What Are Some Tips For Chocolate Tasting?
Most of us have been tasting food since we were about six months old and we have learned what we like and what we would rather pass up. Why then, would we need to consider how to taste chocolate? It seems rather basic-open your mouth and chomp, chomp. The taste buds do a pretty good job of registering our likes and dislikes. However, if you are looking for the nuances between chocolates, or you just want to elevate your experiences, then there are a few considerations to attend to.
To best experience the taste of chocolate, you will need to contemplate factors such as mouth feel, aroma, melting temperature, snap and shine of chocolate, as well as its general presentation (remember we taste with our eyes). Some chocolates have added ingredients, such as nuts or brittles that will affect our tasting outcome. A few chocolate bars, along with some water to neutralize your palate are all you need to get started.
Let’s face it, we only have so much money and so many calories that we can spend on chocolate, so why not get the best bang for our buck? Just because Snicker’s bar is the best selling candy bar in the United States doesn’t mean that it’s your #1 draft pick. With so many local and international bars available in the candy aisle, it’s time to pay attention to your choices. Read on for tips on what to look for when tasting, as well as how to share this experience with others.
One of my most memorable family experiences is when I traveled to Ireland with my sister and sons. We each bought several candy bars, and then pooled our stash. We were traveling from Dublin to Northern Ireland by train and had a table between our facing seats. We then unscientifically, but enthusiastically tasted nearly twenty candy bars (many of which were made by Cadbury). Since then, as we travel individually, it has become tradition to bring back chocolates from various parts of the world to share. I have developed a basic system to distinguish what I think constitutes a good bar.
How Do I Organize a Chocolate Tasting?
If you’re just doing a casual experiment like we did on the train, then there is not much preparation besides gathering a variety of chocolates. However, if you are serious about your results, then you will want to set up a system for tasting, observing, analyzing and comparing your chocolate much like a wine connoisseur. It would be difficult to try all of the chocolate you want in one setting. I have attended chocolate shows before where people are shoving and pushing to get in the doors at 10:00 a.m., only to be holding their stomachs an hour later. Not only will you want to take note of a chocolate’s characteristics (think bitter, creamy, shiny, woodsy, mellow, etc.) but you will want to use a rating system so you can compare chocolate in the future. If you are tasting as part of a group, this information will be necessary come “sharing time”. One huge consideration is how full your stomach is. For instance, the first chocolate has a distinct advantage over your thirteenth sample as you will be fairly chocolate saturated (diminishing return as you consume more of an item).
You can make your own evaluation chart or you can adopt one of the many that are available from the internet. Most professionals would agree that a multisensory approach is best when evaluating a chocolate. Before you destroy the evidence, you will want to make a thorough evaluation.
Look at your chocolate. Is it shiny, does it have nooks and crannies? Is it dark, light, bumpy, smooth? How is it shaped?
Listen for a clear break. Break your chocolate bar to hear if it snaps, or is it more like a bend? Dark chocolate will have more of a distinct sound and is considered a sign of good tempering. Milk chocolate tends to be a little softer. Are there any morsels of nuts, brittle, or other flavorings poking through the broken chocolate?
Smell the chocolate up close. You can’t swirl it around like you do wine, but you can move your hand about the chocolate to get an up close whiff. Remember when many of us lost our sense of smell after contracting Covid-19? There is a huge correlation between a pleasing aroma and a positive tasting experience. Start with a potential list of adjectives to help you distinguish the “chocolaty smells”. (woodsy, floral, fruity, nutty, intense, etc.)
Feel it on your tongue. While visiting a chocolate factory in Seattle recently, I was asked to plug my nose before tasting the first sample of chocolate. This was so I would better be able to concentrate on the mouth feel of my chocolate. Were there little specks of coconut dancing on my tongue? Was it smooth as silk? Did it appear gritty?
Taste it. I generally give this double consideration because, that’s the whole point of eating chocolate-right? You might observe that a chocolate mint sample bowls you over with minty flavor, or that a chili chocolate has a heated aftertaste. Perhaps you didn’t notice the orange zest at first but when the chocolate melted away, the orange taste became more pronounced.
Lastly, you will want to make incidental observations. Do you like the packaging? Does the company donate a portion of proceeds to a reputable charity? Does the company practice sustainable growth? How available is the chocolate where you live? How much does it cost, especially when compared to other bars? If it’s not your jam, do you know someone who would love to receive it as a gift? What ingredients are listed on the label? What occasions or other foods/drinks pair well with this particular chocolate?
Chocolate tasting can be done in the privacy of your own home, with a partner in crime, or as part of a party (see my articles on choc activities for adults and Chocolate pairing parties). Alas, so much work to be done.
About THE AUTHOR
Lori has been a Culinary Arts instructor for twenty years. She has taught in the public school setting, at the collegiate level and through adult continuing education as well as running several cooking and baking camps for children. She has participated in several cooking, cake & chocolate contests and has been well recognized. She has raised thousands of dollars for charities using the byline “Saving the World one Cupcake at a Time”. Additionally, she has had several articles regarding food published in various magazines.Read More About Lori Gilmore