How to Taste It
Tasting chocolate can be as simple as ripping open a bag and digging in.
But to fully appreciate chocolate, you should experience as many of its moods and flavors as possible. Here’s how to do a more formal tasting.
- Sample Several: Buy several different kinds. Try white, milk and dark. Experiment with chocolates you’ve never had before. Choose various brands, cacao percentages and countries of origin. Select different varieties of beans—rare Criollo, and Forastero and Trinitario. Experiment with unusual add-ins, such as chilies, sea salt or bacon.
- Arrange Them: Lay them out, from light to dark, and from lower cacao percentages to higher.
- Sense Your Chocolate: Notice the gloss and color of each chocolate. Color may be a clue to its taste; darker colors generally have a richer flavor. However, lighter colors may actually be an indication of the bean’s characteristics, rather than the chocolate’s cacao content or the presence of milk. Starting with the chocolate with the lightest color and lowest cacao percentage, break off a piece. Listen for a sharp snap, which indicates freshness and quality. Dark chocolate, with its higher concentration of cocoa liquor, will have the cleanest break.
- Breathe It In: Next, bring your chocolate to your nose and inhale its aroma. A chocolate's aroma will vary depending on its variety, where it's from and how it was made. A chocolate may be reminiscent of fruits, nuts, spices, flowers, herbs, dairy products, sugar, alcohol, bread or wood. Its scent may even be like a color—green for grass or purple for tartness.
- Taste It: Bite off a small amount, and let it melt on your tongue. Then bite another small piece and chew it slowly. Notice how creamy it feels in your mouth and whether it melts all the way. Higher-quality chocolates often have a smoother texture.
Feel the flavors swirl. Dark chocolate is the most complex. Pay attention to the different flavors of the ingredients—the cocoa, the sugar, the vanilla. You may taste the same characteristics that you could smell when breathing in that particular chocolate, or you may find that the flavors differ from the aromas. Blackberry, butter, brown sugar, mint, coffee, pepper, even wine or ash—the list goes on and on. These are all flavors that may appear in the chocolate itself, even if those ingredients weren't added at the factory.
- Repeat: Cleanse your palate with a bland, unsalted cracker or a slice of green apple and a sip of water or seltzer. Then try the next in line; sample them all!
Some cocoa certification programs are modeled on success with a similar product—coffee.