I was recently asked to give a simple answer on how to taste chocolate. There is no simple answer. I have been working with chocolate for 35 years and have found there is no right or wrong way to eat chocolate. The most important thing is to use all of your senses.
The first part of the “eating experience” is the “nose.” Smell the chocolate. I am always disappointed when I walk into a chocolate shop and don’t smell the wonderful aroma of melted chocolate wafting throughout the store.
The next thing is the “look.” If the chocolate looks amazing you can pretty well count on it tasting special. It’s as if you’re looking into the soul of the chocolatier. If a chocolatier takes the time to make his or her chocolate look beautiful you can pretty well be assured that the flavor will be as amazing. That’s not to say that the chocolate will necessarily agree with your tastes, but the quality will reflect the combined body of the chocolatier’s work.
What do you “hear” when you bite into a beautiful truffle or bonbon? Do you hear the snap of well-tempered dark chocolate? If the couverture doesn’t have the right break or snap, the chocolate may have been poorly tempered, heat distressed or of lesser quality.
What is the “texture” like? It is smooth and unctuous? Is it creamy and velvety? If the answer is “yes,” you’ve discovered the hallmark of good/great chocolate. That means the chocolate has been properly conched—where all of the ingredients (hopefully a limited number of ingredients) are intermingled and completely merged. Conching is like blending but a lot more thorough. It is the marriage of the molecules of the chocolate liquor, cocoa butter, sugar and vanilla (and milk, in the case of milk chocolate). Choclatique chocolate is conched for 72 hours. It will always be smooth on the tongue.
And finally, what does it “taste” like? Do you taste fresh rain-foresty flavors or are the cocoa notes dull and over-roasted? Does the milk chocolate give off burnt, overly caramelized dairy notes or is there the flavor of fresh cream and/or milk? How does the chocolate make you feel as you are tasting it? Are you satisfied with just one taste or is your mind coaxing you to eat more.
Try to articulate the flavors you’re tasting, i.e., big chocolate, roasted coffee notes, wine, berry, cherry, tropical-banana, nutty cashew, etc. When comparing different chocolate varieties or flavors back-to-back, you should drink a little room temperature water with a touch lemon to clear the palate. Then swish that water out of your mouth with just plain room temperature water and go on to the next piece. Keep your tasting down to about 4 flavors/varieties at a time. You can always go back for more when you are being less critical and just want to eat chocolate.
All that said, here is how we taste chocolate at Choclatique. When tasting different types of chocolate, we start with low fat varieties and work our way through to higher fat varieties. In other words, start with the dark chocolate, then milk chocolate and then white chocolate. Fat coats the surface of your mouth and can mask some of the more subtle flavors found in good dark chocolate, so if you start with milk or white, you may miss the subtleties of the dark.
We begin by looking at the chocolate to see if it is clean, clear of blemishes, air bubbles and bloom; when chocolate is heat distressed it has a tendency to turn grey-white as the fats separate from the rest of the ingredients. We then rub the chocolate with our fingers to bring it to a warmer surface temperature; this brings out the full value of the chocolate aroma as we inhale. By the way, you should smell the warmed chocolate, not your fingers.
Some of our tasters are “bite and chewers”; I am a “melt-in-your-mouth” kind of guy who enjoys “savoring the flavor.” Chocolate should always be smooth on the tongue and coat the inside of your mouth thoroughly. You want to be sure that it covers all of the sensory taste buds throughout your mouth to get the full impact of the chocolate flavor. Then swallow… it is a waste to spit out good chocolate.
Chocolate is food from the gods. It is a mood elevator and, some believe, an aphrodisiac. Treat it as the gift that it is and enjoy it thoroughly. As we have discovered at Choclatique, chocolate is a lot like sex. It’s never really bad; some is just much better than others.
Want to experience your own chocolate tasting? Order our Traditional 4-bar Tablet Sampler—Private Reserve Dark Chocolate (64%); Prestige Milk Chocolate 33%; Azteca Mexican Spiced Chocolate 33%; Snowy-White Chocolate (32%)… just $21, plus shipping.