A Guide to Chocolate Tasting
Chocolate is enjoyed. Great Chocolate is experienced. Chocolate can be mistaken to mean just one flavour and the only difference between good and bad chocolate is the price. However, just like a fine wine, chocolate boasts a symphony of delicate and intricate flavour builds to deliver a complete sensory experience.
This guide isn't designed to change or challenge the way you currently eat chocolate, instead it is designed to take you on a Food Adventure and enhance your chocolate experience and allow you to appreciate chocolate on another level, using your senses completely. There are a multitude of factors that affect the flavours we experience in chocolate and what we taste is a very personal thing. This guide will provide you with the process, vocabulary and tools to describe your experiences and compare with your friends.
Let’s Get Tasting
Chocolate comes in many different shapes, and varieties white, milk or dark chocolate. Once you have made your decision it's down to the finer detail of the bar, what's been used to make it and how it's been handled throughout the production process. A good chocolate bar will communicate all its good points to us through the packaging to help us make our buying decisions, much like the tasting notes on a fine wine.
Once we've paid out our money we can unwrap our bar and lay it in front of us - without touching it!
Look at the surface of the chocolate, what do you see? Now that you have stopped to pay attention you may notice the subtle colours which vary depending on the varietal of cocoa used.
Dark chocolate: deep, intense mahogany hues
Milk chocolate: auburn, dark violets and rustic reds
White chocolate: yellow, butters and creams
Is it glossy or dull? Is it waxy or smooth? A well-tempered bar of chocolate should be shiny and smooth; anything other than this would indicate that something hasn't gone right in the production process or in storage.
Now we move onto the touch phase of your experience; this phase is designed to start your connection with chocolate and to engage with the beautiful food. Good chocolate should be dry on your finger tips and it should not feel sticky, gritty or waxy. Gently run your finger across the back of the bar and see how yours fares.
We now listen to our chocolate; introducing more science into our experience.
Take your chocolate and hold it up to your ear. Now, break it in two.
You should hear a snap. That's the cocoa butter crystals, which were formed during the tempering process, snapping. If the bar has been tempered correctly the snap should be ring clearly and not be a dull thud. As a rule, the higher the cocoa content the more pronounced the snap.
Next we move onto the smell. This is a really key part of the process as 90% of what we taste is attributed to aroma. Not all chocolate will have an obvious smell, even when held up to your nose. To really get beneath the aroma you must isolate the olfactory system. Smell plays a key role in building the anticipation of what we're about to taste and eat before we put it in our mouths. The aromas that can be found in chocolate are almost identical to those found in wine. So why haven't we noticed them before? Well until now you didn't have the right tools for the job.
So I want you to take your piece of chocolate and rub it between your thumb and forefinger so it starts to melt a little. Then place into your cupped hands and take a deep breath in through your nose over the chocolate; and hold.
Finally, we come to the most familiar part of the process; taste. this should be the climax to your overall experience.
To really taste the chocolate I want to you to isolate your sense.
Place a small square on the centre of your tongue. Breathe in and pinch your nose for the count of five. This takes away 90% of the taste attributed to the nose and emphasises the other 10%. If you gently work the chocolate around your mouth it will now start to release different flavours to the other areas of your tongue. Finally, draw in breath over the top of the chocolate through your teeth. This process is used in whiskey and wine tasting and is called 'cucking'. The idea behind this is that the air moves the aromas around the rest of your mouth and releases every last gram of taste.
Let it melt on the tongue to taste the initial flavours, aromas and consistency. Gently rub your tongue against your palate. This causes the temperature of the chocolate to slowly increase, resulting in the final release of its flavours to the front of your tongue which is where most of your taste buds are.
There are a whole host of aromas within your aroma wheel but the basic challenge is to look for sweetness, acidity, bitterness and astringency umami. A good chocolate should have a balance of these five attributes. It should be smooth and buttery and melt into a creamy liquid bursting with unique flavours. A well-made chocolate should contain layers of flavour so that the individual aspects aren't fighting for focus but waiting their turn to engulf you. Concentrate on your tongue, feel, and savour the different flavours: acid, then if you wait a little longer you may experience the bitterness.
Taste again, but this time concentrate on your nose, and discover the aromas that unleash themselves one after the other.
Similar to wine, you will first smell the most volatile aromas (primary or head aromas): These are instantaneous, fleeting flower or fruit aromas, which volatilize quickly and fade away in the middle of the tasting process.
Another important element of the tasting process is the aftertaste and different chocolates will achieve this state in different ways. What did you notice about the aftertaste? Did it longer for a while? Was it gone within seconds of swallowing? Was it vastly different to the initial flavour profile? Some chocolate flavours can pleasantly linger for up to 45 minutes so don't neglect this part of the process.