The tasting process outlined below might look daunting, but it can really be summed up in just one word: savor. Tasting is nothing but eating slowly, and paying attention to your senses while you eat. Play detective and search for unique tastes you have never experienced before. If you are new to the experience, prepare to be amazed! Savor the taste, but don’t forget to enjoy the effort. It’s chocolate, after all!
- Morning is actually the best time to taste. Your taste buds are most sensitive early in the day.
- If you are tasting multiple chocolate bars, arrange them from dark to light, delicate to intense flavor.
- It’s generally best to limit a tasting session to six samples.
- Serve the chocolate at room temperature.
- You can use plain bread or crackers to cleanse your palate between chocolates. Our favorite is animal crackers - the old-fashioned, puffy kind! Still or plain sparkling water also helps.
Try these steps to glean the most from each sample:
Appearance: First, "eat" the chocolate with your eyes. Is it glossy and smooth? Does it have white or discolored spots? Does it have bubbles or pits? A good quality chocolate will have an even glossy shine. It will have a consistent color and a smooth surface, both of which are signs of the quality of the chocolate-making process. Also note the color – which can range from red to deep brown - but remember that color by itself is not an indicator of quality.
Snap: How a bar of chocolate breaks is often an indicator of quality. A well-made, high cacao-content bar should produce a firm, clean snap when broken in two. The opposite of a clean snap is a crumbly texture.
Aroma: Before eating your chocolate, make sure you smell it. Rub the peice of chocolate with your thumb to release the aromas. The aroma of chocolate often gives hints of what flavors you will experience once you bite into the chocolate. Is it pleasant? Do you smell something sweet or floral or fruity; is it musty or smoky?
Flavor: Now it's time to eat! Take a bite of the chocolate, chew it just a few times and then hold it with your tongue against the roof of your mouth. Let the pieces melt slowly. This is the moment to savor!
What flavors appear? Can you sense any of the four basic tastes (sweet, sour, salt and bitter)? Our minds are conditioned to seek sweet tastes first, so it may take some conscious effort to find the other flavors.
Do you taste any aromatics - the flavors beyond the four basic tastes - such as fruits or nuts? Is it earthy, or do you get a roast flavor? Fine chocolate often has an amazing variety of tastes beyond the basic cocoa flavor. Take the suggestions that the chocolate maker may offer on the package, but don't be afraid to identify your own flavors. You're not trying to get the "correct" answer, your just exploring your own senses.
Does the chocolate taste bright or muted? The acid content of the cocoa beans - which varies by bean type, as well as the way the chocolate maker handles the beans, can influence this characteristic. Some prefer the clean taste of a high-acid bean; others like the warm, mild flavor of a low-acid bean.
A good chocolate will have different flavors that appear throughout the bite. It is important that the flavors are both pleasing and well balanced so that one flavor doesn't overpower the others.
Aftertaste: The flavors and aromas of fine chocolate often linger long after you have swallowed the melted mass. What flavors are left on your tongue a minute or more after you finish your bite? How long does the taste last? Does the chocolate leave your mouth dry? A good quality chocolate will leave a delicious taste on your tongue and make you want to come back for more.
Texture: Is the chocolate smooth or powdery or gritty or waxy? Does is melt away quickly or hold its shape as it melts? Texture is an important part of taste. A fine chocolate will feel smooth in the mouth as it melts, and will not be waxy. But whether it melts quickly or holds it shape may differ by bean type, and is not an indicator of quality. Also note that a few chocolate makers add sugars late in the grinding cycle to intentionally add texture.
Consider recording your impressions on paper, as this makes comparing chocolates easier. Remember to cleanse your palate between bars. Now start again at the top of the list with the next chocolate sample.
Again, you are not seeking a "correct" answer. The idea is to identify differences and then select the chocolates that most appeal to you. If you like it, that's the right answer!
Savor some fine chocolate soon. And leave us a comment with your questions about the process of crafting chocolate from the bean.