Like a fine wine, gourmet chocolate is meant to be savored – tasted in a way that allows all of its unique qualities to be released in order to enhance the overall experience.
Chocolate tasting is about the journey. It involves all of the senses to fully enjoy the incomparable wonder that is chocolate.
Minimize the distractions during your chocolate tasting. Relaxing background music is OK, but allow yourself to focus on the process is the key. Remember…this is supposed to be fun!
For best tasting, chocolate should be at room temperature. This allows the chocolate to begin to melt as soon as it hits your mouth.
Sight – Resist the natural impulse to simply chomp down on the savory piece of goodness before you. Pause for a moment to examine the chocolate. How would you describe its color? Is it brownish, mahogany or ebony? Is it free of flaws such as discoloration, air bubbles, or that grayish-white powdery look (referred to as bloom) which points to improper tempering?
Sound – Break off a small piece and listen for the snap that indicates properly tempered chocolate. It should not be soft and pliable. No one wants to eat chocolate that bends like a stick of gum.
Touch – Good quality chocolate is smooth to the touch. It should not be dry or gritty.
Smell – Smell the chocolate…take in its aroma. Smelling the chocolate preps your taste buds and adds to the overall enjoyment. Chocolate is extremely complex with more than 600 flavor compounds. Lesser-grade chocolate tends to smell overwhelmingly of sugar and vanilla, while better quality chocolate features a wide variety of incredible aromas.
Taste – While the smell of chocolate is undeniably recognizable, its true flavors are not released until it begins to melt on the palate. Even then, chocolate’s intricate flavors are released throughout the tasting process as opposed to one big flavor explosion. So the initial flavors you taste will evolve through the middle and the end of the taste (the “finish”). Take time to savor the entire experience. It’s worth it. Here’s how…
Place the chocolate on your tongue and let it rest a few seconds. Good chocolate doesn’t require chewing at all. While melting, the chocolate should feel rich and creamy in your mouth. Poor quality chocolate has a grainy, greasy or waxy feeling to it.
Continue to let the chocolate melt between your tongue and the upper roof of your mouth. You should now be experiencing a wide range of flavors, starting with a sense of acidity and slight bitterness. These are admirable chocolate qualities when well-balanced. Let the chocolate linger a bit, as you identify the individual flavors being released. Try to describe them as they unfold in stages. You may recognize hints of fruit or flower, followed by the deeper notes of spice, roasted nuts or even burnt bread. The “finish” will contain woody, malted or earthy notes. Be as specific as you can in identifying the tastes you notice. It’s helpful to do chocolate tastings with other people as you can share the experience and share each other’s flavor descriptions. After swallowing, the flavor should remain as a strong reminder of the taste experience. This a favorable sign of high quality chocolate.
It’s good to try a second and even third piece of the same chocolate as it can be very difficult to try to identify all of the various taste sensations with a single piece.
If you’ll be tasting a number of different chocolates, it’s best to start with the lower cocoa content percentages and work your way up. You should also cleanse your palate between tastings using a swig of water and a bite of plain bread. This will ensure that your next tasting is not influenced by the previous one.
Your palate will actually tire out after doing this a few times, so keep your number of tastings fairly small. Five or six varieties at the max.
So there you have it. Search out some of the fine chocolate available through specialty retailers, gourmet markets or online and use your newly developed tasting skills to experience some of the truly exquisite chocolates of the world. Life’s too short to eat bad chocolate.