HOW TO TASTE CHOCOLATE
Tasting chocolate can appear a complex business… Do you bite or suck? What temperature should the chocolate be? How can you begin to describe all the different flavours you are tasting? But do not fear, with these few chocolate tasting tips you will find your own way. After all, so much of taste is a personal thing.
If you would like to do a tasting you could perhaps start with The Discovery Tasting Box. These are ten chocolates that I have chosen to take you on a journey of discovery from bean to bar, tasting the incredible differences between some of the world’s finest cacaos. You can watch the Tasting Videos that go with them.
What flavours are you looking out for?
It is true though that more than 400 flavour notes have been identified in cacao. Many things are compared to fine wines, but on a mind opening trip to Burgundy I realised that with cacao nothing could be more true.
Like wine, the taste of a great cacao is determined by its genetics, soil and climate. The fine, aromatic Trinitario and Criollo varieties of cocoa beans that I use have immense depth and complexity. Not only is each bean different but there will be subtle differences from one crop to the next and indeed from one batch to the next. We celebrate these flavour differences.
Most chocolate is made from standard Forastero beans that taste much flatter. To get round this companies use vanilla to create a strong background note. Infact one of the easiest ways to know if you are eating good chocolate is to see if it contains vanilla… no self-respecting artisan chocolate maker would use it!
Flavour wheels make it a little easier to understand the complicated and often very personal world of taste – one person’s ‘straw’ might be another person’s ‘grass’.
On my Flavour Map you will find all the major categories, but I have deliberately not made a complete list of the flavour types within them – it is a map to help you find your own way.
When you are tasting a chocolate if have these categories in mind it will help direct your taste in the right direction. At its simplest you can think of the nutty side of the wheel and the fruity side.
Store chocolate in a cool place at approximately 18-20 degrees centigrade.
If you let chocolate get too hot in the most extreme cases it will bloom. This is when the fat comes to the surface and it looks white. This can’t do you any harm, it is just less appealing.
Have a clean palate.
Your taste buds vary during the day - I prefer to taste chocolate in the morning when my palette is clean. Anyway, don’t expect to taste much if you have just had a curry!
Drink plenty of water between bars, and theoretically don’t taste more than four chocolates in a session. That rule I find is easily broken!
Eat chocolate at body temperature.
How the chocolate moves around your mouth has an impact on the flavour. The viscosity and how it melts are crucial. So there’s a huge difference between a bar that has been kept in the fridge and a bar stored at room temperature. If the chocolate is cold it will melt in your mouth more slowly and taste different as a result. If your chocolate is cold, put it in your clothes next to your skin to warm it up.
First break and smell the chocolate.
The snap as you break it will tell you your chocolate has been well made and stored at the right temperature. Catch the aromas, these are an important part of overall taste.
Melt a small square in the centre of your tongue and remember to breathe
Try not to bite and take the time to let the all the flavours wrap round your tongue. You will notice that the flavours evolve as the chocolate melts. Even though you are fully focused on the taste, remember to breathe because 90% of taste is perceived by the nose.
Notice the texture.
By adding less cocoa butter than most chocolate makers, I avoid the greasy texture you sometimes encounter and it gives the chocolate a longer ‘finish’. It is a trade off, my chocolate does not melt so fast but the flavour does not wash away on a tide of cocoa butter. The taste of a good chocolate should stay with you long after you have eaten it
Now you are a chocolate tasting pro! There are many roads, some leading in similar directions and while one may be more to your taste than another, the sheer variety is itself a pleasure.
‘Melt into a World of Adventure’