THE FLAVOUR MAP
Many things are compared to fine wines, but on a recent trip to Burgundy I realised that with cacao nothing could be more true. Great single estate cacaos, like fine wines, each have their own stunningly individual flavours, born from their strain, influenced by their soil and climate and then brought alive in different ways by different chocolate makers. Flavour wheels seem to be used for everything from wine to maple syrup. They 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’. Cacao is something of immense depth and complexity. On my Flavour Map you will find all the major categories, but I have deliberately not made a complete list of the four hundred plus flavour types within them – it is a map to help you find your own way. There are many beans with many flavours, one for every mood and one for every moment. This is where I see the cacaos sitting on my Flavour Map.
Tasting chocolate is an art. It is a complex business because there are at least 400 chocolate flavour notes. Most chocolates are made so they have a ‘house taste’ that is consistent every time. They use a blend of beans and have a particular balance between sugar and vanilla that masks small flavour differences. However our chocolate is made ‘bean to bar’ from single estate cacaos, so 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. A number of different factors affect the tasting process.
- Store chocolate in a cool place at approximately 18 degrees. This will allow it stay smooth and shiny. If you break it at this stage, a well tempered bar will snap when broken.
- Have a clean palate. Your taste buds vary during the day – I prefer to taste chocolate in the morning but you should certainly wait for about two hours after eating. Drink plenty of water between bars and I have been told that you should taste no 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, you can put it in your clothes next to your skin to warm it up.
- First break and smell the chocolate. It will have lost the snap as it is has been heated, but this will allow you to catch the aromas which are an important part of overall taste.
Melt a small square in the centre of your tongue. 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.
- Remember to breathe. Even though you are fully focused on the taste, 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’, allowing the flavours to linger longer in your mouth.