The title of this blog post might sound a bit strange. I mean how complicated or difficult could it be to taste chocolate? You just munch on it, and that it! About 25 years ago I would have thought the same, but after working with chocolate for the last two decades, I will let you on a secret! Chocolate has so many subtle flavours, and the taste develops as you taste it, and it certainly matters how you ‘chomp’ on it! So, let me share with you how to taste chocolate like an expert.
Enjoying good quality chocolate should be a special experience. There are layers of different flavours, from subtle to rich and they unfold as the chocolate slowly melts in your mouth. Each type of chocolate has a unique taste, which could be very different from another type of chocolate. And it’s not just the difference between milk, white or dark chocolate; there are many types of dark chocolate that very different from each other.
The original flavour of each chocolate comes from where the cacao bean is grown or rather the cacao tree. The flavour of the cacao bean is influenced by many factors, including altitude, terrain and weather. But it’s not just the nature that affects the flavour of chocolate; it’s also the production process that follows after the cocoa pods are harvested. The cocoa beans have to be fermented, dried, roasted and conched. Different lengths and temperatures of all of these processes affect the flavour of the chocolate. Finally, the flavour is also influenced by the additional ingredients that are added to the chocolate before it reaches the shops. Even the best quality dark chocolate will include some form of sugar, possibly vanilla essence, soya lecithin which acts as an emulsifier and of course milk and white chocolate will have milk powder and more sugar than dark chocolate.
Now, that you know what affects the flavour of each chocolate, lets start with the tasting.
To fully enjoy tasting your chocolate take yourself to some quiet and calm room where you won’t feel stressed. The chocolate and the room temperature should be ideally between 20-23 C. If you do store your chocolate somewhere cold, like a fridge (and by the way ‘don’t!!!) take the chocolate out at least an hour before you want to taste it. The best time of the day for chocolate tasting is either late morning – at around 11 am or evening at around 6pm, which is when your taste buds are at their sharpest!
Before you taste your chocolate (and in between tasting different chocolate) you should clear your palate, ideally with a few sips of water.
The size of the chocolate being tasted should be big enough to snap it in half and fill the mouth, but also not too large! Probably about 10 grams would be ideal, which equals to about 2 small chocolate squares. Your mouth has about 10,000 taste buds, grouped in different areas of the tongue, roof of mouth, lips, cheeks and throat. These groups include bitter, sour, salty, sweet, umami and the sensation of astringency. These are all important in tasting your chocolate and as the chocolate melts in your mouth, different taste buds pick up on different layer of flavour in the chocolate.
If you are tasting different types of chocolate, it’s best to start with the chocolate tha has the lowest cocoa percentage and work your way up. A high percentage of dark chocolate should be last. If you are planning to do a chocolate tasting party with your friends, tasting 5 to 6 different chocolates in one tasting session is more than enough. After that, your mouth will just get confused with too many flavours.
You could try to buy different chocolate of the same or similar percentages to see if you can taste any difference. If you go for Origin Chocolates (any chocolate that usually has a name of a country or an island as a name, such as Equador) the difference will be most noticeable, as these types of chocolates are the purest ones.
How to taste chocolate step by step
Unwrap your chocolate and have a look
Your chocolate should be nice and shiny. Look out for anything that would indicate that the chocolate wasn’t properly stored or made. There should be no bloom (white streaks or blotches) on the surface. If there is, this can affect the taste, but the chocolate is still ‘edible’. You can choose to eat it, but it might taste crumbly and some of the taste may have disappeared. Such chocolate can be easily used for baking, making a hot chocolate drink or other cooking.
Now touch your chocolate
The chocolate should make a nice, sharp snap when broken. The higher the cacao content, the harder, ‘noisier’ the snap will be. The chocolate should also begin to melt while being held, but not completely. The higher the cocoa solids percentage, the longer it takes for the chocolate to melt. Chocolate starts to melt at body temperature, which is about 37 C.
Smell the chocolate aroma
Now the chocolate starts to melt in your hands and the sweet aroma of chocolate is being released. Hold the chocolate square close to your nose and cover your nose and your chocolate with your other hand, creating a perfect atmosphere where the chocolate aroma won’t be interfered with by another smell. Breathe in and smell the chocolate aroma a few times. You can close your eyes at this point so that you won’t be distracted. You may notice different aromas, such as floral, fruit, nut or earthy undertones.
Taste your chocolate
Each chocolate can have a completely different texture, and the texture can be grainy, crumbly or smooth. If the chocolate is too waxy, this could be caused by replacing the cocoa butter with cheaper vegetable or animal based oil.
Chocolate’s flavour develops (or rather you can taste it) as it melts in your mouth and you should be able to detect the difference as you progress with your chocolate tasting. It’s worth noting that everyone’s taste buds are different, so if your friend finds one type of chocolate too bitter and you don’t it’s not necessarily because of the chocolate type, it could be that your taste buds are differently tuned to your friend’s.
Let the chocolate slowly melt on your tongue and then breath in. You should be able to taste the chocolate and smell it at the same time. Move the chocolate square inside your mouth. Try to think about what tastes and flavours you are experiencing. At first you should think about the basic tastes, such as sweetness or bitterness. Chew the chocolate piece a few times and move it around your mouth again. At this stage, consider finer taste profiles such as nutty, fruity or floral. Don’t worry if you don’t taste all of these, the more you practise tasting chocolate the more you’ll be able to taste the different chocolate undertones. As you swallow your piece of chocolate, try to think about the finish. The chocolate will probably leave refreshing sensation in the mouth and perhaps an afternote of chocolate flavour based on the type of chocolate.
I hope that this step by step guide on how to taste chocolate like an expert didn’t actually scare you from tasting chocolate! But if it means that next time you eat a bar of chocolate a little bit slowly, whilst mindfully working out all the different flavours in your head, then I’ll be happy!
Until next time and with the chocolate smile from ear to ear
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