Expert Guide to Chocolate Tasting
Chocolate is always enjoyed. Great Chocolate should be experienced.
Chocolate is often mistaken to mean just one flavour and the only difference between good and bad chocolate is the price. But, just like good wine, fine chocolate is a symphony of delicate and intricate flavours that build to deliver a complete sensory experience.
This guide isn't designed to change the way you eat chocolate, instead it’s designed to take you on a Food Adventure and enhance your chocolate experience and allow you to appreciate chocolate on another level, using all your senses. There are many factors that affect the flavours we taste 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.
I hope to walk you through some of the basic tasting techniques through a complete sensory analysis of chocolate so you can experience chocolate using all your five senses.
Chocolate comes in many different shapes, and varieties white, milk, dark and now ruby chocolate.
Once you have made your decision which one the start with 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, a little like the tasting notes on a wine label.
Now it’s time to unwrap our bar and look at it - 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.
Is there a white film across the surface?
If yes, this is called a bloom which tells you that the bar has been exposed to extreme temperatures (heat or cold) that have separated the tight bond created during the tempering process.
The cocoa mass and the cocoa butter are now separate from each other which can look quite bad, it is safe to eat but will have lost some of the mouth feel and become flaky.
Now we move to touch; this phase is designed to start your connection with chocolate
Good chocolate should be smooth and 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 performs.
Now gently rub the corner. It should start to melt slightly from the warmth of your fingers when you rub a little. Chocolate starts to melt at below body temperature so you should see some residue left on your fingertips at this point.
(lick your fingers)
We now listen to our chocolate; introducing more science into our experience.
Take your chocolate and hold it up to your ear. What’s it saying?
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 between 70-90% of what we experience as flavour 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 we need to 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 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.
As you breathe out you should start to notice some of the subtle nuances that are held within the flavour of chocolate. Use the flavour wheel in your kit to identify some of them there isn't a right and wrong here. Taste is personal and the wheel is just designed to map out some of the terms and vocabulary used by experts.
Finally, we come to the most familiar part of the process; taste. the climax to our 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% (sugar)
If you gently work the chocolate around your mouth it will now start to release different flavours to the other areas of your tongue. Release your nose and draw in breath over the top of the chocolate through your teeth and out through your nose. 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.
At each stage take your time and make a conscious effort to name the flavours you're experiencing.
There are a whole host of aromas within your aroma wheel but the basic challenge is to look for sweetness, salty 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. 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.
Like 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.
Next, we move on to the aromas that are unveiled in the middle of the tasting experience, known as body aromas. These are essentially hot aromas, like roasted almonds, hot bread crust, spice mix, etc. Allow yourself to linger over the taste experience, for you will then be able to savour the less volatile aromas of certain chocolates, known as final aromas: These are often woody, roasted nibs (cocoa nibs), malty, etc.
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.