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Tasting Party 01

Last week Amai held its very first Tasting Party. The goal was to get feedback on our products and meet people who have supported us through Lovescool since we began. At the end of last year I put up a notice calling for taste-testers willing to volunteer their time. It took us until May to get our recipes set for public scrutiny, but once everything was ready I sent invitations out to all of the respondents.

15 people came to the event, ready to eat and critique. Each product was set out with a questionnaire in front of it, which tasters could use to anonymously provide feedback. On one end of the counter we had our Tea Sweets: Chai Almond, Earl Grey & Currant, Green Tea, Lemongrass & Ginger and new White Tea & Strawberry. On the other end we had our new line of Botanical Brownies; dark chocolate brownies made with real fruit. Our brownie flavors include lychee, cherry, white peach and mandarin orange. We are still developing the packaging for our brownies, so they are not currently available in stores. This was the first time the brownies have been tasted by anyone other than us – a true sneak peak for the tasters. All of the cookies and brownies were served with tea, and tasters could try anything they wanted.

From my perspective, the event was a huge success. I was happy to finally meet people I have been exchanging e-mails with for months, and hear what they have to say about everything we have been working on. It was also amazing to see all of our products together at once, since they have been developed in pieces along the way.

At the end of the night (which went well past the two hours I had originally estimated), I sat down to read the questionnaires filled out for each product. I was touched by how much thought and effort each person put into filling them out. In my past life as an interaction designer, I ran several focus groups and usability tests that included surveys. In my experience, very few people fill them out, and if they do, they put very little energy into it. I expected to get most of the feedback about our products from talking to people as they ate, and set out the surveys as a way to catch comments from people uncomfortable talking in groups. It turns out everyone filled in the forms, as well as discussing their ideas with the group. The forms became an objective record of the evening that I could refer back to and check my memory against. I am lucky to have met such a great group of people who care about making things the best they can be.

So what did the taste-testers have to say about our cookies and brownies? Overall it was very positive. To those who like chocolate the brownies were a success, but many said the fruit flavor is somewhat lost amongst the intense chocolate flavor. In my opinion, too much chocolate is never a bad thing, but in this case I want the fruit flavor to stand out more so I will continue to work on the balance.

The White Tea & Strawberry were given a thumbs up, and we will be offering them for sale online in June. Everyone also loved the Chai Almond and Earl Grey & Currant cookies. As for the Lemongrass & Ginger, the flavor was well received but most felt the pieces of lemongrass tea were too large. I agree with this conclusion, and will grind them finer in future iterations. My biggest challenge is with the Green Tea cookie. Many people who try it, love it. For example, I recently read a review from Kimmie at Kitten Couture who had only good things to say. On the other hand, many people have said there is too much sugar and the tea flavor is weak. I’m not one to change something just because someone doesn’t like it (you can’t please everyone all of the time), but I personally believe this cookie can get better and I will continue to work on the recipe.

If only I could have tasting parties and work on the recipes every day I would be a happy person. Unfortunately the demands of packaging, production, finance and sales are also calling, so I will have to balance my time and work on incorporating this feedback as quickly as possible. I hope to do taste-tests every few months, so if you are interested in attending the next one send an e-mail to ineedsweets@amainyc.com with “Taste-Test” in the subject line.

Thank you to everyone who attended!


Debbie says on May 29th, 2006 at 2:06 pm:

What a great way to get feedback and meet your fellow bloggers. I hope to make the next taste test so save a mandarin orange brownie for me.

Malini says on May 29th, 2006 at 10:48 pm:

That is the problem with fruit purees in brownies. I had tried using raspberry puree, but had to lessen the amount of coocoa in the recipe, increase the amount of flour, then balance out the liquids too. The most I could get was a tinge of raspberry flavor. The best way I found was to use purees and give a flavor boost with a natural extract. Flavored jams are an alternative but then you have to control the sugar ratio in the brownie.

Recipe experimentation is a great adventure!

Wishing you all the success.

gabriella true says on May 30th, 2006 at 3:06 am:

Fascinating. That is so wonderful that you got such constructive feedback and of course it was positive!

When I come home to NYC to visit family I must come to a tasting!

eliza says on June 1st, 2006 at 5:58 pm:

wow, i’m really interested in combining brownies with different kinds of fruit flavor! what an interesting idea.

Kristin says on June 3rd, 2006 at 7:15 pm:

Aww man I always miss the fun stuff!! Next time I’m in! Congrats on the Fancy FOod show.

Jane says on June 4th, 2006 at 10:10 am:

Really enjoyed your posts.

lara says on June 5th, 2006 at 11:44 am:

I **wish** I was in the area and be a taste-test participant. It’s great to see that people were so thoughtful in their responses. Good work, and look forward to more insight from you in this venture . . .

Nicky says on June 5th, 2006 at 2:19 pm:

It’s great to follow your experiences from the very beginning of your blog to your own company. A tasting party is such a wonderful event, I really hope, that more food companies will pick up this idea :)

susan says on June 8th, 2006 at 11:02 am:

im very sorry i missed it! please count me in next time! i was reading another post of yours i used to flavor my toffee and since you proably use butter you might want to try a natual extract(international flavors is a leading vendor) or a liqueur

jenjen says on June 10th, 2006 at 4:39 pm:

Oh I wish I could’ve been there!!! Everything looks so delicious. So what exactly was that in the first picture at the top? That looks so cute and scrumptious!

Kelli says on June 11th, 2006 at 12:13 pm:

Hi Everyone — Thank you! Someday I hope to have tasting parties around the world, so if you’re not in NYC have no fear, we’ll get there someday :)

Malini- It is interesting to hear that you tried using fruit purees as well. I had to give up on that idea because the fruit flavor just wasn’t coming through. Ultimately I decided to use actual fruit in the brownies. The chocolate is still the predominant flavor, but the fruit is an interesting touch.

I do wonder about natural flavorings. They say it’s all natural, but the ingredients for “Natural Strawberry Flavor” is “Natural Strawberry Flavor”,
which I always thought was funny.

JenJen– The cookies in the picture are our Chai Almond Tea Sweets.

Niq says on June 26th, 2006 at 6:44 pm:

Wish I was one of the taste tester’s! Too bad, I live here in PI.. :D Looking forward to meeting you someday and get a taste of your goodies.. Goodluck on your venture.. :)

Kimmie says on July 1st, 2006 at 11:40 pm:

Oh man, I would have loved to be a part of that event!! But, I would love to be a part of the next one. I’ll definately send you an email and I am a HUGE fan of the green tea cookies!

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Lovescool is the documentation of a journey to discover what sweet things are out there, why people love them so much, and perhaps what it takes to start something new.

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An interest, that turned into a blog, that turned into a career. Kelli Bernard is now the owner and baker of Amai Tea & Bake House.

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