Tasting Chocolate

“Tasting is all an art: The art of looking;
the art of tasting, the art of taking one’s time.”

Enjoying good chocolate is a special experience. Layers of different flavors, subtle and rich, unfold, while the chocolate slowly melts. There are those who say say the different tastes in chocolate are more complex than those of wine…

Tasting chocolate is actually very similar to tasting wine. Each chocolate has tastes unique to itself. The cacao bean is to chocolate just as the grape is to wine. Both have many factors that affect the taste and aroma, including altitude, terrain and weather. Not only nature affects chocolate, but so does the human. The beans have to be fermented, dried, roasted and conched. Different times and temperatures all have an effect on these processes.

Tasting chocolates should take place in a quiet and calm environment. The chocolate and environment should both be room temperature – about 20-23 C.  The best time of the day for tasting is either late morning – at around 11am or evening at around 6pm.

The palate should be rinsed with weak tea or water so as to rid it of any previous tastes. The tasters should be in tiptop concentration mode, and have a form or at least blank page for recording their remarks as each chocolate is tasted. Each new tasting will override the previous conclusions, which may get lost or confused if not recorded.

The size of the chocolate being tasted should be big enough for the taster to snap it in half and fill the mouth, but also not too large! Probably 9-12 grams would be ideal. The 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.

It is best and logical if you think about it, to work upwards in percentages, when tasting chocolates, starting from the lowest cocoa percentage. A high percentage dark chocolate would be last. I think tasting 5 to 6 different chocolates in one tasting is more than enough.
Different chocolates of the same or similar percentages can also make for an interesting experience.

The Actual Tasting

There are 5 aspects involved:

1. Visual appearance – The chocolate should be shiny. There should be no fat or sugar bloom (grey or white streaks or blotches) on the surface. This could indicate incorrect storage or tempering. Or the chocolate may have been around for too long. This can affect the taste. The chocolate can taste crumbily or old, and some of the taste may have disappeared in time.

2. Touch – The chocolate should make a nice, sharp snap when broken. The higher the cacao content, the harder the snap. It should also begin melting while being held. Rub it between your fingers for a while. The higher the cocoa butter content the faster it should melt.

3. Aroma – While still holding the chocolate piece with chocolatey fingers, bring your fingers and the chocolate up to your nose. Close your nose around the chocolate by cupping it with your other hand. Take in the aroma a few times while closing your eyes. There shouldn’t be a moldy or smokey smell. You may notice a floral smell, a fruity one, a nutty one or an earthy one.

4 and 5 – Texture or mouthfeel and taste – The texture can be grainy, crumbily or smooth. It can be waxy and sticky (usually waxy indicates that the cocoa butter may have been partially replaced with a cheaper oil). Move the piece all over your mouth. Try to think about what tastes you are experiencing. At first you should think about the basic tastes, such as sweetness, bitterness or astringency. Chew the piece a few times and move it around again, while once again, consciously thinking about tastes. At this stage, consider finer taste profiles such as nutty, fruity or floral. This stage becomes more and more accomplished with experience. Lastly make note of the finish. The finish should be a cooling or refreshing sensation in the mouth and note how long the tastes linger on.

It is recommended to reflect for a few moments after tasting each chocolate and possibly even repeating the process.


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