like true connoisseurs through the flavor profiles of their bars ("This chocolate will give you hints of cinnamon and coconut"; "And wait for the notes of banana at the finish!") and explained everything from slave labor to the difference between white, milk, and dark. Festival-goers  left with huge smiles and handfuls of samples for colleagues who could not leave their desks or classrooms.

As I ushered out the last visitors, just in time for the next class (on computer science, I think) to come in, we had a well deserved round of applause and packed up the little leftover chocolate. I don't think I have ever been so gratified by a final project. All of my students in this class are first years, and they showed themselves to be chocolate experts and enthusiasts of the highest caliber. My thanks to them for making the first annual UW Bothell Chocolate Festival a smashing success. Look for us again in 2013!

Model cocoa tree with Amano chocolate

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