Do you ever feel like there’s chocolate overload? There are so many brands, types and flavors of chocolate to choose from. Sometimes it can be hard to know where to start. In my test kitchen at my shop, we were tasting some chocolates for these brown butter pecan chocolates that I wanted to make. We had six different chocolates – all very similar in taste but each with their own subtle differences. It’s always a fun day when we get to spend it tasting chocolate in the test kitchen.
I recruited a friend to help me out. Let’s face it, in reality that’s always the easiest part of this task, who isn’t up for chocolate tasting! I provided each of us with a tasting note card like I had used at America’s Test Kitchen when we had done recipe tasting. And we had a glass of water for the palate cleansing.
In my mind, it was a simple enough task. I had sampled chocolate so many times in my life I didn’t even think that others haven’t. We finished with the six samples. It was clear that three contained a better blend than the others. Once we had finished I knew the one I was going to use. But after talking with my friend, he confesses that they are so close he could not make a definite choice between the remaining three. Has that ever happened to you?
Steps to Chocolate Tasting Like An Expert
After this tasting it occurred to me that chocolate tasting is very similar to wine tasting. Each type of chocolate contains its own set of unique flavors. The flavors change based on regions of where the cacao bean is grown. Topography, weather, soil conditions, and post harvesting also affect the taste of the chocolate. Just like wine. With so many flavors, one can see why it’s important to taste carefully so you can get the fullest flavor potentials.
Since I was mixing pecans with the chocolate I knew that pecans flavored well with fruit, specifically fruits that are in the red category, like raspberries, cherries or strawberries. Or fruit in the tropical, yellow categories. Think pineapple, pear, apple or peach. So chocolate with those aromas were important to me because I knew they would pair well with the pecans.
Distraction Free Zone Is Important
When I taste chocolate I prefer to do it in an environment free of distractions. Being able to concentrate and focus is extremely important. The next important thing is to make sure your palate is clean. That means if you just ate dinner, you really need to cleanse your palate. Chocolate should not taste like a hamburger. Water, especially sparkling water, is really great for a palate cleanser.
I like to close my eyes to concentrate and just hold a piece of chocolate in my hand. The touch of chocolate is very important. Does it feel soft or hard? Is it melting in my hand? Bend the chocolate to see the amount of pressure it takes to snap the piece. Did you hear the snap when you broke the piece of chocolate?
You Are Tasting Not Eating a Meal
The size of chocolate is important in tasting. Here is where we sometimes get in trouble. We have to remember we are tasting, not eating an entire bar of chocolate. You want a piece large enough to accommodate the full evolution of flavor, but not fill you up.
Next you want to look at the chocolate. The surface should be free of blemishes. No white marks, which are known as bloom. Does the chocolate have air bubbles, swirls or uneven surfaces? Good chocolate should be free of these defects. There should also be a nice sheen on the chocolate. A matte surface is usually an indication of poor molding. This won’t affect the flavor; it just makes it look ugly.
Smell The Chocolate
Smell the chocolate! Inhale those fragrances! What do you smell? The aroma will vary depending on its variety. Do you smell fruits, nuts, spices, or even flowers? How intense is the smell?
Break the piece in half. You should hear a “SNAP!”
Now comes the good part! Pinch your nose closed, place the piece of chocolate on your tongue and allow it to get to body temperature. Let it melt slowly. You want the cocoa butter to distribute evenly in your mouth. Release your nose and take a deep breath in focusing on the aromatic notes. As it melts, concentrate on the flavors that are building on your tongue. Notice how the flavor evolves from beginning, middle to the end. Chewing is optional, but I try not to. And if I must chew, no more than three times is the rule I like to stick with.
How To Talk About Your Chocolate Taste
Ahhhh… bite number one is done. How was it? Bitter? Smooth? Creamy? Dry? Grainy? Did any changes happen in flavor from beginning to the end? Does it linger in your mouth or quickly vanish? Use a note card and write down your thoughts. What did you like? What didn’t you like? Now take a drink of that water you have, and go for sample number two.
I tried six different chocolates today, and when we were tasting all of them together it was hard to know where to start. They were all so delicious but what I definitely know, is that the process of trying them was a lot like tasting wine – where each taste offers its own nuances and subtleties to be explored. So if you’re looking for new ways to experience this decadent treat or an excuse to host your next party with some friends over? Consider hosting a chocolate tasting event! There is a great book called Hidden Persuaders in Cocoa and Chocolate: A Flavor Lexicon for Cocoa and Chocolate Sensory Professionals by Renata Januszewska that can provide you with so much more detail on the processes of chocolate tasting and how to describe the flavors. She worked with Barry Callebaut and together they came up with The Chocolate Sensory Wheel. If you want to know a bit more about what happens on a Cocoa Farm you can read about our Costa Rican farm tour.
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